Historic Events Enslaved People Washington in Public Washington in Private The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
1619

Enslaved Africans first brought to Virginia and sold at Jamestown.

1705

The Virginia legislature enacts a slave code, establishing systematic rules for relationships between slaves and citizens.

1743

George Washington, age 11, is bequeathed enslaved people upon the death of his father, Augustine Washington.

1750

Washington, age 18, gains legal control of 11 enslaved people from his father's estate.

Fortune, George, Long Joe, Winna, Bellindar, Jenny, Adam, Nat, London, Milly, and Frank

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1754

Washington inherits 6 enslaved people from his half-brother, Lawrence Washington.

 Peter, Jenny, Tom (Jenny's son), Phebe, Tom, and Lucy

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1754

George Washington leases Mount Vernon from the estate of his half­-brother, Lawrence, as well as another 18 enslaved individuals.

1754

Major Washington participates in the disastrous Braddock expedition to the Ohio Valley.

Allegheny Expedition
1757

Virginia planter Daniel Parke Custis dies, leaving no will.

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.

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1758

George Washington expands the Mount Vernon Mansion for the first time.

1759

George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis marry and set­tle at Mount Vernon. Martha probably brings at least 12 enslaved artisans and domestic workers with her, including Doll, a cook, and Sally, her maid.

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.

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1761

Peros, Jack, Neptune, and Cupid (all native Africans) run away from Dogue Run Farm.

Peros, Jack, and Cupid are back in 1762, but Neptune appears to have evaded recapture until 1765.

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1762

George Washington inherits 5 enslaved people from Lawrence Washington's widow, Ann Fairfax Washington Lee.

Kate, George, Maria, and Kate's two children (unnamed) return to Mount Vernon after an absence of 8 years.

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1763

The French and Indian War ends.

French & Indian War
1763

George Washington begins reducing tobacco production, replacing it with wheat.

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.

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Wheat Farming
1765

British Parliament passes the Stamp Act. The Virginia legislature responds with Resolves protesting "taxation without representa­tion."

George Washington calls the Stamp Act "a direful attack upon [the colonists'] Liberties."

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1766

George Washington appoints the first of several enslaved overseers.

Tom, a foreman at River Farm, attempts to run away and is cap­tured. Washington sells him in the West Indies.

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1768

Washington purchases William (Billy) Lee, who becomes Washington's valet, and his brother Frank Lee, who becomes Mount Vernon's butler.

William Lee
1774

Washington begins adding wings onto the two ends of the Mansion.

1775, October

The 2nd Continental Congress names George Washington commander in chief of the Continental Army.

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.

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Continental Army
1775, November

Virginia's royal governor, Lord Dunmore, issues proclamation offering freedom to enslaved men who serve with the British military.

1776

Washington corresponds with Phillis Wheatley, a formerly enslaved woman, praising a poem she had written in his honor.

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.”

Excerpt from His Excellency General Washington by Phillis Wheatley
1776

The 2nd Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence.

Declaration of Independence

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.”

July 4, 1776
1776, December

Washington leads a daring nighttime crossing of the Delaware River and defeats the British at Trenton.

10 Facts about crossing the Delaware
1777

Alexander Hamilton, John Laurens, and the Marquis de Lafayette join Washington's military staff, introducing antislavery ideas.

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.

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1780

Pennsylvania passes the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.

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.

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1781

17 people enslaved at Mount Vernon flee aboard the British ship Savage, on the Potomac River.

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.

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1781

British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders his army at Yorktown, the last major battle of the Revolutionary War.

Yorktown Campaign
1781

En route to and from Yorktown, Washington spends a few days at Mount Vernon - his only visits during the Revolutionary War.

1782

The state of Virginia passes legislation permitting slaveowners to free enslaved people without a special act of the General Assembly.

1783

The Treaty of Paris formally ends the American Revolution.

1783

George Washington resigns his military commission and returns to Mount Vernon.

Resignation of Military Commission
1783

In a letter, George Washington privately expresses admiration for the Marquis de Lafayette's plan for the abolition of slavery.

Lafayette's Plan for Ending Slavery

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.”

George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, April 5, 1783
1785

Washington refuses to sign an antislavery petition presented by Methodist abolitionists.

1785

Using enslaved labor, Washington begins creating a picturesque landscape at Mount Vernon, echoing English country estates.

facts about the landscape at mount vernon
1786

Washington installs bookcases in his study and begins finishing the New Room of the Mansion. He privately states his support for the gradual abolition of slavery via legislative action.

