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
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.
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 that a slave named West Ford was the
son of George and a woman named Venus; Wiencek has new evidence that this might
indeed be 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.
Download and start listening now!