Did George Washington Have an Enslaved Son?

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2022-03-30 02:55Z by Steven

Did George Washington Have an Enslaved Son?

The New Yorker

Jill Abramson, Journalist and Senior Lecturer
Harvard University

West Ford founded Gum Springs, a freedmen’s community, near Mount Vernon. Illustration by John P. Dessereau

West Ford’s descendants want to prove his parentage—and save the freedmen’s village he founded.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, two landmarks of early American history share an uneasy but inextricable bond. George Washington’s majestic Mount Vernon estate is one of the most popular historic homes in the country, visited by roughly a million people a year. Gum Springs, a small community about three miles north, is one of the oldest surviving freedmen’s villages, most of which were established during Reconstruction. The community was founded in 1833 by West Ford, who lived and worked at Mount Vernon for nearly sixty years, first as an enslaved teen-ager and continuing after he was freed. Following Washington’s death, in 1799, Ford helped manage the estate, and he maintained an unusually warm relationship with the extended Washington family.

Awareness of West Ford had faded both in Gum Springs and at Mount Vernon, but in recent years his story has been at the center of a bitter controversy between the two sites. His descendants have demanded that Mount Vernon recognize Ford for his contributions to the estate, which was near collapse during the decades after Washington’s death. They also argue—citing oral histories from two branches of the family—that Ford was Washington’s unacknowledged son, a claim that Mount Vernon officials have consistently denied. As that debate continues, Black civic organizations in Gum Springs are engaged in related battles to save their endangered community. They have resisted, with some success, Virginia’s planned expansion of Richmond Highway, which would encroach on the town, and they have embarked on the process of getting Gum Springs named a national historic site…

Read the entire article here.

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Black soldier who crossed Delaware with Washington will be honored in New Jersey

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2022-02-11 02:40Z by Steven

Black soldier who crossed Delaware with Washington will be honored in New Jersey

Courier Post
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Matthew Korfhage, USA Today Network

New Jersey’s Oliver Cromwell, who crossed the Delaware with George Washington and lived to nearly 100, will at long last receive a historical marker.

Since they were children, cousins Arianna Murray and Jane Fox Long had known the story of Oliver Cromwell.

His story wasn’t taught in schoolbooks. But in Burlington, New Jersey, and across the country, nine generations of his family helped keep it alive.

“We knew that our great-great-great grandfather — I forget how many greats — had crossed the Delaware with Washington,” Fox Long said. “It was the story that my mom had told, and it was also passed down to her.”

“Every Fourth of July, it was always a conversation piece,” said Murray, from her home in Philadelphia. “How could it not be?”

Cromwell was a decorated hero of New Jersey, they knew, a representative of an American history that had gone unheralded for much of this nation’s lifetime: an African American patriot of the Revolutionary War…

…Against this backdrop, Cromwell was born on the farm of tavernkeeper John Hutchin on May 24, 1753, in present-day Burlington County, an area whose taverns “Burlington Biographies” author Richard L. Thompson described as a hotbed for American revolutionary sentiment.

Cromwell’s parentage is not known with certainty, but multiple records refer to him as being of mixed race, likely African and white heritage. Late in life, he referred to himself as being “in the family of John Hutchin.”

Cromwell joined the New Jersey militia in 1775, where he was listed as “Indian,” leading to speculation he may have had Native American heritage. This is far from definitive, said Burlington County historian Jeff Macechak, who noted that other soldiers he believed to be of African descent were also listed the same way…

Read the entire article here.

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The General’s Cook, A Novel

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2019-09-16 00:52Z by Steven

The General’s Cook, A Novel

Arcade Publishing
336 pages
Trim Size: 6in x 9in
Hardcover ISBN: 9781628729771

Ramin Ganeshram

The General

Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingtons for his prowess in the kitchen and rewarded far over and above even white servants, Hercules is enslaved in a city where most black Americans are free. Even while he masterfully manages his kitchen and the lives of those in and around it, Hercules harbors secrets—including the fact that he is learning to read and that he is involved in a dangerous affair with Thelma, a mixed-race woman, who, passing as white, works as a companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious families. Eventually Hercules’ carefully crafted intrigues fall apart and he finds himself trapped by his circumstance and the will of George Washington. Based on actual historical events and people, The General’s Cook, will thrill fans of The Hamilton Affair, as they follow Hercules’ precarious and terrifying bid for freedom.

