- George Washington, Slave Catcher is the provocative title of an opinion piece by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (The New York Times, 16-Feb-2015). Although nothing new is revealed, it is a sharp reminder that Washington and his wife Martha were typical and not in any way unexceptional slave-owners. When Martha’s personal attendant, Ona Judge, ran away in 1796, Washington discreetly pursued her until his death in1799. Famously, Washington arranged to have his slaves freed upon his wife’s death, and, per Virginia law, he set up a fund to support them. But when Martha died in 1802
all of her human property went to her inheritors. She emancipated no one.
George Washington, Slave Catcher
But as an intellectual enterprise ... [Jefferson’s University of Virgina] proved less satisfactory to its creator when it opened the year before he died. The students turned out be not so much an aristocracy of virtue and talent as a gang of rowdy youths with a taste for drink, gambling, breaking windows, firing guns into the air, and thrashing professors who tried to stop them. The horrified Jefferson came down from his mountain to Charlottesville to reprimand them. Flanked by his dear friends and fellow trustees James Madison and James Monroe, the frail eighty-two-year-old patriarch drew himself up to his full six foot two, began to speak — and burst into tears.