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Learn more about George Washington and the enslaved population at Mount Vernon. Washington struggled with slavery and eventually freed his slaves upon his death.

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.