George Washington's stance on slavery appears to have been composed of what he personally believed and what he politically endorsed. As a political figure, Washington never publicly decried the
institution of slavery; however, he also never officially endorsed it either. His reason for this neutral stance was probably to prevent national disunity on such a major issue. As far as his
personal experiences with slavery, George became a slave owner at the young age of eleven, upon the early death of his father. In addition to inheriting his father's farm by Fredericksburg,
Virginia, young George also received ten slaves. At this time in his life, he accepted the common cultural belief that slavery was acceptable, both morally and socially. As he grew older,
he purchased several slaves himself until he owned a total of thirty-six slaves at the time of his marriage to Martha Custis. His marriage to Martha Custis brought another eighty-five slaves
to Washington's estate (these new slaves were called "dowry slaves"as they were inherited by Martha upon the death of her first husband and became George's after her marriage to him).
Differing accounts exist of how Washington treated his slaves. One of his neighbors was reported to have said that Washington treated his slaves "with more severity than any other man."
On the contrary, a foreign visitor to the colonies commented that Washington treated his slaves "more humanely than...his fellow citizens of Virginia." Perhaps the tipping point in George
Washington's views on slavery occured during the American War for Independence. As Washington risked his life and devoted much time and effort to fight for human freedom and rights, it is very
possible that he realized that slaves possessed the very same rights that he was willing to fight for. Additionally, during the Revolutionary War, Washington interacted with the French military
leader Marquis de Lafayette, who was a staunch opponent of slavery. After the end of his time as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and his first term as President, George Washington
was implored by several abolitionist groups to join their cause. In correspondence with one of his friends, Washington wrote that he hoped to one day see the institution of slavery abolished,
but that he was not fully supportive of the radical beliefs of specific abolitionists (such as the Quakers) and would prefer to see slavery ended through legislative means. Several of
Washington's own slaves escaped during his lifetime. One such slave, Oney Judge, he pursued with the help of secret agents, and he even put out a reward for her capture. Although Oney told the
Washington family that she would return to work for them in exchange for her freedom, George adamantly refused to give her freedom. Upon George Washington's death, he owned 318 slaves on his
Mount Vernon estate. His will directed that all of his slaves be freed upon the death of his wife. Martha Washington quickly freed all of her late husband's slaves upon his death (mostly out
of fear for her life since the slaves' freedom required her death). Therefore, despite his ambiguous views on slavery during his life, he set an important precedent regarding slavery upon his death.