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In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2017-09-08 13:02Z by Steven

In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington

The New York Times

Jennifer Schuessler

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the author of “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge,” at George Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon, Va.
Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

MOUNT VERNON, Va. — The costumed characters at George Washington’s gracious estate here are used to handling all manner of awkward queries, whether about 18th-century privies or the first president’s teeth. So when a visitor recently asked an African-American re-enactor in a full skirt and head scarf if she knew Ona Judge, the woman didn’t miss a beat.

Judge’s escape from the presidential residence in Philadelphia in 1796 had been “a great embarrassment to General and Lady Washington,” the woman said, before offering her own view of the matter.

“Ona was born free, like everybody,” she said. “It was this world that made her a slave.”

It’s always 1799 at Mount Vernon, where more than a million visitors annually see the property as it was just before Washington’s death, when his will famously freed all 123 of his slaves. That liberation did not apply to Ona Judge, one of 153 slaves held by Martha Washington.

But Judge, it turned out, evaded the Washingtons’ dogged (and sometimes illegal) efforts to recapture her, and would live quietly in New Hampshire for another 50 years. Now her story — and the challenge it offers to the notion that Washington somehow transcended the seamy reality of slaveholding — is having its fullest airing yet…

Ms. Dunbar, the author of “Never Caught,” first came across Ona Judge in the late 1990s, when she was a graduate student at Columbia researching free black women in Philadelphia. One day in the archives, she noticed a 1796 newspaper ad offering $10 for the return of “a light Mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy hair” who had “absconded” from the president’s house.

“I said to myself: ‘Here I am, a scholar in this field. Why don’t I know about her?’” Ms. Dunbar recalled…

Read the entire article here.

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Portsmouth’s Ona Judge is famous at last

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-04-13 00:04Z by Steven

Portsmouth’s Ona Judge is famous at last

The Portsmouth Herald

J. Dennis Robinson

Recently thrust into celebrity, Ona Judge was enslaved by George and Martha Washington. Ona quietly escaped the President’s House in Philadelphia in 1796 and lived as a seamstress in Greenland, New Hampshire. Washington described the runaway in a newspaper as “a light mulatto girl, much freckled.” This illustration by Emily Arnold McCully appears on the cover of her children’s book, “The Escape of Oney Judge,” published by Scholastic Press.
[Courtesy photo]

It’s about time America learned her name. Enslaved by George and Martha Washington, a young Ona Judge fled to Portsmouth in 1796. A skilled seamstress, Ona Judge lived the rest of her long life in the shadows — impoverished, independent and defiant. Her presumed burial site remains obscure and unmarked on private land in nearby Greenland. But the story of a young black woman who resisted a president is finally being told — and told again.

Today you can read about Ona Judge (1773-1848) in The New York Times. You can hear her story on National Public Radio, watch her on a National Geographic special, or find her on popular websites like History.com and CNN. Ona is featured in “Lives Bound Together,” a special exhibit of more than 300 enslaved Africans at Mount Vernon. She is portrayed by re-enactors from New Hampshire to Virginia, and her story is told at the site of the President’s House in Philadelphia, where she made her daring solo escape from the Washingtons at age 20.

The big news for Ona, and for American history, is the success of a runaway bestseller titled “Never Caught, The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.” Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar, examines the first president’s use of “human property” from the slave’s point of view…

Read the entire article here.

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Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-04-12 21:18Z by Steven

Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Atria (an imprint of Simon and Schuster)
February 2017
272 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781501126390
eBook ISBN: 9781501126437

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Black Studies and History
University of Delaware

A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked everything to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary and eight slaves, including Ona Judge, about whom little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.

At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.

With impeccable research, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar weaves a powerful tale and offers fascinating new scholarship on how one young woman risked it all to gain freedom from the famous founding father.

