Charlotte was an enslaved seamstress at Mount Vernon who sometimes worked in the mansion. Charlotte was also likely married to another Mount Vernon slave, Austin. Both Charlotte and Austin were around the same age, and given Austin's job as a waiter, he and his family would live near the mansion. Surviving correspondence indicates that Charlotte and her children lived "in the yard" near the mansion.1
Charlotte appears in the historical record in a handful of locations, giving insight into some aspects of her life as a slave at Mount Vernon. Based on information contained in the 1786 and 1799 Mount Vernon slave lists, Charlotte had at least five children: Billy (born around 1782), Timothy (born in 1785), and three daughters, Elvey, Jenny, and Eliza, for whom no ages were given on the 1799 list.2 As the children of a female dower slave none of Charlotte's children would have been freed upon George Washington's death. Instead they would have been divided among the four grandchildren of Martha Washington.
From at least 1786 until 1799, Charlotte worked as a seamstress, a job that would have required her to work closely with Martha Washington.3 In January of 1794, after noticing that Charlotte had been reported as sick for several weeks, George Washington wrote to his farm manager to let him know that, "Mrs. Washington desires you will examine her case, and if it appears necessary to request Doctor Craik to attend, and prescribe for her."4
In farm manager Anthony Whiting's weekly report to George Washington on January 16, 1793, he informed his employer that following a disagreement with Charlotte he had whipped her with a hickory switch. Two days later the gardener's wife, who was supervising the seamstresses in Mrs. Washington's absence, reported to Whiting that she had sent some work to Charlotte that she refused to do.
Whiting admitted that he then whipped Charlotte again and that she had not done any work since, "under a pretence of her finger receiving a blow & was Swelld." The overseer informed Washington that he was “determined to lower her Spirit or Skin her Back.” Charlotte was outraged by the treatment she received, stating that she had not been whipped for fourteen years. She threatened to talk to Martha Washington about these incidents, and the harshness of her punishment. In his response to Whiting, George Washington called the punishment “very proper.”5
A clue as to what happened to some of Charlotte's children can be found in a surviving slave list from Arlington Plantation, the home of Martha Washington's grandson George Washington Parke Custis. That list, compiled 64 years after Austin's death, includes the names of sixty-three people. Four of the male slaves were named Austin: Austin Bingham, his son Austin, Austin Grey, and a fourth known as Austin Branham. It is possible that some of these individuals were descendants of Austin and Charlotte.6
Mary V. Thompson
Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens
1. Neither Austin nor Charlotte appeared on George Washington's 1774 tithables list, indicating that they were both under sixteen years old at the time the list was compiled in the summer of 1774. The earliest reference to Charlotte dates to February 1774, when the hired tailor was paid for mending a coat for house servant Frank Lee, and a petticoat and jacket for Charlotte. For the latter, see "Taylors Work---Dr.," 26 February 1774, Lund Washington Account Book, 1774-1786 (Mount Vernon Ladies' Association), 20. Taken together, these two facts suggest that the Austin and Charlotte were about the same age.
2. For Charlotte's children, see George Washington, "List of Slaves at Mount Vernon, 18 February 1786," The Diaries of George Washington, Vol. 4, 278, 280; and "Washington's Slave List, June 1799," The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, Vol. 4, 530.
3. For Charlotte's work, see George Washington, "List of Slaves at Mount Vernon," 18 February 1786, The Diaries of George Washington, 4:277; and "Washington's Slave List, June 1799" The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, 4:529.
4. "George Washington to William Pearce, 12 January 1794," The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 33, 242.
5. "Anthony Whiting to George Washington, 16 January 1793" and "George Washington to Anthony Whiting, January 20, 1793."
6. "Arlington Slave Inventory—January 1, 1858"