A little-known fact about General Washington

Although Pennsylvania had begun an abolition of slavery in 1780, it permitted slaveholders from other states to hold slaves in the state for up to six months. After that time, slaves would gain their freedom. Members of Congress were exempt from Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Act, but not officers of the executive and judicial branches. Washington and other slaveholders rotated their slaves out of the state to prevent the slaves from establishing the 6-month residency needed to qualify for manumission. His slave Oney Judge escaped from captivity in Philadelphia, and he gradually replaced most of his slaves in Philadelphia with indentured servants who were German immigrants.

"This being the case, the Attorney General conceived, that after six months residence, your slaves would be upon no better footing than his. But he observed, that if, before the expiration of six months, they could, upon any pretense whatever, be carried or sent out of the State, but for a single day, a new era would commence on their return, from whence the six months must be dated for it requires an entire six months for them to claim that right."


Written on September 3, 2014