Friday, May 28, 2010
The Truth Be Told….
The issue of slavery plagued Washington throughout his years in Philadelphia. By the time that Washington arrived here, he had privately begun to express doubts about that institution, but he also expressed frustration with those who worked openly against slavery. Despite his misgivings about slavery, while living in the President's House, Washington signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. This notorious law mandated the return of enslaved persons to their owners and made it a crime to aid in the escape of the enslaved.
Washington also took pains to ensure that those he enslaved could not secure their freedom under the terms of Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Law of 1780. Washington was unsure if the law applied to him, but if it did, it would have allowed enslaved Africans he brought into the state to secure their freedom after six months residence in Pennsylvania. In order to keep this from happening, Washington secretly made arrangements for the slaves he brought to Philadelphia to be rotated out of the state before the six-month deadline arrived. Even a brief trip across state lines would restart the clock on the waiting period.
Washington eventually did decide to free his slaves. However, under the terms of his will, this belated freedom only came after both he and his wife died, and then only for some. Martha's dower slaves, who legally belonged to her family's estate, were not freed.
Philadelphia in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)