Sambo Anderson, one of George Washington’s enslaved men, worked as a carpenter and had a small boat, called a punt.

A silhouette representing Sambo Anderson, based on contemporary descriptions.Washington’s estate was composed of five farms. Anderson lived and worked at Mansion House Farm, whereas his family lived at River Farm. His wife, Agnes, was a field-worker there. By 1799 the couple had six children: Heuky, Cecelia, Anderson, Ralph, Charity, and Charles, all of whom lived with their mother. These two farms were separated by Little Hunting Creek.2

Anderson had a small boat, called a punt, which he may have kept to expedite visits to his family at River Farm. A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use on small rivers or other shallow water. Smaller punts can hold one to two people, while larger ones might hold four. Records, such as farm reports, show punts were used to transport goods between Washington’s farms and from Mount Vernon to Alexandria and Georgetown.

Craftsmen like Sambo Anderson typically visited families on Sundays, their only day off, and occasionally at night during the week. In January 1798 the farm manager noted to Washington that Anderson was unable to work for a day because he was “stopped by the Creek being high.” Did rising water unexpectedly extend a weeknight visit to his wife and children?3

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Drawing of an 18th-Century Punt

Drawing of an 18th-Century Punt

Borrowing the Boat

While Washington had many boats, at times, he borrowed Anderson’s small boat. Washington never took the boat without asking permission and he invariably returned the boat to the same location. Anderson noted in an interview published in the Alexandria Gazette in 1876, “If it happened to be high tide when he took it, and low tide on his return…I have known him to drag the boat twenty yards, so as to place it exactly where he took it from.”4

Although fishing boats saw the most action during the spring, Washington maintained quite a fleet at Mount Vernon.

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Notes

For more on Sambo Anderson see “Sambo Anderson” by Jessie MacLeod, Associate Curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, found at https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/sambo-anderson.

Drawing of 18th-century punt from American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development, and Construction by Howard I. Chapelle

Researched and written by Jeanette Patrick, George Washington's Mount Vernon.

  1. While the youngest three children are listed in “Washington’s Slave List” of 1799 as being the children of “Sall” at River Farm, there are several reasons to believe that this attribution is an error and that these are, in fact, the children of Agnes and Sambo.
  2. James Anderson to Washington, Weekly Report, Jan. 27, 1798, MV Farm Accounts [photostats], Sept. 16, 1797–March 24, 1798, vol. 20-F, p. 78, Washington Library, from originals at MNHP.
  3. “Mount Vernon Reminiscences”, Alexandria Gazette, Jan. 18 and 22, 1876.

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