My name is Ayman Fatima, and I am a sophomore Government and International Politics major. This summer I am working on the Enslaved Children of George Mason Team Project. This project was started by Professor Wendi Manuel Scott and Professor Benedict Carton from the African and African American Studies Program in the Department of History and Art History. The purpose of this project is to learn more about the lives of the people that George Mason IV enslaved at his home, Gunston Hall.
I was initially interested in this project because I wanted to learn more about our Founding Fathers and how they treated their slaves because I feel that we often forget or ignore the fact that the same men who wrote our Bill of Rights and our Declaration of Independence owned other humans. I think it is very important to remember this fact because it allows us to have a better conversation about racism and the roots of racism in this country and it allows us to find a solution.
So far, I have had a great experience being a part of this project. The first three weeks we had reading intensive seminars with our mentors and the rest of the team. We read lots of existing literature on slavery, and specifically slavery in Virginia. This helped to establish a good background. After that I spent most of my time doing individual research trying to answer my own research question—what household tasks did George Mason, his two wives and their children assign to enslaved peoples, and how did these tasks shape the experiences of African Americans bonded to Gunston Hall who also developed their own relationships with the Mason family? This meant that I found and read more secondary literature about domestic slavery in colonial and revolutionary Virginia. I also spent a couple of days in the Gunston Hall Library looking through archival records, such as tax records and letters. During an average week, I spend some time searching for sources, whether it’s through history databases or on site, and then I do in-depth reading of either secondary or primary sources and finally, I compile my findings at the end of each day.
I have learned many very interesting things this summer. One thing I found in the archival records at Gunston was that George Mason ordered clothes for his enslaved personal servant, James, from the same person that he bought his family’s clothes from. This is rather interesting because it is a surprisingly rare that a slaveholder would buy clothes for the people they enslaved from the same place they bought their own clothes from.