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In the Planters House: Three Generations of Servants to George Washington's Family

Category: Columnist

In the Planters House:  Three Generations of Servants
to George Washington's Family

by Anita Wills
Copyright ©1998-1999 by Anita Wills. Reprints require approval by the author.

A slave graveyard containing 156 bodies has been uncovered at Wakefield Plantation in Virginia. Those buried there are Africa’s sons and daughters, slaves who were owned by George Washington’s father Augustine Washington Sr. Slavery is the part of history that America does not want to discuss. Yet how did the majority of African Americans arrive here, if not by slave ships? Europe imported a race of people to breed as inferior to the white race. Many mixed raced, "colored’ or ‘mulattos sentenced to servitude by the church parishes. The Churches statements of racism still ring true in our society today.

Although George Washington moved away from Wakefield at a young age, he often returned to stay and on visit. "...George Washington lived, from his birth to his removal to Mount Vernon in 1748; first; three years at Wakefield (Popes’ Creek); the next few years at Epsewasson; the next four years on the Strother-Washington farm, in King George County; next, about two-and-one-half years again at Wakefield; next, about two-and-one half years again on the Strother-Washington place."

Some of the many servants and slaves in the Washington household were my ancestors. Sue was a servant of Augustine Sr., and her daughter Mary Bowden were born at Wakefield (Popes Creek) in Westmoreland Co., when Augustine Senior owned the property. Mary was born about 1729 when Augustine Sr. owned Wakefield [1720-1740]. Patty Bowden was born about 1749 when Augustine Jr. owned it 1740(?) - 1762. Patty was inherited by Elizabeth Washington and Alexander Spotswood upon their marriage. They moved 35 miles to Fredericksburg. Patty continued to live in Spotsylvania County until her death in 1830.

Patty was known as Patty, "Free Patty", "Patsy" and "Martha" by those in the Washington household. She was the third generation born as servants to the prominent Washington family. At least one of Mary and Patty’s parents were white and the other Negro. Whether the father was white or black or vice versa is not yet clear. The status of the women during that period suggest that their mother was white. However, there is just as much evidence that the father was white. The answer may be in the slave graveyard.

Excerpt of Augustine Washington Jr. Will:

"WASHINGTON, AUGUSTINE, 18 Sept. 1758; 25 May 1762. " To my daughter Betty a Negro child named Mary Daughter of Sue and another named Betty Daughter of Judy." (p.132).

At one point Mary Bowden ran away and was taken to court by Augustine Washington Jr. She was gone for five months and Augustine spent a great deal of tobacco looking for her. When she was found he took her to court. Mary put up no defense, possibly knowing that her word had no weight against a white man.

Augustine Washington vs. Mary Bowden for services:

"Augustine Washington gent., bringing before this court his mulatto servant woman named Mary Bowden, for absenting herself from her master’s service five months and he making oath that he hath expended one hundred and eighty pounds of tobacco in taking her up and there so. Mary having nothing to say in her own defense. It is therefore ordered that she do serve her ?? master his heirs or assignees, after her time for indenture is expired. One year two weeks and five days for her absent time and expenses."

The indentured servitude that Sue, Mary and Patty were under was no different than slavery. They could be sold, whipped and or imprisoned. If they had any children the children were also born into servitude. Sue, Mary and Patty were house servants and were listed on Augustine Washington’s inventory as worth no more than $30 each. The field slaves were listed at as much as $800 a piece since many were skilled craftsmen. The servant could also have time added on as with Mary and Patty. Although Patty was to be free when 31 she did not receive her freedom until she was 52 years of age.

During and after her servitude Patty bore several children, Ann, Milly, William, Leroy, Patty Jr., Samuel and Delphia to name a few. The older of her children were by a Col. Gabriel, who was a white man. The younger children, Leroy, William, Patty Jr. and Samuel were by her slave husband James Jackson. James Jackson was a slave to Charles Yates and was freed upon Mr. Yates death. Patty Jackson was the matriarch of the Jackson’s in Fredericksburg.

According to some laws passed by Virginia regarding slavery and servitude:

1691- The Assembly prohibited the manumission of slaves unless they were transported out of the colony.

1733- It also prohibited interracial marriages and ordered the illegitimate, mixed-race children of white women bound out for 30 years; [ Laws of Virginia: XIII ..." if a free Christian white woman shall have such bastard child by a Negro, or mulatto, for every such offense, she shall, within one month after her delivery of such bastard child, pay to the church-wardens for the time being, or the parish wherein such child shall be born for the use of the said parish, fifteen pounds current money of Virginia, or be by them sold for five years to the use aforesaid; and in both the said cases, the church-wardens shall bind the said child to be a servant until it shall be of thirty one years of age [please note that these race based laws came from the church {Anglican, Church of England, Episcopalian and Catholic).]

Freedom Papers-Patty Bowden-Jackson & Daughter Delphia:

"I do certify that the bearer of this a molatto woman by the name of Delphia, is the daughter of free Patty who as a servant of Mr. Yates (?) by the name of James for a husband. That the said Patty was born and raised on the Estate of Gen. Augustine Washington and given to Mrs. Spotswood. consort of Alexander Spotswood an act arranged by law, as a servant to serve to Thirty-one years of age - at which period I discharged her-and not wishing to have female Negroes entitled to freedom among my slaves, and to reward Patty for her faithful services I gave her this girl, then a child-who from under my hand I pronounce to be a free woman. Signed Alexander Spotswood, August 11, 1801."

The last documentation on Patty was her manumission papers [1820] in Fredericksburg. She was than 71 years of age and her "Free Negro Registry" papers stated that she was: "A Dark Mulatto who was born free."  Patty Bowden died about 1830, leaving property to her son Samuel Jackson.

Copyright ©1998-1999 by Anita Wills.   Reprints require approval by the author.


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