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List of George Washington’s Slaves, 1786

This list was entered by Washington on Saturday, February 18, 1786. The entire entry for that day is included in the digital version followed by the list of slaves, separated by farm location. Total numbers are listed at the end of the “Muddy Hole” list.

To see detailed maps of the farms, please visit Farms & Their Contents, dated 1783.

List of George Washington’s Slaves, 1799

The list of Mount Vernon slaves which GW drew up, probably some time in June 1799, included those slaves owned by him outright, those who were controlled by him as part of Martha Washington’s dowry, and a number who were rented by him in 1786 by contract with Mrs. Penelope French at the time he acquired her life rights to land that she owned on Dogue Run.

The slaves Washington owned in his own right came from several sources. He was left eleven slaves by his father’s will; a portion of his half brother Lawrence Washington’s slaves, about a dozen in all, were willed to him after the death of Lawrence’s infant daughter and his widow; and Washington purchased from time to time slaves for himself, mostly before the Revolution.

Washington also hired for varying periods of time individual slaves, usually skilled artisans, from neighbors and acquaintances. These do not appear on this slave list.

Only one other complete roll of the slaves at Mount Vernon has been found. In February 1786 Washington recorded in his diary all the Mount Vernon slaves, dower and personal, the farms on which they lived, and their jobs. The total at that time came to 216; it did not include Mrs. French’s slaves, the use of whom Washington acquired later in the year.

There are also in the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress Washington’s lists of his tithables in Truro and Fairfax parishes (where Mount Vernon lies) for every year from 1760 through 1774. These have been printed in the Papers, Colonial Series. These lists name slaves living at Mount Vernon but do not include children under the age of sixteen and a few elderly slaves who were not tithed. The lists of tithables also include the names of indentured white servants and other whites living on the farms, including GW’s overseers and managers. For further information on GW’s slaves, see Charles Lee to GW, 13 Sept. 1786, and especially note 4 to that document, GW to William Triplett, 25 Sept. 1786, and notes 3 and 5 (Papers, Confederation Series, 4:247–49, 268–74), Memorandum: Division of Slaves [1762] and note to that document (Papers, Colonial Series, 7:172–74), Division of Slaves, 10 Dec. 1754 (ibid., 1:227–31), and Diaries, 4:277–83.

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Images of George Washington’s Slave List, June 1799
(courtesy of Mount Vernon). Click on images for larger view.

George Washington to Burwell Bassett, 23 May 1785

Washington was noncommittal when his nephew George Augustine Washington, eldest son of his brother Charles, decided to marry Frances (“Fanny”) Bassett, daughter of Martha Washington’s sister Anna Maria Dandridge and her husband Burwell Bassett. Washington explained his philosophy to the father of the bride in a letter dated 23 May 1785, a photocopy of which is in the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress.

bassettaFrances “Fanny” Bassett. Portrait by Robert Edge Pine at Mt. Vernon in 1785.
Courtesy Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association.

The amorous couple, who were already living at Mount Vernon at the time of their engagement, were married there on 15 October 1785. (Diaries, vol. 4, p. 206). Later in December of that same year George Augustine Washington became the manager of Mt. Vernon, a position he held until shortly before his death on 5 February 1793.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s letter to Bassett at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

George Washington to Anthony Whitting

One of the most interesting documents in volume 11 of the Presidential Series is “Washington’s Plan for a Barn,” which was enclosed in this 28 October 1792 letter to his farm manager Anthony Whitting. “I have resolved to build a Barn & treading floor at Dogue Run Plantation, & to do it as soon as other more pressing work will permit; at any rate for the Wheat of next harvest,” wrote Washington.

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Washington’s sixteen-sided barn (from Some Old Historic Landmarks of Virginia & Maryland by W. H. Snowden, 1901)

This was not to be just an ordinary barn but a sixteen-sided barn with an innovative treading floor on the second level. Washington carefully calculated the supplies required for the construction of the barn, including the 30,820 “hard and good” bricks that would be used in the building. He delineated the specific size and amount of lumber required: 88 fourteen-feet, 9×3-inch boards for the lower floor; 2,000 feet of 1-1/2-inch plank; 16 sills, 16 tops, and “Bars” for the windows; 420 pieces of white oak, in lengths varying from 12 to 20 feet long, for the treading floor; 86 rafters, twenty-feet long; and 7,000 three-feet shingles were among the items listed. Fifty-two feet in diameter, the barn took two years to complete and stood until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. A reconstructed replica of GW’s barn was completed on Mount Vernon’s grounds in September 1996.

Original manuscript images at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Pages 2 & 3 | Pages 4 & 5 | Pages 6 & 7 | Page 8

Digital version of the enclosure and sketch: Washington’s Plan for a Barn, [28 October 1792] and sketch.

George Washington to Robert Morris, 2 June 1784

The June 1784 correspondence between Washington and Robert Morris regards effective icehouse construction. GW requests details from Morris, who writes back on 15 June with information on the construction of and methodology behind the design of his icehouse. Washington later incorporated some of these ideas into his own icehouse at Mount Vernon.

