How Martha Washington Lived: 18th Century Customs

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Eliza Powel: George Washington’s Other Woman

Music, storytelling, and religion provided an emotional outlet and carried on traditions—some from Africa and others forged in years of enslavement. George Washington ordered this top-of-the-line, double-manual harpsichord from London for his step-granddaughter Nelly Custis.

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Music was an important part of daily life for enslaved people. Singing and dancing could continue African traditions, make work…. In the course of his travels Washington met a variety of people. Before the Revolution the Washingtons welcomed many guests to Mount Vernon. However, George Washington's eventual status as a world figure in the post-Revolutionary Era brought considerably larger numbers of guests to the Estate.

Whenever possible, he traveled to spend time with his wife Pricilla Silla , a Washington slave and field worker, and their six children who lived at the outlying Dogue Run farm. Priscilla was born around She lived and worked at Dogue Run Farm with her six children.

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She was married to Joe who worked as an enslaved ditcher at Mansion Farm, which means she largely raised her six children on her own with the Dogue Run community. The board game prints best on 11x17 paper. Joe Stoltz III explains many of the hardships everyone faced in travel during the 18th century.

Written Communication in the 18th Century. Read the Encyclopedia Article. Explore the Sources. Rules of Civility George Washington wrote out a copy of the Rules of Civility in his school book when he was about years old. Explore the Rules. The Journal of Major George Washington Washington wrote a report of his two-and-a-half month trans-Allegheny journey, stretching from October 31, until January 16, Explore the Primary Source.

Explore the Page. Did Washington have good Handwriting? On view are letters written by Washington when… Watch the Video. Music in Washington's World Although he may not have been musically-inclined himself, Washington lived in a world surrounded by music. Music in the Revolutionary War During the Revolution, the army used fifes and drums not only to boast morale, but also for communication and regimentation. Visit the Page. Community and Tradition in the Enslaved Community Maintaining customs and community allowed Mount Vernon's enslaved people to affirm their humanity in a world that denied it.

Harpsicord George Washington ordered this top-of-the-line, double-manual harpsichord from London for his step-granddaughter Nelly Custis. That's big. That's not cynical. Her mother, Betty, was an enslaved seamstress and her father a white indentured tailor, Andrew Judge, according to research by Ed Lawler Jr.

Austin, an older child of Betty's, was Oney Judge's half-brother.

He also came with the presidential family to Philadelphia, where Lawler believes he worked as a stablehand and slept in the slave quarters with fellow slaves Giles and Paris. Judge, on the other hand, slept in the main house and, for a period at least, had her own room. She was strong, by her own account, and like her parents excelled with needle and thread. Her skin was the color of pale coffee, and sprinkled with freckles.

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Martha Washington's needs were Oney Judge's first priority; she was a body servant to the first lady and a companion to her grandchildren, accompanying them to various events, including the circus. It was during those trips, presumably, that Judge became friendly with free Africans. There were about 6, in Pennsylvania in , an estimated 1, to 2, in Philadelphia.


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A large number lived on the block where the National Constitution Center now sits at the northern end of Independence Mall, only two blocks from the President's House. In the group had founded the Free African Society, the nation's first black self-help and civic organization; a few years later it was meeting at Dexter's house to discuss formation of the city's first black churches - Jones' St.

As far as UCLA history professor Gary Nash is concerned, these efforts of Philadelphia's early free African leaders mark them as "the founding fathers of black America. Peter Glumac, an archaeologist who oversaw extensive excavations that preceded construction of the Constitution Center in , is awed by Dexter and his associates. Here, black individuals first stood up and formed their own unions and institutions. It is more than likely that, in her travels around town, Oney Judge came in contact with free Africans living near the President's House.

She saw, even as she lived with other slaves in Washington's household, the potential for freedom; she saw it, even as Washington signed the Fugitive Slave Act in , steps away from the room where she slept. The act criminalized escape, penalizing not only escaped slaves but those who assisted them. Early in the summer of , after learning that Martha Washington intended to make a wedding present of her, Oney Judge took all three-fifths of her personhood into her own hands and plotted her escape.

She remained hidden by her friends until a boat with a willing captain could be found to carry her away. She sailed north and eventually took up residence in New Hampshire. Washington was both angered and perplexed by what he saw as Judge's ingratitude. He asked his Treasury secretary, Oliver Wolcott, for assistance in finding the runaway. Martha Washington was equally confounded and wrote that Judge could only have been seduced into escape by "a Frenchman. After Judge was spotted on the streets of Portsmouth, N. The collector, Joseph Whipple, interviewed Judge, and warned Wolcott that abduction would be a poor idea, possibly sparking a riot on the dock.

Judge tried to negotiate with the president - the promise of her ultimate freedom in exchange for her return - but he angrily refused. Even after leaving the presidency he continued to seek her return, and in sent his nephew to New Hampshire with instructions to bring her back. By this time she had married a sailor, Jack Staines, was the mother of a young child, and had no intention of returning to bondage.

Warned that another kidnapping initiative was brewing, she went into hiding. Washington's nephew returned to Mount Vernon empty-handed. Judge had three children with Jack Staines and outlived them all. She taught herself to read and sought out a quiet, pious life. When interviewed by abolitionists in the s, she was a pauper living in Greenland, N.

And though George and Martha Washington had been dead for nearly half a century, she was still a fugitive slave, who could have been seized and returned to Virginia at any time. An abolitionist asked her if, given the uncertainty and poverty of her life, she was sorry she had left Washington's comfortable household. Oney Judge died at 75 on Feb. On the th anniversary of her death earlier this year, Philadelphia lawyer Michael Coard and an organization he helped found, the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, held a ceremony commemorating her death. Coard spoke to the small crowd gathered at the site where the President's House once stood, where the nation's first laws were signed and where Oney Judge - utterly powerless, afraid and alone - had gathered up her dignity and refused to be given away as a wedding gift.

George and Martha Washington's Philadelphia household numbered about 30, including family, 15 white indentured servants, several secretaries, and nine slaves.


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  • Pennsylvania had begun the gradual abolition of slavery in but freed only those born after the law took effect, and only when they reached the age of Slaves brought to Pennsylvania, however, were deemed free after six months in residence; to circumvent that, Washington rotated slaves in and out.

    Those known to have lived in Philadelphia, who will be commemorated in the President's House memorial, were:. Oney Judge , Martha Washington's personal servant. Escaped in More is known about her than any of the other enslaved household members because she gave interviews to abolitionist journals. Hercules , Washington's renowned chef, who escaped about a year after Judge. He vanished without a trace. Austin , Judge's half-brother, a stable worker thought to have slept in the quarters behind the house.

    He was thrown from a horse and killed in Giles , a driver or a footman on Washington's carriages who, says historian Ed Lawler Jr. Injured early in the s, he returned to Mount Vernon.