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Meals can tell us how power is exchanged between and among different peoples, races, genders, and classes.

In the Chesapeake region, during the early colonial era, European settlers survived by relying upon indentured servants, Native Americans, and African slave labor for life-saving knowledge of farming and food acquisition. Without this knowledge, Europeans suffered poor nutrition, in addition to widespread illness caused by the lack of medical care.

Despite their perilous position, the colonists used human resources, the natural environment, and maritime trade to gain economic prosperity.

But, it is through the labor of slaves, like those at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, that we can learn about the ways that meals transcend taste and sustenance.

  • African American woman carrying a tray between buildings.

    Detail of East Front of Mount Vernon, Joachim Ferdinand Richardt, 1870

    Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association