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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Tour to the Woodlawn Plantation

March 18, 2011

Date: 03/18/2011 Location: Alexandria, VA Description: Foreign Press Center tour to the Woodlawn Plantation as part of the continuing series of tours commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War - State Dept Image

March 18, 2011; Alexandria, VA.
Contact: Alison Mann, 202-504-6362; email:

As part of a continuing series of tours commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Foreign Press Center accompanied international media from China, Spain, Romania, and Taiwan to Woodlawn Plantation, a National Trust or Historic Preservation site in Alexandria, VA. Built between 1800 and 1805 on lands originally belonging to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Federal style home was designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, and built for Washington’s nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis. During the Lewis’s years in residence, enslaved people of African descent comprised 90% of the labor force. From 1846 to the Civil War, abolitionist Quakers owned the property, establishing a free labor colony in the greater District of Columbia. The Quakers sold farming lots to free black and white farmers, employing only free laborers to demonstrate the fallacy of the purported economic dependence of slave labor. This belief in liberty and equality made Woodlawn a controversial antebellum social experiment, and Confederate forces targeted the residents for raids during the Civil War.

The tour focused on the transition of a plantation dependent on slave labor to a radical—and successful--experiment in free black labor. Tour participants learned of the economic and social arguments over slavery within the context of the decade preceding the Civil War, and, more specifically, how that area of Virginia was affected by the War.

The journalists were also given a tour of the newly established farming community, Arcadia, on the grounds. The owners of Arcadia lease the land, and provide organic produce to local farmers’ markets.