George Washington and slavery

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George Washington (John Trumbull, 1780), also depicts William Lee, Washington's enslaved personal servant, who for many years spent more time in Washington's presence than any other man.

The relationship between George Washington and slavery was complex, contradictory and evolved over time. It operated on two levels: his personal position as a slaveowning Virginia planter and later farmer, and his public position first as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and later as President of the United States. He owned slaves his entire adult life, having inherited the first at the age of eleven on the death of his father in 1743. In adulthood his personal slaveholding increased through inheritance, purchase and natural increase, and he gained control of dower slaves belonging to the Custis estate on his marriage in 1759 to Martha Dandridge Custis. By the time of his death in 1799 Washington owned 124 slaves and controlled another 193. He put his slaves to work on his Mount Vernon estate, which in time grew to some 8,000 acres encompassing five separate farms, initially planting tobacco but diversifying into grain crops in the mid 1760s. Washington's early attitudes to slavery reflected the prevailing Virginia planter views of the day; he demonstrated no moral qualms about the institution and referred to his slaves as "a Species of Property." His treatment of slaves was both stern and compassionate. They were poorly clothed and adequately though sometimes insufficiently fed, and were expected to work diligently from sunrise to sunset and through the winter months. Washington exercised strict control through overseers, using both reward and punishment to motivate and discipline his slaves. He demonstrated great concern for his slaves' health and was reluctant to resort to physical punishment, but countenanced the use of the whip when he thought it necessary. He sold the most recalcitrant slaves to almost certain death in the West Indies. Washington's first doubts about the institution of slavery were based on economic considerations. The evidence indicates he became troubled by the ethics of slavery around the time of the American Revolutionary War, but subordinated his increasing moral concerns to economic and political imperatives. In public office he remained silent on the issue out of concern that it would tear the fledgling Republic apart, and in his business he remained dependent on slave labor. By the terms of his will, all his slaves were freed and provisions made for their care after his death, the only Founding Father to do so.

Washington's first doubts about the institution of slavery surfaced in the 1760s when the transition from tobacco planting to grain crops left him with a surfeit of slaves, prompting him to question the economic viability of slavery. As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, he initially refused to accept blacks, free or slave, into the ranks. He reversed this position on free blacks when the British offered emancipation to slaves who joined their forces, and he later approved the raising of African American units when the army was struggling to recruit enough men. The first evidence of Washington's moral doubts appear during efforts to sell some of his slaves in 1778, when he expressed his distaste for selling them at a public venue and his desire that slave families not be split up as a result of the sale. But his public words and deeds at the end of the war betrayed no antislavery sentiments. After the war, Washington expressed support in private for abolition by a gradual legislative process and wrote of his repugnance at buying slaves unless circumstances compelled it. As President, he was concerned that slavery should not threaten national unity. He presided over an administration that passed proslavery measures, and he never spoke publicly on the issue. Privately and in secret, Washington seriously considered plans in the mid 1790s to free both his own slaves and the dower slaves he controlled, but they could not be realised because of his failure to secure his own financial security and the refusal of his family to cooperate. His business remained dependent on slave labor and he was still prepared to consider the purchase of a slave in 1797 to replace his absconded chef. He continued to protect his investment in the property during the 1790s, avoiding a Pennsylvanian law that would have freed the slaves in his personal retinue at the President's House in Philadelphia and putting great effort into recovering runaways. In July 1799, five months before his death, he wrote his will in which he committed to freeing his slaves. Because his slaves were intermarried with the dower slaves, which he had no legal authority to emancipate, and because of his commitment not to separate slave families, he stipulated that his slaves be freed on the death of his wife. Martha freed his slaves a year before her own death, but the dower slaves were passed to the Custis heirs and remained in bondage. Washington's former slaves were cared for at the expense of his estate for the rest of their lives, the last dying in 1833.


Black and white illustration
First slaves arriving in Virginia

Slavery was introduced into the British colony of Virginia when the first Africans were transported to Jamestown in 1619. Those Africans who accepted Christianity became "Christian servants" with time-limited servitude, or even freed, but this mechanism for ending bondage was gradually shut down. In 1667, the Virginia Assembly passed a law that barred baptism as a means of conferring freedom. Africans who had been baptised before arriving in Virginia could be granted the status of indentured servant until 1682, when another law declared them to be slaves. Whites and blacks in the lowest stratum of Virginian society shared common disadvantages and a common lifestyle, which included intermarriage until the Assembly made such unions punishable by banishment in 1691.[1]

In 1671, Virginia counted 6,000 white indentured servants among it's 40,000 population, but only 2,000 blacks, up to a third of whom in some counties were free. British policy shifted towards the end of the 17th century in favor of retaining cheap labor rather than shipping it to the colonies, and the supply of indentured servants in Virginia began to dry up; by 1715 annual immigration was in the hundreds, compared with 1,500–2,000 in the 1680s. As tobacco planters put more land under cultivation, they made up the shortfall in labor with increasing numbers of slaves. The institution was rooted in race with the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705, and from around 1710 the growth in the slave population was fueled by natural increase. Between 1700 and 1750 the number of slaves in the colony increased from 13,000 to 105,000, nearly eighty per cent of them born in Virginia.[2] In Washington's lifetime, slavery was deeply ingrained in the economic and social fabric of Virginia, where some forty per cent of the population and virtually all African Americans were enslaved.[3]

George Washington was born February 22, 1732, the first child of his father Augustine's second marriage. Augustine was a tobacco planter with some 10,000 acres of land and 50 slaves. On his death in 1743, he left his 2,500-acre Little Hunting Creek to George's older half-brother Lawrence, who renamed it Mount Vernon. Washington inherited the 260-acre Ferry Farm and ten slaves.[4] He leased Mount Vernon two years after Lawrence's death in 1752 and inherited it in 1761.[5] He was an aggressive land speculator; by 1774 he had amassed some 32,000 acres of land in the Ohio Country on Virginia's western frontier, and at his death he possessed over 80,000 acres.[6][7][8] In 1757, he began a program of expansion at Mount Vernon that would ultimately result in an 8,000-acre estate with five separate farms, on which he initially grew tobacco.[9]