1786

In his diary, George Washington lists all of the enslaved people belonging to himself and to the Custis estate: a total of 216 people, including 90 under the age of 14.

1787

Washington presides over the Constitutional Convention, at which the status of enslaved people in the United States is hotly debated.

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.

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constitutional convention
1788

French abolitionist Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville likely presents Washington with Thomas Clarkson's Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade.

The essay is one of six antislavery pamphlets that Wash­ington binds together in a volume entitled, "Tracts on Slavery."

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1789, April

George Washington is elected the first president of the United States.

the first president
1789

The Washingtons take several enslaved servants to the first na­tional capital, in New York.

1790

The president's household, including Ona Judge, Moll, Christo­pher Sheels, Austin, Giles, Paris, Hercules, and Richmond, moves to the second national capital, in Philadelphia.

1790

Washington privately writes that Quaker-led antislavery petitions to Congress are, "not only an ill-judged piece of business, but [they] occasioned a great waste of time."

1791

The Bill of Rights is ratified.

view primary source
1791

Washington instructs his secretary to send enslaved people from the president's household back to Mount Vernon, thus evading the Pennsylvania law that would have allowed them to claim freedom after six months residence in the state.

1791

President George Washington coordinates a journey to the southern states to emphasize national unity and familiarize himself with political sentiments and economic production in the region.

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.

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southern tour
1791

Giles, a postilion, accompanies Washington on his tour of the southern states.

learn more about Giles
1791, December

Washington sends Jack, an enslaved wagoner, to the West Indies "to be disposed of."

1793

Washington condones his farm manager's having whipped Charlotte, an enslaved housemaid, for being "very impudent."

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."

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learn more about Charlotte
1793

Enslaved overseer Davy Gray advocates for more rations for en­slaved people, and Washington increases the rations.

learn more about Davy Gray
1793

As president, Washington signs the Fugitive Slave Act into law, granting slaveholders the right to pursue enslaved people who runaway even if they have escaped to free states or territories.

view primary source
1793

Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin.

1794

Washington signs the Slave Trade Act into law, prohibiting American ships from engaging in the slave trade. Foreign ships continue to bring enslaved people to the United States, but cannot export them.

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Enslaved overseer Will asks Washington if his wife, Kate, a field­worker, can serve as the midwife for the enslaved community.

learn more about Kate
1796

Ona Judge, Martha Washington's personal maid, escapes from the president's house in Philadelphia, eventually settling in New Hampshire.

1796

Washington advertises to rent his outlying four farms, aiming to use the proceeds to free the people he owns.

1797

George Washington completes his second term as president and retires to Mount Vernon.

1797

Hercules, the Washingtons' enslaved cook, escapes from Mount Vernon, where he had been temporarily reassigned as a laborer.

learn more about Hercules
1797

Christopher Sheels, Washington's valet, is sent with money to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, to receive treatment after it was feared he had contracted rabies.

learn more about Christopher Sheels
1799, June

Washington composes a list recording each enslaved person on the estate, which farm he or she lives on, and whether owned by Wash­ington or the Custis estate.

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.

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1799, July

Washington writes a new will, directing that William Lee be freed immediately upon Washington's own death, and that the remainder of his enslaved people be freed upon Martha's death.

washington's last will & testament
1799, August

In a private letter, Washington explains his uncertainty over how to divest himself from slavery.

"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 ... "

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1799, December

George Washington dies of a throat infection.

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.

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death of George Washington
1801

Martha Washington frees the enslaved people that belonged to her husband.

1802

Martha Washington dies, ending her life-rights to the Custis estate. Those enslaved by the Custis estate are dispersed to the estate’s heirs, Martha’s four grandchildren.

1808

Congress prohibits U.S. participation in the international slave trade.

1833

Great Britain emancipates enslaved people throughout the British empire.

1850

John Augustine Washington III takes ownership of Mount Vernon. He was George Washington's great-grand nephew.

Although Augustine Washington formally took ownership of Mount Vernon in 1850, he had been running operations at the estate for nearly a decade prior.

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john augustine washingon iii
1852

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is published.

1860

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association purchases Mount Vernon from John Augustine Washington III.

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.

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Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
1861

Confederate States secede from the Union and war begins.

Mount Vernon during the Civil War
1865

War ends and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery in the United States.

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Washington's Changing Views on Slavery

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