At the time of George Washington’s death, the Mount Vernon estate’s enslaved population consisted of 318 people. Washington himself had been a slave owner for fifty-six years, beginning at eleven years of age when he inherited ten slaves from his deceased father.
During the winter, Mount Vernon’s enslaved population toiled for around eight hours each day, while in the summer the workday was as long as fourteen hours. These individuals faced incredibly harsh working and living conditions and strict limitations on their freedom. However, the enslaved population also resisted their subjugation and carved out small pieces of independence within a system that operated to deny them basic rights.
Washington’s thoughts on slavery were contradictory and changed over time. This evolution culminated near the end of his life; Washington’s will mandated the freeing of his slaves upon his wife’s death, making him the only slaveholding Founder to put provisions for manumission in his will.
George Washington's views on the subject of slavery shifted over the course of his life.
Learn more about this sacred ground, used as the cemetery for slaves and free blacks who worked at Mount Vernon during the 18th century.
Enslaved persons at Mount Vernon found a variety of ways to fill their time off from work. With little free time and control over their every day life, Mount Vernon's enslaved population attempted to exert some free will and choice when it came to their private lives.
George Washington, perhaps the premier founding father of a country which has come to symbolize freedom and liberty to the entire world, was born into a society in which slavery was a simple fact of life.