Agricultural land required labor to be productive, and in the 18th-century American south that meant slave labor. Washington inherited slaves from Lawrence, acquired more as part of the terms of leasing Mount Vernon and inherited slaves again on the death of Lawrence's widow in 1761.[10][11] On his marriage in 1759 to Martha Dandridge Custis, Washington gained control of eighty-four dower slaves, worth almost £3,000. Although Washington had no legal title to the dower slaves – they belonged to the Custis estate and were held in trust by Martha for the Custis heirs – Washington managed them as his own property.[12][13][14] Between 1752 and 1773, he purchased at least seventy-one slaves – men, women and children.[15][16] He scaled back significantly his purchasing of slaves after the American Revolution, but continued to acquire slaves, mostly through natural increase and occasionally in settlement of debts.[17][15] In 1786, he controlled 216 slaves, making him one of the largest slaveholders in the area. Of that total, 103 belonged to Washington, the remainder being dower slaves, and 122 were productive men and women. Six were listed as dead or incapacitated, and the remaining eighty-eight were children. Of the workers, there were eighty-six field hands, four carpenters, three drivers and stablers, three coopers and one gardener. Others were listed as house servants at the main residence. By the time of Washington's death in 1799 his slave population numbered 317 people, including 143 children. Of that total, he owned 124, leased 40 and controlled 153 dower slaves.[18][19]

Early years

Black and white map showing farms at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon estate from an 1830 engraving

Washington's early views on slavery were no different from any Virginia planter of the time.[20] He demonstrated no moral qualms about the institution and referred to his slaves as "a Species of Property."[21] They were distributed across all of the farms of the Mount Vernon estate, and were allocated according to the demands of the business. This often meant husbands and wives were separated across different properties.[22][23] The more skilled, male slaves were kept in the main residence while the females and children lived and worked at the outlying farms; at Washington's death, only eighteen of the forty-eight families lived together.[24][25]

Washington spent sparingly on slaves' clothing and bedding and insisted on a strict meal allowance that was monotonous, nutritionally deficient and occasionally insufficient. He considered his slaves to be irresponsible and indolent, and he exercised strict control of them through his overseers. He expected his slaves to work from sunrise to sunset and demanded they be fully occupied during the winter months.[26][23][27] Washington preferred "watchfulness and admonition" to encourage discipline and productivity in his slaves, but would punish those who "will not do their duty by fair means." He opposed the use of the lash in principle, but saw the practice as a necessary evil and sanctioned its occasional use, generally as a last resort, on both male and female slaves.[28][29] There are accounts of carpenters being whipped in 1758 when the overseer "could see a fault",[29] of a slave called Jemmy being whipped for stealing corn and escaping in 1773[30] and of a seamstress called Charlotte being whipped in 1793 by an overseer "determined to lower Spirit or skin her Back" for impudence and refusing to work.[29][31] Washington took seriously the recapture of fugitives, of which there were at least forty-seven over his lifetime. In the most extreme cases he sold recaptured fugitives off in the West Indies, effectively a death sentence in the severe conditions slaves had to endure there.[32][33] Charlotte's protest that she had not been whipped in fourteen years indicates the frequency with which physical punishment was used,[34] and Washington regarded the "passion" with which one of his overseers administered floggings to be counter-productive, but threats of corporal punishment and being shipped to the West Indies were part of the system by which he controlled his slaves.[35]

In comparison with many other planters, Washington's treatment of slaves could be relatively paternalistic. He exercised great care over their welfare, instructing his overseers to "take all necessary and proper care of the Negroes...using them with proper humanity and discretion" and to treat them "with humanity and tenderness when Sick."[36][37] He was concerned that slaves who were sick should not be worked, and provided them with good, sometimes costly medical care. When a slave named Cupid fell ill with Pleurisy, Washington had him taken to the main house where he could be better cared for and personally checked in on him throughout the day.[38][39] Washington's concern for the welfare of his slaves was motivated principally by financial considerations and the lost productivity arising from sickness and death among the labor force.[40][41]

Evolution of Washington's attitudes

It is demonstrably clear that on this Estate I have more working Negroes by a full moiety, than can be employed to any advantage in the farming system; and I shall never turn to Planter thereon...To sell the surplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species...

George Washington to Robert Lewis, August 17, 1799[42]

The economics of slavery prompted the first doubts in Washington about the institution, marking the beginning of a slow evolution in his attitude towards it. By 1766, he had transitioned his business from the labor-intensive planting of tobacco to the less demanding farming of grain crops. His slaves were employed on a greater variety of tasks that needed more skills than tobacco planting required of them; as well as the cultivation of grains and vegetables, they were employed in cattle herding, spinning, weaving and carpentry. The transition left Washington with a surfeit of slaves and revealed to him the inefficiencies of the slave labor system.[43][44]

There is little evidence that Washington seriously questioned the ethics of slavery before the Revolution.[44] In the 1760s he often participated in tavern lotteries, events in which defaulters' debts were settled by raffling off their assets to a high-spirited crowd.[45] In 1769, Washington co-managed one such lottery in which fifty-five slaves were sold, among them six families and five females with children. The more valuable married males were raffled together with their wives and children. Less valuable slaves were separated from their families into different lots. Robin and Bella, for example, were raffled together as husband and wife while their children, twelve-year-old Sukey and seven-year-old Betty, were listed in a separate lot. Only chance dictated whether the family would remain together, and with 1,840 tickets on sale the odds were not good.[46]

