This chronology highlights key events in the lives of people enslaved at Mount Vernon as well as George Washington's public and private actions relating to slavery. Both are set in context with landmark moments in the history of the United States.Explore the Timeline
Fortune, George, Long Joe, Winna, Bellindar, Jenny, Adam, Nat, London, Milly, and Frank
His widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, receives a life-interest in one-third of his estate, which includes almost 300 enslaved people spread across plantations in six counties.
George Washington gains legal control (but not ownership) of the whole of the Custis estate, including the people, property, income, and goods inherited by Martha's young children. Washington also purchases at least 12 additional enslaved people that year.
Peros, Jack, and Cupid are back in 1762, but Neptune appears to have evaded recapture until 1765.
Kate, George, Maria, and Kate's two children (unnamed) return to Mount Vernon after an absence of 8 years.
By 1765, Washington decides to cease tobacco production and make wheat his primary cash crop. He also expands hemp and flax growing to support large-scale textile production.
George Washington calls the Stamp Act "a direful attack upon [the colonists'] Liberties."
Tom, a foreman at River Farm, attempts to run away and is captured. Washington sells him in the West Indies.
In October, the Council of War, headed by Washington, prohibits "Negroes" from enlisting in the army. This prohibition is reversed in December, permitting free blacks to enlist if approved by Congress.
Excerpt from His Excellency General Washington by Phillis Wheatley
Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side, / Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide. / A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine, / With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! Be thine.”
July 4, 1776
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And in 1778, George Washington writes privately that "I wish to get quit of Negroes" - the earliest documented expression of a desire to no longer own enslaved people.
The act prohibits importation of new enslaved persons into the state and frees children born into slavery once they reach adulthood. The act permits non-resident slaveholders to keep their enslaved people in Pennsylvania for no more than six months, at which point an enslaved individual can claim their freedom.
Frederick, Frank, Gunner, Sambo, Thomas, Lucy, and Esther are eventually forced to return to Mount Vernon, while Daniel, Deborah, and Harry escape from New York with the British. The fate of Peter, Lewis, Tom, Peter, Stephen, James, and Watty remains unknown.
George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, April 5, 1783
The scheme...which you propose as a precedent, to encourage the emancipation of the black people of this Country from that state of Bondage in wch. they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your Heart. I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work; but will defer going into a detail of the business, 'till I have the pleasure of seeing you.”
Delegates agree to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counts one enslaved person as equal to 3/5 of one free person for the apportionment of each state's congressional representatives as allocated by population for the House of Representatives.
The essay is one of six antislavery pamphlets that Washington binds together in a volume entitled, "Tracts on Slavery."
During his tour, Washington emphasized national unity, familiarized himself with political sentiments in the region, and learned about the geography and economic production in the lower South.
He also directs the farm manager to threaten another Ben, age 15, with sale in the West Indies, "if a stop is not put to his rogueries, & other villainies."
Included in the list are enslaved people he owned outright, dower slaves owned by Martha Washington, and enslaved individuals Washington rented from Mrs. Penelope French from 1786 on.
"To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out, is almost as bad, because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse the families I have an aversion. What then is to be done? Something must, or I shall be ruined ... "
On the evening of December 14, 1799 at Mount Vernon, George Washington passed away of a throat infection after riding through a wet and snowy wintery mix several days earlier. Four enslaved people were in the room when he died. He was buried four days later on December 18 at the family vault at Mount Vernon.
Although Augustine Washington formally took ownership of Mount Vernon in 1850, he had been running operations at the estate for nearly a decade prior.
In an editorial published in 1858, Ann Pamela Cunningham challenged first the women of the South, and later the women of the entire country, to save the home of George Washington. After convincing John Augustine Washington III to sell the property, Cunningham and the organization she had founded, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, raised $200,000 to purchase the mansion and two hundred acres.