On December 13, 1799, the man who served as commander of the revolutionary forces against a tyrannical government called for his last will and testament for review. Martha obliged, bringing the …
On December 13, 1799, the man who served as commander of the revolutionary forces against a tyrannical government called for his last will and testament for review. Martha obliged, bringing the document to his deathbed. He had completed the revision that July.
She, Martha, is the first to be mentioned in his will as to bequeathment. Washington’s slaves are listed immediately after his wife and his concern for Mount Vernon slaves and their welfare is meticulously detailed with their scheduled emancipation.
Regarding their emancipation, Washington noted, “Among those who will receive their freedom ac[cor]ding to this devise [sic] there may be [so]me, who from old age or bodily infirmities, and others who on account of [the]ir infancy will be unable to support themselves; it is my will and desire that all who [come under the first] & second descrip[tion shall be com]fortably clothed & [fed by my heirs while] they live; and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable, or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they reach the ag[e] of 25...
“The Negroes thus bound are [by their Masters or Mistresses] to be taught to read & write; and to be brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the Laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing for the support of Orphan and other poor Children, and I do hereby expressly forbid the sale, or transportation out of the said Commonwealth, of any slave I may die possessed of, under any pretense whatsoever... And I do… solemnly enjoin... my Executors... to see that th[is cla]use respecting slaves... particularly as it respects the aged and infirm; seeing that a regular and permanent fund be established for their support as long as there are subjects requiring it.”
By 1833, the accounts of George Washington’s executors show expenditures of more than $10,000 to the pensioned former slaves who remained at Mount Vernon or lived nearby.
Michelle (Sackett) Schroeder
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