Remembering Slavery

Remembering Slavery Online Exhibition

George Washington

"Upon the decease of my wife, it is my will and desire, that all the slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom"George Washington, 1799

George Washington: the first President of the United States of America

The Washington family took their surname from Wessyngton over 800 years ago. Five generations of George Washington's descendants lived in Washington Hall, near Sunderland, which is now owned by the National Trust. In 1656, John Washington emigrated to Virginia to seek his fortune. Three generations later, George Washington (1732-1799) was born on his father's slave plantation in Virginia and went on to become the first President of the United States of America. This new country used the family coat of arms of George Washington and his descendents from Washington, near Sunderland, as the basis for its flag.

More information about George Washington and slavery

George Washington and slavery

George Washington became a slave owner when he inherited ten enslaved workers upon the death of his father in 1743. By the time of his own death in 1799, George Washington was a significant slave owner and 316 enslaved Africans were living on his Mount Vernon estate. This includes the 20 slaves his wife, Martha, brought to Mount Vernon upon her marriage to George Washington in 1759. As President, George Washington did not lead the fight against slavery for political reasons. However, in his will, he arranged for all the enslaved people he owned to be freed after the death of his wife Martha, who passed away two years after her husband in 1802.

Whilst the end of the American War of Independence in 1783 had encouraged equality, George Washington's decision to emancipate his enslaved workers was an unusual move. The trading of enslaved people was not abolished in America until 1808, 9 years after George Washington's death in 1799. It took a further 57 years to abolish slavery in all of the American states.

Take a look

  • George Washington at his Mount Vernon plantation
  • Washington Old Hall, the stone-built 17th century manor house which incorporates parts of the original 12th century home of George Washington's direct ancestors. Washington Old Hall was first opened to the public in 1955. Two years later it was given to the National Trust, who manages the property today.
  • Portrait of George Washington 1732 - 1799

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