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Historic recognition: Washington’s family tree is biracial

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2016-09-18 18:36Z by Steven

Historic recognition: Washington’s family tree is biracial

U.S. News & World Report

Matthew Barakat, Northern Virginia Correspondent
The Associated Press

ZSun-nee Miller-Matema poses for a portrait at Mount Vernon, the plantation home of former U.S. President George Washington, in Alexandria, Va., on Monday, July 18, 2016. Miller-Matema is a descendent of Caroline Branham, one of George Washington’s slaves who served as former first lady Martha Washington’s personal maid. The National Park Service and the nonprofit that runs the historic Mount Vernon estate are acknowledging an aspect of U.S. history that doesn’t show up in most textbooks: The family tree of America’s first family has been biracial from its earliest branches. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson) The Associated Press

The National Park Service and Mount Vernon are acknowledging history not included in most textbooks: America’s first family tree has been biracial from its early branches

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — George Washington’s adopted son was a bit of a ne’er-do-well by most accounts, including those of Washington himself, who wrote about his frustrations with the boy they called “Wash.”

“From his infancy, I have discovered an almost unconquerable disposition to indolence in everything that did not tend to his amusements,” the founding father wrote.

At the time, George Washington Parke Custis was 16 and attending Princeton, one of several schools he bounced in and out of. Before long, he was back home at Mount Vernon, where he would be accused of fathering children with slaves.

Two centuries later, the National Park Service and the nonprofit that runs Washington’s Mount Vernon estate are concluding that the rumors were true: In separate exhibits, they show that the first family’s family tree has been biracial from its earliest branches.

“There is no more pushing this history to the side,” said Matthew Penrod, a National Park Service ranger and programs manager at Arlington House, where the lives of the Washingtons, their slaves and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee all converged…

Matthew Barakat/Associated Press
Craig Syphax and Donna Kunkel portrayed their ancestors at a June reenactment of the 1821 wedding of slaves Charles Syphax and Maria Carter at Arlington House.

Read the entire article here.

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Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-03-07 02:02Z by Steven

Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line

Carolina Academic Press
144 pages
Paper ISBN: 978-1-59460-496-6

Earl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Angela J. Hattery, Professor and Director of Women and Gender Studies
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Unique among books on interracial relationships, this book examines the lives of high profile men who have produced public discourses on race and interracial relationships and who themselves, often contradictory to their rhetoric, were or continue to be involved in love relationships across the color line. The book opens with a discussion of the history of interracial couplings in the United States, including an examination of the relationship of Richard and Mildren Loving which led to the landmark case Loving v. Virginia in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1967, rendered unconstitutional all state laws that prohibited interracial marriage. Each of the subsequent chapters is devoted to an individual man or couple; we explore the lives of men about whom their interracial relationships are relatively well known, including Thomas Jefferson, Strom Thurmond, Clarence Thomas, Frederick Douglass, and William Cohen. We also explore a few figures about whom less is known about their intimate lives including George Washington and Richard Mentor Johnson.

Rather than simply focusing on the relationships exclusively, this book examines specifically the role that power plays in shaping the negotiation of intimate relationships, family forms, racial identity, hegemonic ideology and public policy among public figures who not only contributed to the public discourses on race and interracial unions, but also contributed to the racial ideologies that gained hegemony and dominated Americans’ beliefs about race and the laws and public policies that established second class citizenship for those identified as “Black.”

This book offers the interested reader a glimpse into the personal lives of famous and not so famous American men who clandestinely or in open view loved women across the color line. In some cases, these loving relationships mirrored the men’s beliefs about race and interracial unions—Richard Mentor Johnson, William Cohen—and in others these relationships were in seeming contradiction to the beliefs these men held and in fact developed about racial purity and segregation—Thomas Jefferson, Clarence Thomas, Strom Thurmond. These contradictions between the public and private lives of our country’s public servants offers a rich arena for exploration of race in the United States. In light of the recent election of the first African American president, Barack Obama, this book could not be more timely.

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An interview with Henry Wiencek: Slaves and Slavery in George Washington’s World

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-01-06 18:54Z by Steven

An interview with Henry Wiencek: Slaves and Slavery in George Washington’s World

Common-Place: Common Reading
Volume 6, Number 4
July 2006

William Costin (c. 1780-1842), the Washingtons’ mixed-race grandson/nephew. He was the son of Ann Dandridge, enslaved half sister of Martha Washington, and Jacky Custis, Martha’s son. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Henry Wiencek is the author of the acclaimed “An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America” (2003), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history and the Best Book of 2003 award from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. He has also written The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White (1999), which received the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award. In the spirit of rereading, this issue’s Common Reading asks Wiencek to talk about his work on Washington and slavery and to reflect on some of the ways it revises received wisdom about the American past.
Common-place: It seems clear from “Imperfect God” that you learned a great deal from genealogists. For historians working inside the academy, this might seem striking. How was it that you came to be interested in genealogy as a way of addressing larger historical questions about race and slavery?

