The Story of Harry Washington, Who Escaped Twice From George Washington

He Chose Risking Death Over Staying With George

William Spivey
5 min readJun 30, 2024

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The Great Dismal Swamp By Thomas Moran — Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84086389

There are several accounts of George Washington as a benevolent slave master, many of them originating from entities controlled by the Washington family or estate, like the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, which owns the first President’s estate, Mount Vernon. They acknowledge his slaves were poorly fed and housed but insist he met the standards of the day. A story is told about an enslaved woman, Charlotte, who Washington agreed should be whipped for being impudent. She reportedly said she hadn’t been beaten for 14 years. From that story, they extrapolate that physical punishment at Mount Vernon was rare but not unheard of.

The enslaved people who sacrificed their teeth to make up part of Washington’s ill-fitting dentures might object to the characterization of Washington as being kind. Some historians tell us the slaves were paid for their teeth, but records only document the dentist receiving payment. Dozens of enslaved people ran away from Mount Vernon over the years, including some arguably in the highest positions a slave could attain. His valet, Christopher Sheels, tried unsuccessfully to escape, though his cook, Hercules, and Martha Washington’s personal maid, Oney Judge, reached freedom. Washington…

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