Washington tending to his plantation painted by Junius Stearns in 1851
Washington as Farmer at Mount Vernon by Junius Brutus Stearns (1851)

The historian Henry Wiencek concludes that the repugnance Washington felt at this cruelty in which he had participated had prompted his decision not to break up slave families by sale or purchase, and marks the beginning of Washington's slow transformation towards embracing emancipation.[47] In 1775, Wiencek writes, Washington agreed to take more slaves than he needed rather than break up the family of a slave he had agreed to accept in payment of a debt.[48] The historians Philip D. Morgan and Peter Henriques[a] are skeptical of Wiencek's conclusion and believe there is no evidence of any change in Washington's thinking at this stage. Morgan writes that in 1772, Washington was "all business" in purchasing more slaves who were to be, in Washington's words, "strait Limb'd, & in every respect strong & likely, with good Teeth & good Countenance", and comments, "He might have been buying livestock." Morgan also gives an account of the 1775 purchase that differs from Wiencek's; he writes that Washington resold the slave because of the slave's resistance to being separated from family, adding that the decision to do so was "no more than the conventional piety of large Virginia planters who usually said they did not want to break up slave families – and often did it anyway."[50][51]

During the crisis leading up to the Revolution, Washington was a member of the House of Burgesses when it passed a petition in 1772 condemning the transatlantic slave trade on moral grounds, and a key participant in agreeing the 1774 Fairfax Resolves that did the same.[50][44] The first indication that such sentiment had found its way into Washington's own slave dealings as a farmer appears in correspondence of 1778 and 1779 with Lund Washington, who managed Mount Vernon in Washington's absence.[52] In the exchange of letters, a conflicted Washington expressed a desire "to get quit of Negroes", but made clear his reluctance to sell them at a public venue and his desire that "husband and wife, and Parents and children are not separated from each other."[53] The restrictions put Lund in a difficult position with two female slaves he had already all but sold, and his irritation was evident in his request to Washington for clear instructions. The slaves were a valuable commodity to Washington, and he was still motivated by profit; Lund sold nine slaves, including the two females, in January 1779.[54][55][56]


Original document
Washington's taxable property, April 1788, listing his slave, along with ninety-eight horses, four mules and a chariot

When Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he initially refused to accept any blacks, free or slave, into the ranks. He reversed his position on the recruitment of free blacks when the royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issued a proclamation in November 1775 offering freedom to rebel-owned slaves who enlisted in the British forces. Three years later and facing acute manpower shortages, Washington approved a Rhode Island initiative to raise a battalion of African Americans.[57][58]

Washington gave a cautious response to a 1779 proposal from his young aide John Laurens for the recruitment of 3,000 South Carolinian slaves who would be rewarded with emancipation. He was concerned that such a move would prompt the British to do the same, leading to an arms race in which the Americans would be at a disadvantage, and that it would promote discontent among those who remained enslaved.[59][60][b] During the war, some 5,000 blacks served in a Continental Army that was more integrated than any American force before the Vietnam War, and another 1,000 served on American warships. They represented less than three per cent of all American forces mobilized, though in 1778 they provided between six and thirteen per cent of the Continental Army.[64][65]

Washington's actions at the war's end reveal little in the way of antislavery inclinations. He was anxious to recover his own slaves – seventeen had fled to a British warship that had anchored in the Potomac in 1781[66] – and refused to consider compensation for the upwards of 80,000 slaves evacuated by the British, insisting without success that the British return them.[67][68][69] Before resigning his commission in 1783, Washington took the opportunity to give his opinion on the opportunities and challenges that faced the new nation in his Circular to the States, in which he made not one mention of slavery.[68]

Confederation years

Emancipation became a major issue in Virginia after liberalization of the manumission law in 1782 was followed by debate in the legislature about the right of freed slaves to remain in the state. Inspired by the rhetoric that had driven the revolution, it became popular to free slaves. The free black population in Virginia rose from some 3,000 to more than 20,000 between 1780 and 1800, when the proslavery interest re-asserted itself.[70] The historian Kenneth Morgan writes, "..the revolutionary war was the crucial turning-point in [Washington's] thinking about slavery. After 1783...he began to express inner tensions about the problem of slavery more frequently, though always in private..." Most historians agree the Revolution was a pivotal period in the evolution of Washington's attitudes to slavery.[71][72] It is likely that revolutionary rhetoric about the rights of men, the close contact with young antislavery officers who served with Washington – such as Laurens, Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton – and the influence of northern colleagues were contributory factors in that process.[73][74][c]

A leading abolitionist pamphlet published in 1783, which Washington later included in an expensively bound volume called Tracts on Slavery, advocated the gradual abolition of slavery by a legislative process. This idea began to appear in his correspondence during the Confederation period.[77][78][d] The Marquis de Lafayette, Washington's wartime colleague and friend, proposed that year a joint venture to establish an experimental settlement for freed slaves which, with Washington's example, "might render it a general practise," but Washington demurred. As Lafayette forged ahead with his plan, Washington offered encouragement but expressed concern in 1786 about "much inconvenience and mischief" an abrupt emancipation might generate, and he gave no tangible support to the idea.[55][80][e] Washington privately expressed support for emancipation to prominent Methodists Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury in 1785, but declined to sign their petition. Although he spoke to other leading Virginians about his sentiments and promised to write in support if the petition was considered in the Virginia Assembly, nothing further came of it.[83]

Philip Morgan identifies Washington's driving ambition for fame and public respect as a man of honor as an important influence on Washington's thinking;[74] in December 1785, the Quaker and fellow Virginian Robert Pleasants "[hit] Washington where it hurt most", Morgan writes, when he told Washington that to remain a slaveholder would forever tarnish his reputation.[84][f] In correspondence the next year, Washington expressed his "great repugnance" at buying slaves, stated that, "unless some peculiar circumstances should compel me to it", he would not buy any more and made clear his desire to see the institution of slavery ended by a gradual legislative process.[90][91]