Formerly on Ice, Past Unearthed the Icehouse Found in Philadelphia Gives a Glimpse into Colonial History

The Region – The Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 February 2001
By Faye Flam
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Rebecca Yamin (left) and Jed Levin of the archaeology firm John Milner Associates stand near the foundation of an 18th-century icehouse. Photo by Michael S. Wirtz, Inquirer Staff

When President George Washington occupied the long-demolished Executive Mansion at what is now Sixth and Market Streets, he threw dinner parties every Thursday night. On Philadelphia’s languid summer evenings, said archaeologist Rebecca Yamin, “he would have needed ice.”

Washington probably sent a servant behind the mansion to the ice-house—a huge, stone-lined pit covered with an insulated shed, the remains of which Yamin and colleague Jed Levin excavated over the last year.

Though they knew from historical records that the mansion featured an icehouse, the archaeologists were surprised to find this primitive freezer in such good condition. They were also astonished by its unusual octagonal shape.

“It’s really quite an extraordinary find,” Levin said at a news conference yesterday.

Built by Robert Morris, who is often referred to as the financier of the American Revolution, the icehouse is an unusual example of an amenity that was common among well-to-do Philadelphians of the time.

philly2Levin said that people would be hired to go to the Schuylkill in the depths of winter and haul back large chunks of ice. Tons of these chunks would be broken up and thrown into the pits, which in the case of the Morris house stretched 16 feet wide and 18 feet deep. Then people would tamp the ice down, essentially creating a gigantic ice cube.

The well-insulated shed above it would have shielded the pit from the summer heat to preserve at least some ice through summer. As the ice slowly melted, the water would have simply seeped into the gravel-covered ground at the pit’s bottom.

To retrieve ice, the servants probably opened a trap door leading to the pit and cut out a block. Levin said residents might have used the ice to chill drinks or make frozen delicacies. Ice cream, for instance, was popular in colonial times.

Some of the ice might have been used for the more mundane purpose of preserving food, though people of that era tended to rely on smoking, salting, drying and other methods of preservation, Levin said.

What makes the icehouse particularly intriguing, Levin said, is that is became a subject of a 1784 correspondence between Washington and Morris.

It’s not clear exactly when the icehouse was built, but it was probably close to 1780 when Morris built his mansion at Sixth and High Streets from the remains of earlier buildings that had burned down, including the home of Benedict Arnold.

In 1784, Washington, who had often visited Morris in his new mansion, wrote to ask about the design of the icehouse after the snow he had loaded into his own version at Mount Vernon had melted.

“If you will do me the favor to cause a description of yours to be taken, the size, manner of building and mode of managements, and forwarded to me,” Washington wrote, “I shall be much obliged.”

Morris explains some details of the construction, though he never described the reason for the octagonal shape. Levin and Yamin, who work for the archaeology firm John Milner Associates, say the shape might have been the creative whim of a stonemason charged with building it.

In Morris’ reply to Washington, he advised: “I tried snow one year and lost it by June. The ice keeps until October or November.”

In 1790, when Philadelphia was designated as the nation’s capital, Morris lent his mansion to the country’s first president and moved next door.

The uncovering of the icehouse was part of a larger excavation Yamin and Levin carried out in the Independence Mall area, which is being renovated. Such excavations are now required in historic areas before buildings can be constructed.

Yamin said that on Sixty Street, between Market and Arch, she found many fascinating bits and pieces of ordinary life in two “privy” deposits—holes that were once toilets and later trash dumps.

One, dating to the 1790s, was used by William Simmons. According to historical records, Simmons was chief clerk for the auditing office in the federal Department of the Treasury. His boss was Alexander Hamilton.

Little could the accountant have dreamed that people more than 200 years later would rifle through his trash and reveal so much from his personal life.

Though he was considered successful and praised by Hamilton, Simmons lived a spartan life as a bachelor, eating off common, rough-hewn dishes that more refined people would have only used for baking, said Yamin, a fact she divined by noting scratch marks on his plain clay-red dishes.

His personal belongings, including his underwear buttons, were also basic and utilitarian, and his trash was full of ale bottles, wine bottles, gin bottles, and decanters.

“There was so much alcohol-related stuff we thought it was a tavern,” Yamin said.

Yamin said he might have drunk in frustration over his job, which is recorded in conflicts he had with his bosses, or as a way of entertaining members of Congress who would often stay with him when meeting in Philadelphia. It is not known whether he was able to borrow ice from his neighbor, the president, to drink his liquor chilled.

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This rudimentary roach trap was filled with molasses as bait.

She also unearthed the belongings of members of the Everly family, owners of a comb store in the 1940s. Although they were well-to-do, Yamin said, she found among the ruins a strange, red-clay contraption revealed to be an early version of a Roach Motel—to be filled with molasses for bait.

“You don’t get this from history books,” she said. Such details come from archaeology.

Artifacts from the finds will be displayed at the new Independence Visitor Center, being erected at the Independence Mall.

