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Sure, he was human and enjoyed the luxury of living in a big house with slave servants. But this book shows that he gave a lot of thought to how his slaves could be freed at a time when all of his immediate family, his wife Martha in particular, had no qualms about slavery. Idealists of today can be critical of Washington's silence and compromising approach to the issue of slavery. But remember, one of the reasons the newly written Constitution was ratified by the required number of states was because they knew George Washington would be the first one elected to the office of President, and everybody trusted him.

The reason they trusted him was his willingness to remain silent on issues that he knew would ruffle the feathers of others. The book follows the story of Washington's ancestors, his youth, and follows him through his adult years. The story of slavery of America during this time is also described. The book portrays a shift in Washington's attitude toward African-Americans during the Revolutionary War.

Status of Slaves in Washington's Will

Washington spent most of his time during the war in the north where there were numerous freed blacks. Washington learned to respect their abilities during this time. However, George Washington was the consummate politician, and during his presidency and retirement years in Virginia he kept his personal opinions about slavery limited to a select few. In the end he avoided the wrath of his family and wife by freeing his slaves in his will after his death, an act he had not discussed with Martha.

One fact I learned from this book is that most of the slaves serving at Mount Vernon were dower slaves, the property of the Custis estate came to the marriage through Martha , and Washington's will could not free them.

His will indicated his wish that they could be freed along with his, but in the end few were freed. That is again an indication of the attitude of his family.

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The narrative follows the stories of some of Washington's slaves, some of whom escaped while serving during the presidency years in Philadelphia. The story of an escaped slave named Ona Judge was of particular interest. It appears that Washington may have been willing to do nothing about her escape, but his wife Martha insisted that every effort be made to make her return.

Washington knew that the incident had the potential of being politically embarrassing, but Martha wanted her maid back at all costs.

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The following are my thoughts, not from the book: I think the past predicament of white Americans living in slave states was similar to us today who are addicted to the use of fossil fuels. We know its bad for the world's climate, we know it's bad for the nation's balance of payments, and we know future generations will hate us for it, but we just can't quit. Past slave economies were in a similar situation. They knew there were problems but didn't see how their way of life could survive without slavery. What will it take to teach us how to live without fossil fuels? Could a world wide financial depression do it?

This is an excellent view of Washington's position on a major injustice in which he participated, even if he elected to try and free his slaves at his death. It is interesting that his sister's husband in Frederickburg organized a school for slaves. An important contribution to Washington biographies.


The author makes annoying jumps into first person, telling how he tracked down information instead of simply telling the story of Washington the slaveholder. Here at Walmart. Your email address will never be sold or distributed to a third party for any reason. Due to the high volume of feedback, we are unable to respond to individual comments.

Enter your Postcode or Suburb to view availability and delivery times. See Terms for more information. At the centre of this reappraisal is the figure of West Ford, a Washington slave, whose family claim a familial connection with George Washington.

A major new biography of Washington, and the first to explore his engagement with American slavery When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his "only unavoidable subject of regret. Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife had blood ties to the slave community.

ISBN 13: 9780374175269

Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts an incident ignored by earlier biographers. Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington's attitudes began to change. He and the other framers enshrined slavery in the Constitution, but, Wiencek shows, even beforehe became president Washington had begun to see the system's evil. Wiencek's revelatory narrative, based on a meticulous examination of private papers, court records, and the voluminous Washington archives, documents for the first time the moral transformation culminating in Washington's determination to emancipate his slaves.

He acted too late to keep the new republic from perpetuating slavery, but his repentance was genuine.

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And it was perhaps related to the possibility - as the oral history of Mount Vernon's slave descendants has long asserted - that a slave named West Ford was the son of George and a woman named Venus; Wiencek has new evidence that this could indeed have been true.

George Washington's heroic stature as Father of Our Country is not diminished in this superb, nuanced portrait: now we see Washington in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time.

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