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Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865

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Modern Voices
John Ferling on Washington as a slave owner in Virginia
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Q: In 18th Century Virginia, what does it mean to be a slave owner?
John Ferling

A: The ownership of slaves in colonial Virginia was, together with ownership of land, crucial to being a planter or aristocrat, crucial to being a member of the elite in Virginia. And so from the very beginning, when Washington was a surveyor, still an adolescent, actually, he began acquiring land; he used his first paycheck, in fact, to acquire land. And also, he began acquiring slaves.

He inherited ten slaves in his father's will. When George was only twelve or thirteen years old, his father passed away. But by the time Washington married and was in his late twenties, he had already acquired more than twenty slaves. So he was beginning to acquire more and more slaves steadily, from the time he was a late teenager until the time he married, at about the age of twenty-seven.
John Ferling
Professor of History
University of Georgia

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