In February of 1860 the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association gained possession of George Washington's Mount Vernon. Ann Pamela Cunningham and her secretary, Miss Sarah Tracy of New York, moved in and set about preserving the property. In that moment, they could not have predicted the heroic turns their stewardship would take. A year later, the Civil War broke out throughout Fairfax County, Virginia.
Miss Tracy remained at Mount Vernon without Miss Cunningham who was forced to return home to South Carolina due to the death of her father. According to legend, canon fire from Bull Run rattled the windows of Mount Vernon. Due to the nearby fighting, Tracy demanded an audience with General Winfield Scott, who agreed to forbid armed soldiers to enter the property. She got a similar promise from Confederate forces and gained passage through military encampments to get the provisions she needed to make ends meet. Mount Vernon was declared neutral territory by both sides and was the only such designated property during the Civil War. Despite this declaration, rumors of "bands of rebels" on the historic property persisted during the early stages of the war.
For the most part, soldiers adhered to their promises, choosing rather to occupy other nearby properties. Those who wanted to tour Mount Vernon in order to pay tribute to General Washington at his tomb agreed to put down their guns. Some who could afford it even paid the twenty-five cent admission fee. Those who misbehaved while on site were shown no tolerance and immediately reported to their superiors.
Later in the war Sarah Tracy, trying to get to a bank, reportedly snuck some of the mansion's meager revenue into DC in the bottom of her egg basket to protect it from Union seizure. Two months later her pass was revoked and she was told only the President could reinstate it. So she found her way into Washington DC, insisted a meeting with Lincoln himself, and demanded from that point on his troops stand aside while she passed with her groceries. This kind of spunk and heroism kept a national treasure unscathed during a tumultuous time when battle raged all around.
Make plans today to visit George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens and learn more about this key site on the dividing line between North and South.