Over the course of George Washington’s life, at least 577 enslaved people lived and worked at Mount Vernon.

The number of enslaved people at Mount Vernon grew steadily during Washington's residence from 1754 to 1799. By the end of Washington's life, there were 317 enslaved people at Mount Vernon.

How did they get here?

As a young man, Washington purchased dozens of enslaved people from estate sales and in private transactions.

At times, he rented laborers temporarily from relatives and neighbors. Washington also inherited enslaved people from his parents and siblings.

When he married widow Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759, Washington gained control of a large number of men, women, and children from her first husband’s estate (though he did not legally own them).

When women in bondage at Mount Vernon gave birth, their babies were also enslaved, increasing the population under Washington’s control.

1750

George Washington gains control of 11 enslaved people inherited from his father: Fortune, George, Long Joe, Winna, Bellindar, Jenny, Adam, Nat, London, Milly, and Frank. They are valued at about £202. Washington inherited at least 23 enslaved people from family members.

1759

Washington marries widow Martha Dandridge Custis, who brings 84 enslaved people to Mount Vernon as part of her “dower share” of her first husband’s estate. She retained life rights to these people but did not legally own them. By 1799, the number of “dower slaves” at Mount Vernon had grown to 153 through natural increase, as children inherited the status of their mother.

1766

Washington sells Tom, a foreman, to Saint Kitts in the West Indies as punishment for trying to run away. Enslaved people left Mount Vernon when they were sold, escaped successfully, or died.

1768

Washington pays £148 to a Virginia widow for four individuals: brothers William and Frank Lee, and two boys named Adam and Jack. Washington purchased at least 65 men, women, and children from the 1750s to the 1770s.

1776

Washington pays a white midwife to attend to Betty and Daphne in childbirth. At least 293 babies were born to enslaved women at Mount Vernon between 1750 and 1799.

1786

Washington begins renting 23 enslaved people and a plot of land from his neighbor, Penelope French. At the end of his life, Washington was renting 41 individuals.

Where did they go?

After the deaths of George and Martha Washington, the enslaved community was divided. Some were emancipated in Washington’s will. The people Washington rented were returned to their owners. And those owned by the Custis estate, whom Washington could not free, were inherited by Martha Washington’s heirs.

1800

The 41 individuals Washington was renting are returned to their owners.

1801

The enslaved people George Washington owns outright (about 120 individuals) are emancipated by a provision in his will.

1802

After Martha Washington’s death, the people owned by the Custis estate (about 150 individuals) are dispersed to Martha’s four grandchildren.

A Community Divided

After George Washington’s death, Mount Vernon’s enslaved community was divided several times over.

Learn More

The content on this page was adapted from Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, an exhibition on view in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center from 2016–2020.

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