Only the most radical of abolitionists called for immediate emancipation. The disruption to the labor market and the care of the elderly and infirm would have created enormous problems. Large numbers of unemployed poor, of whatever color, was a cause for concern in 18th-century America, to the extent that expulsion and foreign resettlement was often part of the discourse on emancipation.[92] The apparent contradiction between slavery and the liberty for which the Revolution had been fought was accommodated by the belief, which Washington is reported to have expressed in 1798, that slaves did not understand the obligations of liberty, and had first to be educated before they could be released.[93][94]

Washington was one of the largest debtors in Virginia at the end of the war,[95] and by 1787 the business at Mount Vernon had failed to make a profit for more than a decade. Persistently poor crop yields due to pestilence and poor weather, the cost of renovations at his Mount Vernon residence and the expenses of entertaining a constant stream of visitors all helped to make Washington cash poor.[96] The overheads of maintaining a surfeit of slaves, including the care of the young and elderly, made a substantial contribution to his financial difficulties.[97][98] In 1786, the ratio of productive to non-productive slaves was approaching 1:1, and the c.7,300-acre Mount Vernon estate was being operated with 122 working slaves. Although the productive/non-productive ratio had improved by 1799 to around 2:1, the estate had grown by only 10 per cent to some 8,000 acres while the working slave population had grown by 65 per cent to 201. It was a trend that threatened to bankrupt Washington, but any thought he might have entertained about releasing slaves was complicated by a determination not to break up families his own slaves had formed with others he had no legal right to emancipate.[99][100] From 1782, he would also have been liable for the financial support of those freed slaves too young or too elderly or infirm to work.[101][102]

Washington did not let principle interfere with business; he still needed labor to work his farms, and there was little alternative to slavery. Hired labor south of Pennsylvania was scarce and expensive, and the Revolution had cut off the supply of indentured servants and convict labor from Great Britain.[103][104] Washington significantly reduced his slave purchases after the war, though it is not clear whether this was a moral or practical decision; he repeatedly stated that his inventory and its potential progeny were adequate for his current and foreseeable needs.[105][106] Nevertheless, he negotiated with John Mercer to accept six slaves in payment of a debt in 1786 and expressed to Henry Lee a desire to purchase a bricklayer the next.[107][17][g] In 1788, Washington acquired thirty-three slaves from the estate of Bartholomew Dandridge in settlement of a debt and left them with Dandridge's widow on her estate at Pamocra, New Kent County, Virginia.[112][113] Later the same year, he declined a suggestion from the leading French abolitionist Jacques Brissot to form and become president of an abolitionist society in Virginia, stating that although he was in favor of such a society and would support it, the time was not yet right to confront the issue.[114]

Presidential years

The unfortunate condition of the persons, whose labour in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret. To make the Adults among them as easy & as comfortable in their circumstances as their actual state of ignorance & improvidence would admit; & to lay a foundation to prepare the rising generation for a destiny different from that in which they were born; afforded some satisfaction to my mind, & could not I hoped be displeasing to the justice of the Creator.

Statement attributed to George Washington that appears in the notebook of David Humphreys, c.1788/1789[115]

A complication for Washington's personal position on slavery was the political ramifications of emancipation. The Constitutional Convention in 1787 had demonstrated just how explosive the issue was, and how willing the antislavery faction was to sacrifice abolition on the altar of national unity under a strong federal government. The support of the southern states for the new constitution was secured by granting them concessions that protected slavery, including the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Clause, plus clauses that guaranteed the transatlantic slave trade for at least twenty years and federal aid for the suppression of any slave rebellion.[116][117]

Washington's preeminent position ensured that any actions he took with regard to his own slaves would become a statement in a national debate about slavery that threatened to divide the country. Wiencek suggests Washington considered making precisely such a statement on taking up the presidency in 1789. A passage in the notebook of Washington's biographer David Humphreys[h] dated to late 1788 or early 1789 recorded a statement that presaged Washington's emancipation of his slaves in his will a decade later. Wiencek argues the passage was a draft for a public announcement Washington was considering in which he would declare the emancipation of some of his slaves. It marks, Wiencek believes, a moral epiphany in Washington's thinking, the moment he decided not only to emancipate his slaves but also to use the occasion to set the example Lafayette had urged in 1783.[119] Other historians dispute Wiencek's conclusion; Henriques and Joseph Ellis concur with Philip Morgan's opinion that Washington experienced no epiphanies in a "long and hard-headed struggle" in which there was no single turning point. Morgan argues that Humphreys' passage is the "private expression of remorse" from a man unable to extricate himself from the "tangled web" of "mutual dependency" on slavery, and that Washington believed public comment on such a divisive subject was best avoided for the sake of national unity.[120][121][51][i]

As President

Portrait of President George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart (1795)
President George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1795)

Washington took up the presidency at a time when revolutionary sentiment against slavery was giving way to a resurgence of proslavery interests. No state considered making slavery an issue during the ratification of the new constitution, southern states reinforced their slavery legislation and prominent antislavery figures were muted about the issue in public. Washington understood there was little widespread organized support for abolition.[125] He had a keen sense both of the fragility of the fledgling Republic and of his place as a unifying figure, and he was determined not to endanger either by confronting an issue as divisive and entrenched as slavery.[126][127] He presided over an administration that passed a resolution in 1790 affirming states' rights to regulate treatment of slaves and legislate on slavery free of congressional interference, provided material and financial support in French efforts to suppress the Saint Domingue slave revolt in 1791 and implemented the proslavery Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.[128][129][130] Washington never spoke publicly on the issue of slavery during his eight years as president, nor did he respond to, much less act upon, any of the antislavery petitions he received.[j] The subject was not mentioned in either his last address to Congress or his Farewell Address.[132][133][134]

