January 03, 2005

*Presidential Fun Fact: Washington's Slaves

George Washington freed his slaves when he died. Everybody knows that.

Erm, yes. Well.

Truth is that his will provided for their freedom upon Martha's death, and that only included the slaves he himself personally owned. Martha, rich widow that she was before marrying George, owned most of the slaves herself. The only slave that was actually freed when George kicked the bucket was his former valet, a crippled old man named William.

In his defense, it would have been problematic for George to suddenly free all the slaves anyway. For one thing, they would have been hard-pressed to find work and feed themselves. So to his credit, he provided they be taught to read and write, and for those of appropriate age to learn a trade. He also stipulated that his heirs were to take care of any freed slaves unable to take care of themselves due to age or illness.

Martha decided to free the slaves before her death, by the way, so they were freed a year after George died.

Posted by Jennifer at January 3, 2005 08:15 AM


I remember reading somewhere about why Martha did this: She didn't feel terribly comfortable about living with people who were looking forward to her death.

Posted by: Dr_Funk at January 3, 2005 08:10 PM

Robert E Lee's temporary will in case of combat death during the Mexican War (in which he earned recognition for personal courage, leadership and engineering skill) included a provision for freeing all his slaves.

U.S. Grant's wife was a slaveowner.

Posted by: triticale at January 8, 2005 12:28 AM