George Washington and Slavery

Why George Washington deserves no credit for how he treated the enslaved people he was responsible for.

George Washington and Slavery

From a tweet thread originally posted on June 21, 2020

"But George Washington freed his slaves after his death!" okay here's the thing (yes I'm doing another history rant thread. I have but one talent to give #BlackLivesMatter so here we are):

1) Most of the enslaved were Martha's, not his.

And by most we mean two thirds out of hundreds. And that's hundreds at any given time, not accounting for the cumulative number brought by births and deaths over the years.

2) Even in his will, Washington stipulated that the freeing not happen after his death but after Martha's too. The reason why was so that the families which had come about between their enslaved not be broken up by only freeing some of them. GOSH I WONDER IF THERE WAS POSSIBLY SOME OTHER WAY OF FIXING THAT PROBLEM. I GUESS WE'LL NEVER KNOW.

3) Regardless of what Washington did with the enslaved he was legally responsible for, he benefited from the - again hundreds - which Martha brought into the marriage as part of her dowry. There's no version of this where George is coming out innocent.

4) Some of their enslaved escaped. I am sure it's not because they didn't approve of the massage oils used in the spa.

5) Though Martha did free George's enslaved before her death, it wasn't out of the goodness of her heart. She thought they were going to hurt her somehow so she got rid of them for her own perceived safety. Again, doubt this was an issue with her apple pie recipe.

6) Of those under her own responsibility, Martha freed approximately fuck all. Which brings us to

7) THE FACT THAT GEORGE TRIED TO FREE HIS SLAVES PROVES PEOPLE AT THE TIME KNEW THIS WAS FUCKING EVIL SHIT TO DO. There's no "oh it was normal" about this. Even a crass, vulgar farmer* like George knew owning people was some bullshit. He did it anyway.

He knew years in advance he should free the enslaved under his control. He held off and shoved it into his will because he didn't want to deal with it in his own life. There's no "Don't judge them by our modern values" which applies here.

And the same goes for any other founding father who people try to give a pass because oh they freed theirs later, or oh they only owned one person, or oh whatever the fuck. THEY THEMSELVES knew it. And in the rare cases where they didn't, their contemporaries did.

(Also, again can't be stressed enough, the ENSLAVED sure as fuck had some opinions on the subject as well.)

And this isn't even getting into how much this argument crumbles into bullshit when you look at how other countries handled slavery in their colonies differently. The French didn't handle theirs like the English did, for instance.

The horrors were universal, but the differing laws about them showed that people and governments actually knew they were dealing with human beings with thoughts and feelings who would revolt against their treatment if given half a chance.

Which is a rant in and of itself for another day. I could go on forever about the Code Noir, for instance. But point being "Washington freed his slaves" proves the exact opposite lesson about him being one of the mythical "good guy" slave owners. There is no such thing. End rant.

* I don't mean all farmers are crude and vulgar, I mean it's known that Washington specifically was rough around the edges and had a potty mouth. The idea that he was constantly this stately and well spoken figure is yet another founding father myth.