Mount Vernon slaves found many ways to resist bondage and challenge George Washington’s authority. Resistance ranged from subtle behavior like pretending to be sick, working slowly, and stealing supplies, to more visible actions like fighting with overseers and running away.
Negros are growing more & more insolent & difficult to govern…
--George Washington, 1798
Though we don't have documentation from the enslaved peoples themselves, Washington’s records reveal how they resisted slavery in small but significant ways. Actions that Washington attributed to carelessness or laziness were more likely deliberate resistance by those weary of a system that profited from their unpaid labor.
How did they resist?
“I find Doll at the Ferry is constantly returned sick; the Overseer at that place ought to see that this sickness is not pretense.” –George Washington, 1794
“Muclas [spent] six days paving, & sanding the Cellar which a man in Philadelphia would have done in less than as many hours.” –George Washington, 1794
“I wish you could find out the thief who robbed the Meat house at Mount Vernon, and bring him to punishment. And at the same time secure the house against future attempts.” –George Washington, 1795
Breaking tools and supplies
“Enquire what is become of the Corn Tubs...It is a most shameful thing that conveniences of this sort which ought to last for years are suffered to go to destruction after once or twice using, & then new ones are to be provided.” –George Washington, 1793