Late in his presidency, Washington told his Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph, that in the event of a confrontation between the antislavery North and proslavery South, he had "made up his mind to remove and be of the Northern."[135] In 1798, he imagined just such a conflict when he said, "I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union."[136][137] But there is no indication Washington ever favored an immediate end to slavery. His abolitionist aspirations for the nation were confined to the hope that slavery would disappear naturally over time with the prohibition of slave imports in 1808, the earliest date such legislation could be passed as agreed at the Constitutional Convention.[92][138]

As Virginia farmer

In addition to political caution, economic imperatives remained an important consideration with regard to Washington's personal position as a slaveholder and his efforts to free himself from his dependency on slavery.[139][140] In December 1793, he sought the aid of the British agriculturalist Arthur Young in finding farmers to whom he would lease all but one of his farms, on which his slaves would then be employed as laborers.[141][142] The next year, he instructed his secretary Tobias Lear to sell his western lands, ostensibly to consolidate his operations and put his financial affairs in order. Washington concluded his instructions with a passage marked Private, in which he expressed his repugnance at owning slaves and declared the principle reason for selling the land was to raise the finances that would allow him to liberate them.[139][143] It is the first clear indication that Washington's thinking had shifted from selling his slaves to freeing them.[144] In November the same year, Washington demonstrated in a letter to his friend and neighbor Alexander Spotswood that the reluctance to sell slaves at a public venue, first seen in his letter to Lund Washington in 1778, had become an emphatic principle against "selling Negroes, as you would Cattle in the market..."[145][146]

In 1795 and 1796, Washington devised a complicated plan that involved renting out his western lands to tenant farmers to whom he would lease his own slaves, and a similar scheme to lease the dower slaves he controlled to Dr. David Stuart for work on Stuart's Eastern Shore plantation. This plan would have involved breaking up slave families, but it was designed with an end goal of raising enough finances to fund their eventual emancipation (a detail Washington kept secret) and prevent the Custis heirs from permanently splitting up families by sale.[147][k] None of these schemes could be realized because of his failure to sell or rent land at the right prices, the refusal of the Custis heirs to agree to them and his own reluctance to separate families.[149][150] Wiencek speculates that, because Washington gave such serious consideration to freeing his slaves knowing full well the political ramifications that would follow, one of his goals was to make a public statement that would sway opinion towards abolition.[151] Philip Morgan argues that Washington freeing his slaves while President in 1794 or 1796 would have had no profound effect, and would have been greeted with public silence and private derision by white southerners.[152]

As Washington subordinated his desire for emancipation to his efforts to secure financial independence, he took care to retain and, when they ran, recover his slaves. In 1791, he arranged for those who served in his personal retinue while he was President in Philadelphia to be surreptitiously rotated out of the state before they became eligible for emancipation after six months residence per Pennsylvanian law. He spared no expense in efforts to recover his chef, Hercules, and Martha's servant, Ona Judge, when they absconded. In Judge's case, Washington persisted for three years. His agent having tracked her to New Hampshire, Washington tried to persuade her to return but refused to promise her her freedom after his death; "However well disposed I might be to a gradual emancipation," he said, "or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this moment) it would neither be politic or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference." Both Hercules and Judge eluded capture.[153][154] Washington's search for a new chef to replace Hercules in 1797 is the last known instance in which he considered buying a slave, despite his resolve "never to become the Master of another Slave by purchase", though in the end he chose to hire a white chef.[155]

Posthumous emancipation

newspaper clipping
Washington's will published in the Connecticut Journal, February 20, 1800

In July 1799, five months before his death, Washington wrote his will, in which he stipulated that his slaves should be freed. In the months that followed, he considered a plan that betrayed a continuing prioritisation of profit above his concerns about the institution of slavery. The plan involved repossessing tenancies in Berkeley and Frederick Counties and transferring half of his Mount Vernon slaves to work them. It would, Washington hoped, "yield more nett profit" which might "benefit myself and not render the [slaves'] condition worse", despite the disruption such relocation would have had on the slave families. The plan died with Washington on December 14, 1799.[156][l]

According to Philip Morgan, profit, principle and posterity all drove Washington to make provisions in his will to emancipate his slaves, the only Founding Father to do so.[158] The will can be regarded as both private testament and public statement on the institution.[159][123] His slaves were the subjects of the longest provisions in the twenty-nine-page document, taking three pages in which his instructions were more forceful than in the rest of his will. His valet, William Lee, was freed immediately and his remaining 123 slaves were to be emancipated on the death of Martha.[160][159] The deferral was intended to postpone the pain of separation that would occur when his slaves were freed but their spouses among the dower slaves, over whom Washington had no legal rights, remained in bondage. It is possible Washington hoped Martha and her heirs who would inherit the dower slaves would solve this problem by following his example and emancipating them.[161][162] Addressing the concerns Washington expressed during his life about the abrupt emancipation of people who had known only slavery, he stipulated those too old, young or infirm should be cared for and that the youth were to be educated.[92][159] Including the Dandridge slaves, which were emancipated under similar terms, more than 160 slaves were freed.[112][113] Washington was particularly pointed in forbidding the sale or transportation of any of his slaves out of Virginia before their emancipation.[159]

Quakers were jubilant with the emancipation and regarded it as an important moment in the abolitionist campaign.[163] But any hopes Washington may have had that his example and prestige would influence the thinking of others, including his own family, proved to be unfounded. His action was ignored by southern slaveholders, and slavery continued at Mount Vernon[164][165] From 1795, dower slaves were already being transferred to Martha's three granddaughters as the Custis heirs married.[166] After Martha's death on May 22, 1802, most of the remaining dower slaves passed to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, to whom she bequeathed the only slave she held in her own name.[167]

