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Accounting for Women in the Business of Slavery with Alexi Garrett

When George Washington died in December 1799, it changed Martha Washington’s legal status. Just as she did when she was widowed for the first time in 1757, Martha once again became an independent person in the eyes of the law. She was no longer in the shadow of her husband’s legal identity.

So what did this mean for Martha and other unmarried or widowed elite white women who ran businesses powered by slavery in early Virginia? How did they negotiate contracts, oversee enslaved labor, and manage their estates, all while navigating society’s expectations for women of their status?

On today’s episode, Alexi Garrett joins us to discuss three such women – Martha Washington, Catharine Flood McCall, and Annie Henry Christian – who by choice or by fate oversaw major business operations in the early republic.

About Our Guest:

Alexi Garrett is a Ph.D. candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation examines how feme sole businesswomen managed their slave-manned enterprises in revolutionary and early national Virginia.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is the co-author with Randall Flaherty of "Reading Law in the Early Republic: Legal Education in the Age of Jefferson," in The Founding of Thomas Jefferson's University ed. by John A. Rogasta, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew O'Shaughnessy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019). Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.