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Rhode Island Printing of George Washington's Will - Freeing His Slaves Upon the Death of Martha
Providence, RI 1800 - Pair of Newspapers. "Interesting Extracts from the WILL of Gen. George Washington," United States Chronicle, Providence, R.I., February 20 and 27, 1800. Each 4 pp. Washington's will begins on p. 2 of the February 20 issue and concludes on p. 1 of the February 27 issue. Excerpt"Upon the decease of wife it is my will and desire, that all the slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom To emancipate them during her life, would tho' earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties, on account of their intermixture by marriages with the Dower negroes as to excite the most painful sensations if not disagreeable consequences from the later while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same proprietor, it not being in my power under the tenure by which the dower Negroes are held to manumit them And whereas among those who will receive freedom according to this devise there may be some who from old age, or bodily infirmities & others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable to support themselves, it is my will and desire that all who come under the first and second description shall be comfortably clothed and 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 shall arrive at the age of twenty five years, and in cases where no record can be produced whereby their ages can be ascertained, the Judgment of the Court upon its own view of the subject shall be adequate and final. The negroes thus bound are (by their masters or mistresses) to be taught to read and write and to be brought up to some useful occupation, . I do hereby expressly forbid the sale or transportation out of the said Commonwealth of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretence, whatsoever. .And to my mulatto man, William (calling himself William Lee) I give immediate freedom or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so. In either case however I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life . I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me and for his faithful services during the revolutionary War." Historical BackgroundWhen George Washington died in 1799, 317 slaves lived at Mount Vernon. Some, Washington owned outright through either inheritance or purchase, others were Martha Washington's dowager slaves, and still others were slaves Washington had rented from other owners. Many of the slaves had intermarried and had children over the years. In his July 1799 will, Washington manumitted all of the slaves held in his own name upon his and Martha's death; she, in turn chose to free them early, uneasy to live around so many people waiting for her ultimate demise.Over the course of his life, Washington privately expressed his growing disdain for the institution - and his desire for its eventual abolition, but never publicly spoke out against it. As scholar Dorothy Twohig points out, it is unclear whether Washington's disgust at slavery rested "on moral grounds (although there are some indications that this is so) or primarily on the grounds of the institution's economic inefficiencies." Washington's refusal to break up slave families and his insistence on their humane treatment support the former premise, while his voiced objections to the sheer inefficiency of slave labor suggest that the latter consideration weighed in as well.Interestingly, while this Providence, Rhode Island, newspaper prints Washington's will in full, it does not print it in its original order. Instead, editors have rearranged individual items, perhaps for spatial and typesetting reasons, or perhaps to ensure that the section on freeing. (See website for full description)
      [Bookseller: Seth Kaller Inc.]
Last Found On: 2013-07-20           Check availability:      AbeBooks    

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