Martha had felt threatened by the fact that she was surrounded with slaves whose freedom depended on her death, and had already emancipated her late husband's slaves a year before her death.[168] They were treated by Washington's executors and heirs in accordance with his wishes in all respects but one; Virginian law prohibited "schools for the education of Negroes", which prevented the executors from fulfilling this provision in Washington's will.[169] Those who were freed and wished to move on were "properly outfitted" at the expense of Washington's estate. Most chose to remain at Mount Vernon, where they "performed such duties as the easy-going Lawrence Lewis and Bushrod Washington (George Washington's nephew and the executor of his estate) assigned to them." They were provided with food, clothing, shelter, medical care and, in due course, a grave, all at the expense of Washington's estate.[170] The last surviving freedperson was buried in 1833, by which time the expenses for the care of Washington's former slaves, excluding food and shelter, had run to just over $10,000.[171]


Slave burial ground memorial at Mount Vernon

In 1929, a plaque was embedded in the ground at Mount Vernon less than 50 yards (46 m) from the crypt housing the remains of Washington and Martha, marking a plot neglected by both groundsmen and tourist guides where slaves had been buried in unmarked graves. The inscription read, "In memory of the many faithful colored servants of the Washington family, buried at Mount Vernon from 1760 to 1860. Their unidentified graves surround this spot." The site remained untended and ignored in the visitor literature until the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association erected a more prominent monument surrounded with plantings and inscribed, "In memory of the Afro Americans who served as slaves at Mount Vernon this monument marking their burial ground dedicated September 21, 1983." In 1985, a ground-penetrating radar survey identified sixty-six possible burials. As of the fall of 2017, an archaeological project begun in 2014 has identified, without disturbing the contents, sixty-three burial plots in addition to seven plots known before the project began.[172][173][174]


  1. ^ Henriques is Professor of History Emeritus at George Mason University and member of the Mount Vernon committee of George Washington Scholars.[49]
  2. ^ South Carolinian leaders were outraged when Congress passed resolutions, which Wiencek suggests was the first Emancipation Proclamation, supporting the proposal and threatened to withdraw from the war if it was enacted. Washington had known the scheme would encounter significant resistance in South Carolina, and was not surprised when it eventually failed.[61][62] Wiencek discusses the possibility that Washington's concern about slave discontent following the recruitment of South Carolinian slaves would spread to his own slaves and therefore "resisted a recruitment plan that might lead to the loss of his property, despite compelling military necessity."[63]
  3. ^ In their general histories, the historians Joseph Ellis and John E. Ferling include Washington's experience of seeing blacks fighting for the cause as another factor.[75][76]
  4. ^ The Tracts on Slavery was part of a thirty-six-volume set covering subjects that generally were of importance to Washington, such as agriculture, the Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati and politics. It contained six of the seventeen publications related to slavery that Washington owned. All six took the same position on slavery as an economically inefficient institution that should be abolished by a gradual legislative process. The other five pamphlets in the volume were published after 1788, the last of them in 1793. Of the eleven that were, presumably, not considered by Washington to be worth binding, eight were published before 1788. One of them, published in 1785, was never read. The implication is that Washington became more interested in the subject in the early 1790s.[79]
  5. ^ The two discussed slavery when Lafayette visited Washington at Mount Vernon in August 1784, though Washington thought the time was not yet ripe for a resolution and questioned how a Virginia plantation could be run without slave labor. On returning to France, Lafayette purchased a plantation in the French colony of Cayenne, modern-day French Guiana, and advised Washington of his progress by letter in 1786. Lafayette had taken concerns about the abrupt emancipation of slaves into account, paying and educating the slaves he settled on the plantation before freeing them. He became a leading figure in antislavery movements in France and Great Britain. Washington would not have known of Lafayette's antislavery activities in Cayenne or Europe from Lafayette himself; although the two continued to correspond for the rest of Washington's life, the subject of slavery virtually disappeared from their letters. The Cayenne experiment came to an end in 1792, when the plantation was sold by the French Revolutionary government after Lafayette's imprisonment by the Austrians.[81][82]
  6. ^ John Rhodehamel, former archivist at Mount Vernon and curator of American historical manuscripts at the Huntington Library,[85] characterizes Washington as someone who desired "above all else the kind of fame that meant a lasting reputation as a man of honor."[86] According to Gordon S. Wood, "Many of [Washington's] actions after 1783 can be understood only in terms of this deep concern for his reputation as a virtuous leader."[87] Ron Chernow writes, "...the thought of his high destined niche in history was never far from [Washington's] mind."[88] Henriques writes, "No man had a greater desire for secular immortality, and [Washington] understood that his place in history would be tarnished by his ownership of slaves."[89]
  7. ^ The sources are contradictory on Washington's negotiations to accept slaves from Mercer in settlement of a debt. Kenneth Morgan states that Washington purchased the slaves,[108] as does Twohig, though she reports five slaves.[17] Philip Morgan states that the negotiations with Mercer fell through,[109] as does Hirschfeld.[110] Peter Henriques reports that Washington purchased a bricklayer in 1787, but Kenneth Morgan, Twohig and Hirschfeld report only on negotiations to buy one without confirming that he did.[111]
  8. ^ Humphreys was a former aide to Washington and had begun an eighteen-month stay at Mount Vernon in 1787 to assist Washington with his correspondence and write his biography.[118]
  9. ^ Wiencek bases his argument on the fact that the passage was written in the past tense and appears in Humphreys' notebook amid drafts Humphreys had written for public statements Washington was to make about assuming the presidency.[119] Philip Morgan points out that the passage was Humphreys' words in Washington's voice and appears just after a summary Humphreys had written of Thomas Clarkson's 1788 An Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade.[122] Kenneth Morgan characterizes the passage as "a remark made in [Washington's] voice by David Humphreys."[123] Fritz Hirschfeld writes that the passage was written by Humphreys during direct dictation or from memory of Washington's exact words, and believes it highly improbable that they were not Washington's own words.[124]
  10. ^ It was Quaker petitioning for abolition that precipitated the resolution to affirm state authority over Congress in matters of slavery in 1790. Washington refused to discuss the issue with the Quaker abolitionist Warner Mifflin when they met, and considered the Quaker efforts misjudged and a waste of time.[131]
  11. ^ The dower slaves had already begun to be transferred to Martha's granddaughters as the Custis heirs married. Young Martha brought sixty-one slaves to her marriage with Thomas Peter in 1795, Eliza married Thomas Law the next year and Nelly was wed to Lawrence Lewis in 1799. Peter had begun selling off slaves soon after his marriage, splitting up families and systematically separating girls as young as four years old from their parents. Wiencek suggests Martha's servant Ona Judge, who as a dower slave was destined to become a Custis property, fled from Philadelphia in 1796 to avoid being sold.[148]
  12. ^ Philip Morgan speculates on the unlikely possibility that, had the plan proved profitable, Washington might have changed his will and retracted the manumission of his slaves.[157]


