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Part 1: 1450-1750
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Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865

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Historical Document
Washington's letter to Robert Morris
1786

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Click here for the text of this historical document.

In 1786, George Washington wrote on behalf of a fellow Virginia slave holder to Robert Morris, a wealthy Philadelphian. Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, served as superintendent of finance for the Continental Congress, and later founded the Bank of America.

Washington's letter explained that a Mr. Dalby would be visiting Philadelphia "to attend... a vexatious lawsuit respecting a slave of his, whom a Society of Quakers... have attempted to liberate." Washington pointed out that visitors "whose misfortune it is to have slaves as attendants" would avoid the city if the activities of the Quakers continued.

Washington hastened to add "that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of" slavery, but that the "only one proper and effectual mode" for accomplishing abolition would be through the Legislature.

He concluded with the opinion that "when slaves who are happy and contented with their present masters, are tampered with and seduced to leave" such action "introduces more evils than it can cure."

Washington's letter is believed to be the first documented reference to the Underground Railroad.




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