Slave Assignments

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This 18th-century scissors fragment (above) was excavated near the Mount Vernon Mansion.

Enslaved children received a formal work assignment between ages 11 and 14, depending on their physical abilities.

REQUIRED READING: Friedman, A History of American Law (3d ed., 2005) (paperback), and History of American Law Documents TOPICS AND ASSIGNMENTS We will take the following assignments in order, each assignment will take about one class.

My tendency is to take too much time rather than too little, and for that reason there are fewer assignments than scheduled class meetings.

This 1830 watercolor by Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter depicts an enslaved girl at Arlington House.

Slave Assignments

The child may be the daughter of one the Custis “dower” slaves, who were inherited by Mrs.Many babies were named for their mothers or fathers, such as William, the son of Kate and Will at Muddy Hole Farm.Naming traditions reinforced family identity, even as relatives faced temporary or permanent separation.Washington’s grandchildren after her death in 1802.By the 1780s and 1790s, enslaved people at Mount Vernon were probably permitted to name their own children.Inadequate nutrition could make illness worse, especially for children.When an enslaved person became sick, their family members provided daily care.He described “a boy of 15…lying on the ground, sick, and in terrible convulsions.” The boy was Delia’s son, Daniel.The overseer’s report from the week of the visit noted that Delia was out of work for 6 days, nursing her son. Those enslaved at Mount Vernon generally received medical care from doctors hired by Washington.Some captives maintained their African names privately as a form of resistance.Explore the slavery database to see the range of names of Mount Vernon’s enslaved people. James Craik and George Washington, including many payments for treatments of enslaved people, August 25, 1797–June 27, 1799 [H-1197]. Craik’s visit to Daniel at Union Farm is listed here on June 5, 1798.


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