  1. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 41–43
  2. ^ Wiencek 2003 43–46
  3. ^ Henriques 2008 p. 146
  4. ^ Chernow 2010 pp. 22–28
  5. ^ Chernow 2010 pp. 82, 137
  6. ^ Chernow 2010 pp. 201, 202
  7. ^ Ferling 2009 p. 66
  8. ^ Longmore 1988 p. 105
  9. ^ Chernow 2010 pp. 113–115, 137
  10. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 11
  11. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 281
  12. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 11–12
  13. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 81
  14. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 260
  15. ^ a b Morgan 2005 p. 407 n7
  16. ^ Haworth 1925 p. 192, cited in Hirschfeld 1997 p. 12
  17. ^ a b c Twohig 2001 p. 123
  18. ^ Morgan 2000 pp. 281–282, 298
  19. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 16–17
  20. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 116
  21. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 45
  22. ^ Morgan 2000 pp. 280–281, 285
  23. ^ a b Twohig 2001 p. 117
  24. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 122–123
  25. ^ MVLA Slavery and Family
  26. ^ Morgan 2000 pp. 286–287
  27. ^ MVLA Food
  28. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 36
  29. ^ a b c MVLA Slave Control
  30. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 125
  31. ^ MVLA Charlotte
  32. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 411–412
  33. ^ Chernow 2010 p. 161
  34. ^ MVLA Resistance & Punishment
  35. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 125–126, 132
  36. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 286
  37. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 410
  38. ^ Twohig 2003 p. 117
  39. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 100
  40. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 116
  41. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 46
  42. ^ Ellis 2004 pp. 258, 311 n25
  43. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 413
  44. ^ a b c Twohig 2001 p. 118
  45. ^ Chernow 2010 p. 162
  46. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 178–180
  47. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 135, 188
  48. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 188
  49. ^ "Faculty and Staff: Pete Henriques". History and Art History Faculty and Staff. George Mason University. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  50. ^ a b Morgan 2005 p. 412
  51. ^ a b Henriques 2008 p. 159
  52. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 27–29
  53. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 416–417
  54. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 230–231
  55. ^ a b Morgan 2005 p. 417
  56. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 288
  57. ^ Twohig 2001 pp. 118–119
  58. ^ Morgan & O'Shaughnessy 2008 p. 189
  59. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 416
  60. ^ Ferling 2009 p. 202
  61. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 119
  62. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 232–233
  63. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 227–231
  64. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 190–191
  65. ^ Morgan & O'Shaughnessy 2008 p. 198
  66. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 113, 251
  67. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 417–418
  68. ^ a b Twohig 2001 p. 120
  69. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 291
  70. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 418, 427–428
  71. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 299
  72. ^ Furstenberg 2011 p. 260
  73. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 121
  74. ^ a b Morgan 2005 p. 426
  75. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 256
  76. ^ Ferling 2002 p. 164
  77. ^ Furstenberg 2011 pp. 252, 263–266, 285
  78. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 291
  79. ^ Furstenberg 2011 pp. 251–253, 260, 273, 285
  80. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 260–263
  81. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 122–128
  82. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 261–264
  83. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 292
  84. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 418, 426
  85. ^ "George Washington – Yale University Press". Yale University Press. Yale University. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  86. ^ Rhodehamel 2017 p. 24
  87. ^ Wood 1992 p. 207
  88. ^ Chernow 2010 p. 616
  89. ^ Henriques 2008 p. 163
  90. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 418–419
  91. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 13–14
  92. ^ a b c Twohig 2001 p. 131
  93. ^ Furstenberg 2011 p. 275
  94. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 72–73
  95. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 92
  96. ^ Chernow 2010 p. 716
  97. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 167
  98. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 18
  99. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 18, 20
  100. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 419–420, 421
  101. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 311 n25
  102. ^ "An act to authorize the manumission of slaves (1782)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities in partnership with the Library of Virginia. August 13, 2015. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  103. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 122
  104. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 283
  105. ^ Twohig 2001 pp. 122–123
  106. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 18
  107. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 419
  108. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 289
  109. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 419 n25
  110. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 14
  111. ^ Henriques 2008 p. 153
  112. ^ a b Morgan 2005 pp. 404–405
  113. ^ a b "slave, Abram (at Pamocra; New Kent County, Va.)". The George Washington Financial Papers Project. University of Virginia. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  114. ^ Furstenberg 2011 p. 280
  115. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 272
  116. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 422
  117. ^ Twohig 2001 pp. 124–125
  118. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 153
  119. ^ a b Wiencek 2003 pp. 272–275
  120. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 421–423, 425
  121. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 311 n22
  122. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 423 n31
  123. ^ a b Morgan 2000 p. 298
  124. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 213 n5
  125. ^ Twohig 2001 pp. 125–126
  126. ^ Twohig 2001 pp. 126–128
  127. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 290
  128. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 275–276
  129. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 130
  130. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 297
  131. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 296
  132. ^ Ferling 2009 p. 363
  133. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 126
  134. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 297
  135. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 362
  136. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 361–362
  137. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 72–73
  138. ^ Morgan 2000 p. 296
  139. ^ a b Twohig 2001 p. 128
  140. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 423
  141. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 277, 382 n52
  142. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 423, 424 n32
  143. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 273–274
  144. ^ Ellis 2004 p. 257
  145. ^ Twohig 2001 pp. 128, 137 n45
  146. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 16
  147. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 339–342
  148. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 338–342
  149. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 423–424
  150. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 342
  151. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 342–343
  152. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 428–429
  153. ^ Twohig 2001 p. 129
  154. ^ Ellis 2004 pp. 259–260
  155. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 15
  156. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 404, 424
  157. ^ Morgan 2005 p. 425
  158. ^ Morgan 2005 pp. 425–427
  159. ^ a b c d Morgan 2005 p. 404
  160. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 5
  161. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 354
  162. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 p. 216
  163. ^ Hirchfeld 1997 p. 213
  164. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 359
  165. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 216–217
  166. ^ Wiencek 2003 p. 341
  167. ^ Wiencek 2003 pp. 341, 358
  168. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 213–214
  169. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 214–215
  170. ^ Prussing 1927 pp. 158–159, cited in Hirschfeld 1997 p. 215
  171. ^ Prussing 1927 pp. 159–160, cited in Hirschfeld 1997 p. 216
  172. ^ Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 217–218
  173. ^ MVLA Slave Burial Ground Archaeology
  174. ^ MVLA Forgotten No Longer


