History

Negros Belonging to George Washington in his own right and by Marriage

In 1799 George Washington compiled this census of the slaves at Mount Vernon. He listed the enslaved people he owned outright under “G.W.” and those who had come to the plantation upon his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis were listed under “Dower.” Though Washington had control of the dower slaves during his lifetime, the Custis estate legally owned them. This is part of an eight-page listing that Washington probably compiled about the time he was preparing his will. As shown on this page, he included the names of the enslaved and their spouses, if they had one, and the type of work they did.

Among them were blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, millers, spinners, cooks, and a shoemaker named Will (William Lee, who had previously served as Washington’s long-term personal valet). Several children were listed at the bottom of the page, as well as a small group of slaves too old or infirm to work (“Passed Labour”), the eldest being 90 years old.

The census documents that 317 enslaved people were at Mount Vernon in 1799. Washington personally owned 123 people, and he managed 153 people who were part of Martha Washington’s dower. He rented the remainder of the slaves from a neighbor. In his will, Washington ordered that his own slaves be freed upon the death of his wife, but the Custis estate took possession of the dower slaves after Martha’s death and they were divided amongst her grandchildren, thereby tearing apart many families.

A Map of General Washington’s Farm of Mount Vernon

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