'The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret'

Joined
Oct 3, 2005
The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret' George Washington, Slavery and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon
by Mary Thompson

Mary Thompson was the research historian at Mount Vernon was many years, and has gathered an immense amount of material about the community of enslaved people at Mount Vernon.

When we say "Mount Vernon" it means a complex of five major farms, about 8000 acres, producing grain and tobacco. Washington got 150 slaves when he married Mary Custis, bought and sold slaves for most of his working life, and had 300 when he died. 47 managed to run away from a man that Thompson says was "not easy to work for," which in the context of slavery meant recourse to the whip.

Washington had a fierce temper, over which he exerted an iron self control, and an equally fierce work ethic. Up at dawn to survey his estate, he demanded constant work and results from his slaves and their white managers. For those who fell short, he could be "tremendous in his wrath."

He never seemed to question slavery up to the Revolution, but reexamined his beliefs and the place of slavery in America during and after the war. He stopped selling human beings, wrote approvingly to abolishing slavery, and freed his half of the slaves(the other half belonged legally to Martha Washington) in his will. The other 150 were passed on, like other property, to Martha's descendants.

Washington's unparalleled place in the creation of America makes any anti-slavery language or action significant. But he didn't use his reputation to give a clarion call to end slavery.*

*some of the ideas in this review were taken from Eric Foner's essay in the London Review of Books, vol. 41, Number 24,19 Dec.2019.
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret' George Washington, Slavery and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon
by Mary Thompson

Mary Thompson was the research historian at Mount Vernon was many years, and has gathered an immense amount of material about the community of enslaved people at Mount Vernon.

When we say "Mount Vernon" it means a complex of five major farms, about 8000 acres, producing grain and tobacco. Washington got 150 slaves when he married Mary Custis, bought and sold slaves for most of his working life, and had 300 when he died. 47 managed to run away from a man that Thompson says was "not easy to work for," which in the context of slavery meant recourse to the whip.

Washington had a fierce temper, over which he exerted an iron self control, and an equally fierce work ethic. Up at dawn to survey his estate, he demanded constant work and results from his slaves and their white managers. For those who fell short, he could be "tremendous in his wrath."

He never seemed to question slavery up to the Revolution, but reexamined his beliefs and the place of slavery in America during and after the war. He stopped selling human beings, wrote approvingly to abolishing slavery, and freed his half of the slaves(the other half belonged legally to Martha Washington) in his will. The other 150 were passed on, like other property, to Martha's descendants.

Washington's unparalleled place in the creation of America makes any anti-slavery language or action significant. But he didn't use his reputation to give a clarion call to end slavery.*

*some of the ideas in this review were taken from Eric Foner's essay in the London Review of Books, vol. 41, Number 24,19 Dec.2019.

I focused entirely on Washington in my review, but the focus of the book is on the enslaved people at Mount Vernon. Few of their voices are heard, except filtered through whites, but Washington kept detailed records of diet, work schedules, clothing. Frequently hosting parties of visitors("I've become a god ****ed innkeeper" he once muttered) for political or social reasons, many recorded their impressions of the great man's slaves.

Current visitors (Mount Vernon receives over a million a year) sometimes ask if Washington was a good slave owner. The answer is, of course, no. Not because of he sold people(he kept families together), or he remorselessly pursued fugitives, or he flogged. Its because he kept people as slaves.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret' George Washington, Slavery and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon
by Mary Thompson

Mary Thompson was the research historian at Mount Vernon was many years, and has gathered an immense amount of material about the community of enslaved people at Mount Vernon.

When we say "Mount Vernon" it means a complex of five major farms, about 8000 acres, producing grain and tobacco. Washington got 150 slaves when he married Mary Custis, bought and sold slaves for most of his working life, and had 300 when he died. 47 managed to run away from a man that Thompson says was "not easy to work for," which in the context of slavery meant recourse to the whip.

Washington had a fierce temper, over which he exerted an iron self control, and an equally fierce work ethic. Up at dawn to survey his estate, he demanded constant work and results from his slaves and their white managers. For those who fell short, he could be "tremendous in his wrath."

He never seemed to question slavery up to the Revolution, but reexamined his beliefs and the place of slavery in America during and after the war. He stopped selling human beings, wrote approvingly to abolishing slavery, and freed his half of the slaves(the other half belonged legally to Martha Washington) in his will. The other 150 were passed on, like other property, to Martha's descendants.

Washington's unparalleled place in the creation of America makes any anti-slavery language or action significant. But he didn't use his reputation to give a clarion call to end slavery.*

*some of the ideas in this review were taken from Eric Foner's essay in the London Review of Books, vol. 41, Number 24,19 Dec.2019.
Washington's adopted son (and step-grandson), George Washington Parke Custis, seems to have followed in the President's ambiguous approach at his own estate of Arlington. He didn't free his slaves during his lifetime but did treat them well (if any person in such bondage can be said to have been treated well) and they were referred to as "the Mount Vernon slaves". His daughter and (especially) his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, did not follow in this approach. In fact. Custis' will specifically asked that the slaves be freed--which stipulation General Lee declined to implement.
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
Washington's adopted son (and step-grandson), George Washington Parke Custis, seems to have followed in the President's ambiguous approach at his own estate of Arlington. He didn't free his slaves during his lifetime but did treat them well (if any person in such bondage can be said to have been treated well) and they were referred to as "the Mount Vernon slaves". His daughter and (especially) his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, did not follow in this approach. In fact. Custis' will specifically asked that the slaves be freed--which stipulation General Lee declined to implement.
Colonel Custis very much admired President Washington and kept many of his possessions as relics. R.E. Lee did free what Custis slaves that were under his control, but not until five years after Custis's death, as specified in his father in law's will. Of course that was in 1862, with the EP looming, and much of his land under federal occupation.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Colonel Custis very much admired President Washington and kept many of his possessions as relics. R.E. Lee did free what Custis slaves that were under his control, but not until five years after Custis's death, as specified in his father in law's will. Of course that was in 1862, with the EP looming, and much of his land under federal occupation.
The Custis will certainly was a source of problems. From what I know (which is precious little), the will required that the debts of the estate be paid and that General Lee interpreted that as meaning that the debts had to be paid before the slaves were freed. There then followed some years of legal wrangling which was settled by a Virginia court.

GWP Custis certainly did respect President Washington--as did his daughter, Mary Custis Lee. I suspect that this admiration is a large part of the reason that so may of the President's relics have survived.
 

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