  • Chernow, Ron (2010). Washington, A Life (E-Book). London, United Kingdom: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-141-96610-6.
  • Ellis, Joseph J. (2004). His Excellency: George Washington. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-1-4000-4031-5.
  • Ferling, John E. (2002). Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-513409-4.
  • Ferling, John E. (2009). The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon. New York, New York: Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 978-1-6081-9182-6.
  • Furstenberg, François (2011). "Atlantic Slavery, Atlantic Freedom: George Washington, Slavery, and Transatlantic Abolitionist Networks". The William and Mary Quarterly. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. 68 (2): 247–286. doi:10.5309/willmaryquar.68.2.0247. JSTOR 10.5309/willmaryquar.68.2.0247.
  • Haworth, Paul L. (1925). George Washington, Country Gentleman: Being an Account of His Home Life and Agricultural Activites. Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill. OCLC 17471285.
  • Henriques, Peter R. (2008). Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-2741-1.
  • Hirschfeld, Fritz (1997). George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 978-0-8262-1135-4.
  • Longmore, Paul K. (1988). The Invention of George Washington. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06272-6.
  • Morgan, Kenneth (2000). "George Washington and the Problem of Slavery". Journal of American Studies. Cambridge University Press. 34 (2): 279–301. doi:10.1017/S0021875899006398. JSTOR 27556810.
  • Morgan, Philip D. (2005). ""To Get Quit of Negroes": George Washington and Slavery". Journal of American Studies. Cambridge University Press. 39 (3): 403–429. doi:10.1017/S0021875805000599. JSTOR 27557691.
  • Morgan, Philip D.; O'Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson (2008). "Arming Slaves in the American Revolution". In Brown, Christopher Leslie; Morgan, Philip D. (eds.). Arming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern Age. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. pp. 180–208. ISBN 978-0-300-10900-9.
  • Prussing, Eugene Ernst (1927). The estate of George Washington, deceased. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Co. OCLC 18079506.
  • Rhodehamel, John (2017). George Washington: The Wonder of the Age. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-21997-5.
  • Thompson, Mary V. (2019). The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon (E-Book). Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-4185-1.
  • Twohig, Dorothy (2001). ""That Species of Property": Washington's Role in the Controversy over Slavery". In Higginbotham, Don (ed.). George Washington Reconsidered. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. pp. 114–138. ISBN 978-0-8139-2005-4.
  • Wiencek, Henry (2003). An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-17526-9.
  • Wood, Gordon S. (1992). The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-40493-4.


  • "MVLA Charlotte". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  • "MVLA Food". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  • "MVLA Forgotten No Longer". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  • "MVLA Resistance & Punishment". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  • "MVLA Slave Burial Ground Archaeology". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  • "MVLA Slavery and Family". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  • "MVLA Slave Control". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved May 3, 2019.

Further reading

  • Dunbar, Erica Armstrong (2017). Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-5011-2639-0.
  • MacLeod, Jessie; Thompson, Mary V. (2016). Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. ISBN 978-0-931917-09-7.
  • Schwarz, Philip J. (2001). Slavery at the home of George Washington. Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. ISBN 978-0-931917-38-7.

For young readers

  • Delano, Marfe Ferguson (2013). Master George's People: George Washington, His Slaves, and His Revolutionary Transformation. Boone, Iowa: National Geographic. ISBN 978-1-4263-0759-1.
  • Dunbar, Erica Armstrong; Van Cleve, Kathleen (2019). Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington's Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away; Young Readers Edition. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-5344-1617-8.
  • Levy, Janet (2016). Slavery at Mount Vernon. New York, New York: Gareth Stevens Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4824-5805-3.
  • Rinaldi, Ann (2002). Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-689-85187-2.

External links

  • George Washington's will
  • Mount Vernon website pages on slavery
  • Slavery at the President's House in Philadelphia
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