© 2001 The Region – The Philadelphia Inquirer

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George Washington’s Last Will and Testament

George Washington prepared his will alone, without, as he attested, any “professional character” being “consulted” or having “any Agency in the draught.” He dated the will, the work of many “leisure hours,” the “ninth day of July” in 1799, probably the date that he finished making the final copy. And he put his name at the bottom of all but one of its twenty-nine pages. Six months later, on the day that he died, he instructed Mrs. Washington to destroy an earlier will (see Tobias Lear’s Narrative Accounts of the Death of George Washington, printed below). His executors presented the new will for probate within a month, on 10 January 1800, to the Fairfax County Court, in whose custody it remains. A few days thereafter the will was printed in Alexandria. It then circulated throughout the country in pamphlet form.

The lucid and powerful prose of the text of the will displays at its best the distinctive style of writing that Washington had developed through the years. Over a span of more than half a century he had composed thousands of letters and other documents, as a private man with extensive business interests and familial and social ties, as a military leader for more than thirteen years, and, after the Revolution, as a great public figure in his own country and abroad. The contents of the will reveal much about both Washington’s character and his views as well as about his diverse and valuable property, real and chattel, acquired over a lifetime. Most notable of the will’s provisions, perhaps, are the instructions that he gave for freeing his slaves and for the support thereafter of the helpless children and the old and infirm among them. The extraordinary care and precision with which he spelled out how and under what conditions his land and other possessions should be distributed among the numerous members of his extended family, among his old friends, and among various dependents, provide further insight into the workings of his mind and the impulses of his heart. The language of Washington’s will and its contents combine to make it a document of particular importance among his papers.

Washington made the will at a time when he was emerging from the near despondency into which he had been cast by the spectacle of the American body politic seemingly being rent asunder by conflicting views of the ongoing revolution in France. In the early summer of 1799, he was also becoming less concerned with his responsibilities as commander in chief of the army and turning back with renewed vigor to the personal concerns on which he had been focusing since his return to Mount Vernon in March 1797. The main thrust of Washington’s efforts during the time left to him after his presidency was directed to putting his house in order, to doing what needed to be done to make his beloved Mount Vernon a harmonious and fruitful enterprise. Upon his arrival home in 1797, he was faced with dilapidated buildings to be repaired, worn-out soil to be made fertile, unproductive labor to be properly utilized, cropping plans to be devised and carried out, and money for all this to be sought, and perhaps found, through the sale of his western landholdings. The writing of the will was a way of taking stock of what had been done. He was determining where he stood not so much to wind things up as to consider what lay ahead. The provision in the will leaving one of the outlying farms at Mount Vernon to the newly-wed Lewis couple and another to the two orphan sons of George Augustine Washington, now the wards of Tobias Lear, plays directly into Washington’s decision, confirmed a few months later, to assume the direct, personal management of the farming operations at Mount Vernon, but of four (and ultimately three) farms instead of five. The will was written by a man filled not with forebodings of death but with thoughts of the future, as Washington’s letters and actions in the months following attest.

Instead of only the usual widow’s portion, Mrs. Washington was to retain during her lifetime possession of virtually all of her husband’s property and be the beneficiary of the profits derived from it. At her death the farms at Mount Vernon and other landed and personal property named in the will would go to the heirs in accordance with the terms of the will. Washington appended to the will a Schedule of Property, printed here as an Enclosure, in which he lists and describes all of his landed property and other assets not specifically bequeathed to individual heirs. He provided that, upon his wife’s death, his executors would sell all of these assets and distribute the proceeds among his heirs in the manner that he specified. Washington named as executors of his will his wife Martha, her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, and five of his nephews: William Augustine Washington, Bushrod Washington, George Steptoe Washington, Samuel Washington, and Lawrence Lewis. It was the prerogative of the Fairfax County Court to appoint the appraisers of the estate. It named as appraisers Washington’s neighbor Thomson Mason, his secretary Tobias Lear, Thomas Peter who was married to one of Martha Washington’s granddaughters, and William H. Foote, the nephew of Lund Washington’s widow, Elizabeth Foote Washington. A room-by-room appraisal of the articles at Mount Vernon was made, probably in 1800. It was not until 1810 that the appraisers filed their report in the office of the clerk of the Fairfax County Court (Appendix II, in Prussing, Estate of George Washington, 401-48). The executors held public sales of some of the livestock at Mount Vernon before Martha Washington’s death in 1802, and they began selling the remainder of the listed property at sales shortly thereafter (Appendix III, ibid., 449-59). Final settlement of the estate was not achieved until 21 June 1847. For a comprehensive analysis of George Washington’s will and a full account of the settlement of his estate, see Eugene E. Prussing, The Estate of George Washington, Deceased (Boston, 1927); see also The Last Will and Testament of George Washington and Schedule of his Property, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, n.p., 1960.

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Lease of Mount Vernon

Lease between George Lee, Ann Lee (Lawrence Washington’s Widow), and George Washington.

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