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George Washington’s Views on Slavery

In this lesson, developed by and included with the permission of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, students will examine excerpts from fourteen primary source documents to draw conclusions regarding George Washington’s views on slavery. NOTE: Scholars do not agree on Washington’s views on slavery. This lesson is designed to make students draw conclusions from the evidence presented; there is no correct answer.


  • George Washington to Joseph Thompson, July 2, 1766
  • Excerpt: George Washington to Daniel Jenifer Adams, July 20, 1772
  • Excerpt: George Washington to John Francis Mercer, September 9, 1786
  • Comment by George Washington, recorded by David Humphries in his The Life of General Washington, 1787-1788
  • Excerpt: U.S. Constitution, Ratified June 21, 1788
  • Excerpt: George Washington to Tobias Lear, April 12, 1791
  • Excerpt: Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
  • Excerpt: Slave Trade Act of 1794
  • Excerpt: George Washington’s Lease Terms at Mount Vernon, February 1, 1796
  • Newspaper Advertisement: The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 24, 1796 (Philadelphia)
  • Excerpt: George Washington to Lawrence Lewis, August 4, 1797
  • Excerpt: George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, July 9, 1799
  • Excerpt: George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, July 9, 1799

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will analyze documents that present multiple perspectives on a central issue, specifically public vs. private perspective and change over time.
  • Students will understand the societal, cultural, and economic conditions of eighteenth-century American life that sustained the institution of slavery.
  • Students will explore the relationship between George Washington and the institution of slavery, including the enslaved people he owned.
  • Students will collaborate on a project that does not have a definitive final answer and will have to come to consensus or explain the reason for disagreement.
  • As a group, students will create a thesis statement and evidence that answers the essential question: What were George Washington’s views on slavery?

Click here to access this lesson and accompanying materials on Mount Vernon’s website:

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