Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington. It was also home to hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children.
He depended on their labor to build and maintain his household and plantation. They, in turn, found ways to survive in a world that denied their freedom. As a young man, Washington accepted slavery, but after the Revolutionary War, he began to question it. Washington avoided the issue publicly, believing that bitter debates over slavery could tear apart the fragile nation.
He made his most public antislavery statement after his death. In his will, Washington ordered that his slaves be freed at his wife’s death. Unfortunately, this applied to fewer than half of the people in bondage at Mount Vernon. Those owned by the Custis estate were inherited by Martha Washington’s grandchildren after her death. Many Washington and Custis slaves had married and formed families together. For them, separation from loved ones tainted celebrations of newfound freedom.