16 Terrible Facts about the American Founding Fathers that Didn't Make it to the History Books
16 Terrible Facts about the American Founding Fathers that Didn’t Make it to the History Books

16 Terrible Facts about the American Founding Fathers that Didn’t Make it to the History Books

Steve - January 15, 2019

16 Terrible Facts about the American Founding Fathers that Didn’t Make it to the History Books
“Washington as Farmer at Mount Vernon”, by Junius Brutus Stearns (c. 1851). Wikimedia Commons.

1. George Washington deliberately exploited a legal loophole in Pennsylvania law to avoid being forced to emancipate his slaves whilst serving as President of the United States.

After the ratification of the United States Constitution, whilst a new city was built to serve as the capital of the fledgling nation – Washington, D.C. – the city of Philadelphia was selected to serve as the temporary capital. Remaining the seat of government for the duration of Washington’s two terms as president, the commander-in-chief was forced to relocate to Philadelphia, bringing with him a number of enslaved persons to serve in his household. In 1780, Pennsylvania had passed the Gradual Abolition Act, stipulating that slaves were freed after they reached the age of 28 along with those who had lived in the state for more than six months.

In order to avoid surrendering his property, Washington would transport his slaves back to Mount Vernon, or on some occasions literally to the state lines, every six months. Through this method, kept deliberately secret to avoid scandal, Washington was able to perpetually reset the clock on his slave’s freedom and circumvent the clear intended purpose of the 1780 emancipation legislation. Reflecting his sustained desire to retain his Negro possessions, Washington also signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793 in addition to launching a three-year search for an escaped female slave who fled to New Hampshire after learning she was to be given as a wedding present.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Wife Patrick Henry Kept in the Cellar”, Shelia Phelps Inderbitzen, Outskirts press (2016)

“Patrick and Sarah Henry: Mental Illness in 18th century America”, Rose Gallenberger, National Museum of American History (July 2, 2015)

“The Murder of Founding Father George Wythe”, Daniel Berexa, Tennessee Bar Journal (December 21, 2010)

“I am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing that Shocked a New Nation”, Bruce Chadwick, John Wiley & Sons (2009)

“Gouverneur Morris: An Independent Life”, William Howard Adams, Yale University Press (2003)

“The Extraordinary Mr. Morris”, Howard Swiggert, Doubleday & Co (1952)

“Rehabilitating Thomas Paine, Bit by Bony Bit”, David W. Chen, The New York Times (March 31, 2001)

“The Founding Fathers and His Slaves”, Sarah Booth Conroy, University of Virginia Press (1998)

“An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America”, Henry Wiencek, Farrar Straus Giroux (2004)

“The Surprising Drinking Habits of Our Founding Fathers”, Adam Boles, Fox News (February 16, 2015)

“The Fort Wilson Incident of 1779: A Case Study of the Revolutionary Crowd”, John K. Alexander, The William and Mary Quarterly (1974)

“James Wilson: A Forgotten Father”, G.J. St. John, The Philadelphia Lawyer (2004)

“John Hart: The Biography of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Cleon E. Hammond, Pioneer Press (1977)

“Did George Washington’s False Teeth come from his slaves?: A look at the evidence, the response to that evidence, and the limitations of history“, Kathryn Gehred, University of Virginia (October 19, 2016)

“Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician”, Alyn Brodsky, Truman Talley Books (2004)

“The Secret Bones in Benjamin Franklin’s Basement”, Zoe Craig, Londonist (May 18, 2016)

“The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon”, John E. Ferling, Bloomsbury Press (2010)

“George Washington Reconsidered”, Don Higginbotham, University of Virginia Press (2001)

“Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy”, Annette Gordon-Reed, University of Virginia Press (1998)

“Free Some Day: The African-American Families of Monticello”, Lucia Stanton, University of North Carolina Press (2002)

“John Adams”, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster (2001)

“John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy”, Luke Mayville, Princeton University Press (2016)

“His Sacred Honor: Judge Richard Stockton, A Signer of the Declaration of Independence”, John C. Glynn, Hereditea Press (2007)

“George Washington Used Legal Loopholes to Avoid Freeing His Slaves”, Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian Magazine (February 16, 2015)

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