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1492, October 12

Christopher Columbus Lands in the Bahamas

Christopher Columbus lands in the Bahamas believing it to be India. Europeans would later realize that this is an entirely new continent, exploring and settling the Americas thereafter.

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1607, May 14

Jamestown is Founded

English colonists found Jamestown in Virginia. It is the first permanent English settlement in the Americas that will lead to the creation of the 13 British Colonies.

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Map of the Middle British Colonies

The Headright System is Adopted

The Virginia Company of London adopts the Headright system, a system that encouraged wealthy investors to pay for a poor British laborer’s journey to the colonies; the investors would be rewarded with land grants in the Colonies. This is a way to gain land and labor quickly in the New World.

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1619, August

The First Enslaved People Arrive in English America

A privateer ship, The White Lion, brings the first cargo of enslaved Africans to English America at Point Comfort on the James River. The ship contains “20 and odd” people originating from West Central Africa.

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The English Develop a Commercial Slave Trade

A steadier supply of enslaved people arrive in British America because of the English commercial slave trade. Enslaved people are captured and brought to the English Colonies. They become an important labor force as European migration declines.  

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More on the Transatlantic Slave Trade
1662, December

The Enactment of Hereditary Slavery

The colony of Virginia passes the Enactment of Hereditary Slavery Law. This law ties the freedom status of a child to their mother.

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Labor in the Chesapeake

White indentured servants are still the dominant labor force in the Chesapeake; however, that is beginning to change. Enslaved people gradually become the primary source of labor in the Chesapeake Colonies. 

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1743, April 12

Washington Becomes an Enslaver

Washington’s father, Augustine, dies and leaves his 11-year-old son 10 enslaved people in his will. The younger Washington takes control of them when he turned 18. 

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More on the Washington Family
1751, September 19

Washington's Journey to Barbados

George and Lawrence Washington visit the island of Barbados to alleviate Lawrence’s tuberculosis. They are most certainly exposed to the conditions of West Indies' enslaved people on sugar plantations. George Washington also contracts smallpox, which immunizes him against the epidemic during the Revolution.

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More on Washington's Journey to Barbados
1752, June-July

Lawrence Passes Away

Washington returns from Barbados early that year while Lawrence Washington returns to Mount Vernon in June and dies from disease shortly after in July. Washington inherits six more enslaved people, including two children, Lucy and Tom.

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More on Lawrence Washington
1754, October

Washington Delivers a Message

A 21-year-old George Washington volunteers to deliver a message on behalf of Virginia governor, Robert Dinwiddie, to French forces in the Ohio River Valley to halt further construction of their forts and leave Virginia-claimed territory. The French decline the message.

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Primary Source: George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie
1755, January

Washington Purchases Jack

Washington purchases an enslaved man, Jack, for £52 from William Buckner.

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Interactive Tools: Database of the Enslaved
1756, November

Washington Purchases a Woman and Child

Washington purchases an unknown woman and child for £60 from Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie.

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Washington Rents Enslaved People from his Brother

Washington rents several enslaved people from his younger brother Charles, including two men and one women for £20

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1759, January

Washington Marries Martha Custis

George Washington marries wealthy widow Martha Custis. She would bring significant property from the estate of her late husband, Daniel Parke Custis, including 84 enslaved people. The wealth and labor from Martha’s “dower” (widow’s) share of the Custis estate contribute to Washington’s rise in wealth and status in the following years.

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Washington Purchases Neptune and Cupid

Washington travels to Maryland where he purchases at least two enslaved men, Neptune and Cupid, off of a slaving ship. They are among 350 aboard the vessel. Neptune and Cupid later escape the plantation in 1761.

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Primary Source: Neptune And Cupid Runaway Slave Notice

Washington Takes Full Ownership of Mount Vernon

Washington inherits five more enslaved people - Maria, George, Kate, and Kate’s two children - after the death of Lawrence’s widow, Anne. Washington also formally inherits Mount Vernon after renting it from Anne for the last several years. He travels again to Maryland to purchase "Sundry Slaves" off the ship, Africa ('Sundry' meaning they would be working for various purposes).

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Interactive Tools: Virtual Tour of Mount Vernon
Late 1760's

Washington Purchases Sambo Anderson

Sambo and his shipmate, Simon, are captured in Guinea in West Africa and sent to the Americas. They are purchased by George Washington.

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More on Sambo Anderson
1801, January 1

Sambo Anderson is Emancipated

Just over a year after Washington’s death, Sambo Anderson is emancipated by Martha Washington.

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Sambo and his Grandson Help Construct the New Tomb

Sambo Anderson and his grandson, William, are among 12 enslaved and free people who help landscape the new tomb built for the Washingtons several decades after Washington's death.

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Interactive Tools: See Washington's Tomb
1845, February 20

Sambo Passes Away

Sambo Anderson dies over 40 years after his emancipation and about 70 years after his enslavement. In the years before his death, Sambo stayed at Mount Vernon and earned enough money to free several of his family members from their enslavement including his daughter, Charity, his grandchildren, William and Eliza; and Eliza’s children, James, William, and John.

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