Grade 5 – George Washington’s Slave Census

by Laura Krenicki
William J. Johnston Middle School, Colchester


TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT
Topic
Slavery & Abolition
Theme
Cultural Diversity and an American National Identity
Town
Statewide
Related Search Terms
George Washington, President, Slaves, Slavery, Enslaved
Social Studies Frameworks
Grade 5 – Early United States History
D1: POTENTIAL COMPELLING QUESTION

What did the Founding Fathers really think about slavery?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
  • How were slaves treated? Were all slaves treated the same?
  • What steps did some slave-owners take to protect slaves?
  • George Washington visited Connecticut on more than one occasion. How might he have encountered slavery here?
D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson.

1799-slave-census-first-page
The first page of the slave census in George Washington’s 1799 will. – Mount Vernon

George Washington Slave Census

George Washington died in 1799, and according to his will, all of his slaves were to be freed upon his death. His wife, Martha, however, had been married before, and she had slaves from her first marriage. According to the law, slave ownership passed along the male line, meaning Martha’s son from her first marriage managed the rights of those slaves. As some of the slaves intermarried, George’s “freed” slaves would not have wanted to leave their non-freed spouses or children.

D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Have students do a close-reading of the slave census. Have students investigate:

  • How many different jobs can you identify on the slave census? Do these jobs appear to be farm jobs or skilled trades?
  • What is the relationship between the gender of the slave and the job that he or she performed?
  • Is there any evidence that children worked at Mount Vernon?
  • How might the work of slaves been different in Connecticut than in Virginia, and why? Or was it different?
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS

Divide students into different groups and have each group decide what type of slave job they would perform. Randomly pass out cards with either G or M on them. Let students know the G means they are George’s slave or M is Martha’s. Now that George’s slaves are free, what would that mean for the rest? Have students decide what to do in each group and report out to the rest.

Extension: Group students into 3 or 4 and make them family groups. Have students decide how their family groups would be made up (for example, have mother, father, children, older family, etc.) Do the same as above with the G and M cards. How would this be different than the job activity? Have groups report out and compare to the earlier task.

Have students research slavery in Connecticut and compare it to slavery in Virginia. Are there similarities? Differences? Why do they think that is?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Things to DO
Websites to VISIT