Henry Wiencek: When I researched my previous book, The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, I could not avoid genealogy and genealogists. That book focused on one extended family with a black side, a white side, and family genealogists on every side trying to reconstruct a lost/hidden past. In several instances I came across documents indicating hidden or forgotten blood ties between the whites and blacks. You can’t avoid finding that kind of information if you’re studying plantation families. It happened everywhere and the evidence is thick on the ground—wills, gifts of land, odd emancipations, payments for education, favored treatment for particular people. I had so many of these stories from Hairston documents and oral history that I couldn’t put them all into the book. And after the book came out more people called or wrote to me about other instances. The other part of this is you have to be careful in evaluating this information—not everything is at it seems.

When you encounter evidence of kinship between owners and slaves you have, first of all, learned something new about the complexity of their world, and next you are confronted with the question: did knowledge of his or her kinship to slaves influence the actions of an owner? Martha Washington‘s first father-in-law, John Custis, all but acknowledged his mixed-race son, freed him, and gave him a very generous bequest. In contrast, Martha held her own half sister in slavery. The existence of this half sister, Ann Dandridge, was one of the great shocks of my research, and I discovered her only because genealogists had written to Mount Vernon about Dandridge and their letters were in the files. I pursued the leads in that correspondence and came up with additional evidence. So through the work of genealogists I came up with information that completely changed our view of what slavery was like at Mount Vernon…

…As to “genealogy as a way of addressing larger historical questions about race and slavery”—genealogy teaches us that many white colonial families had mixed-race kin. It would be fascinating to consult Virginia‘s African American genealogists and see how many of them can trace their families back to leading white families such as the Carters, Lees, Byrds, Randolphs, et al. (Right now I can say “yes” to three of those names—I don’t know about the Byrds, but they’re related to the Custises, so I guess they’d be a “yes” too.) That would give us a sense of how closely entwined these leading families were with slaves. Reading the accounts of the very peculiar, very intense relationship between Landon Carter and his slave Nassau, I have wondered if they were half brothers. My point is that, in public statements, the white male leadership of colonial Virginia reviled miscegenation, and we have come to believe that they were genuinely revolted by race mixing. Then how could these same men so avidly practice it? If they were disgusted by mixed-race people, how could the masters and mistresses of the era staff their houses with mulattoes? Wouldn’t you expect mulattoes to be shunned, exiled? Jefferson is a prime example. He spoke forcefully against racial mixing, but his entire household staff consisted of mulatto and all-but-white slaves, many of whom were his relatives. My thinking is that, to some degree, this eighteenth-century racial-purity talk was smokescreen and rationalization for outsiders. It’s an extremely complex issue….

Read the entire interview here.

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An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-01-06 16:29Z by Steven

An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

Farrar, Straus and Giroux an imprint of Macmillan
416 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches
16 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations/Map/Notes/Index
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-374-52951-2, ISBN10: 0-374-52951-5

Henry Wiencek

L.A. Times Book Prize – Winner, History

A major new biography of Washington, and the first to explore his engagement with American slavery

When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his “only unavoidable subject of regret.” In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the founding father’s engagement with slavery at every stage of his life–as a Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president and statesman.

Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts (an incident ignored by earlier biographers). Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington’s attitudes began to change. He and the other framers enshrined slavery in the Constitution, but, Wiencek shows, even before he became president Washington had begun to see the system’s evil.

Wiencek’s revelatory narrative, based on a meticulous examination of private papers, court records, and the voluminous Washington archives, documents for the first time the moral transformation culminating in Washington’s determination to emancipate his slaves. He acted too late to keep the new republic from perpetuating slavery, but his repentance was genuine. And it was perhaps related to the possibility–as the oral history of Mount Vernon‘s slave descendants has long asserted–that a slave named West Ford was the son of George and a woman named Venus; Wiencek has new evidence that this could indeed have been true.

George Washington’s heroic stature as Father of Our Country is not diminished in this superb, nuanced portrait: now we see Washington in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time.

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