Privately, Washington considered plans in the mid 1790s to free his enslaved population. [299], A decade after Washington's death, the Pennsylvanian jurist Richard Peters wrote that Washington's servants "were devoted to him; and especially those more immediately about his person. In the winter of 1775, Wheatley sent Washington a letter containing an ode to the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. The enslaved people at Mount Vernon practiced diverse religious traditions and customs. Most of Washington’s human property lived, worked, and died at Mount Vernon. Those who accepted Christianity became "Christian servants" with time-limited servitude, or even freed, but this mechanism for ending bondage was gradually shut down. See George Washington and slavery for more details. [40][41][42], In 1799, nearly three-quarters of the enslaved population, over half of them female, worked in the fields. He sought to liberate himself from an economically unviable system, not to liberate his slaves. In one case, Washington suspected an enslaved person of frequently avoiding work over a period of decades through acts of deliberate self harm. Although the ratio had improved by 1799 to around 2:1, the Mount Vernon estate had grown by only 10 percent to some 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) while the working slave population had grown by 65 percent to 201. [57], Washington provided his enslaved people with a blanket each fall at most, which they used for their own bedding and which they were required to use to gather leaves for livestock bedding. Theft was a particularly frequent act of visible slave resistance. [146] His determination not to separate families became a major complication in his deliberations on the sale, purchase and, in due course, emancipation of his own slaves. Although spacious, the house barely contained all the people cramped inside: George and Martha; their grandchildren, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis and George Washington “Wash” Parke Custis; Tobias Lear; Washington’s private secretaries, David Humphreys, William Jackson, and Thomas Nelson, Jr.; at least ten white or free black paid servants that worked and may have boarded in the home; and several enslaved individuals. Learn more about Mount Vernon's recent archaeological studies within the Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery. [53] Such cabins were the standard slave accommodation at the outlying farms, comparable to the accommodation occupied by the lower strata of free white society across the Chesapeake area and by the enslaved on other Virginia plantations. [40] Enslaved people who were less able, through injury, disability or age, were given light duties, while those too sick to work were generally, though not always, excused work while they recovered. [16] 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"; in the end he chose to hire a white chef. There is a suggestion that slaves were implicated in starting a fire at the main residence after Washington's death, and there were rumors that Martha was in danger, including one that slaves planned to poison her. Running away was a risky venture that often did not succeed. His will freed his slaves pending the death of his widow, though she freed them within a year of her husband's death. Before 1782, a manumission had required obtaining consent from the state legislature, which was arduous and rarely granted. At the time of his death, 318 enslaved people lived at Mount Vernon and fewer than half of them belonged to … 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. For example, in April of 1781 during the American Revolution, seventeen members of the Mount Vernon enslaved population—fourteen men and three women—fled to the British warship HMS Savage anchored in the Potomac off the shore of the plantation. Lives Bound Together explores the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon while providing insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery. At 11 years of age, upon the death of his father in 1743, Washington inherited his first ten slaves. Washington was born into a slave society and both he and his wife, Martha, not only owned slaves, but were genetically related to slaves with whom they interacted (including Martha's much younger half-sister). [302] In the eulogies of the antislavery faction, the inconvenient fact of Washington's slaveholding was downplayed in favor of his final act of emancipation. This was 1796 in Philadelphia when George Washington was president. [45] The enslaved were expected to work from sunrise to sunset over a six-day work week that was standard on Virginia plantations. George Washington's Views on Slavery In his writings, George Washington felt very strongly that slavery was an institution that needed to be eliminated from American society. Washington inherited the 260-acre (110 ha) Ferry Farm and ten slaves. Mount Vernon’s enslaved community took opportunities, when possible, to physically escape their enslavement. At war’s end, Washington demanded without success that the British respect the preliminary peace treaty which he said required return of escaped slaves without exception. 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