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When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his “only unavoidable subject of regret.” In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the founding father’s engagement with slavery at every stage of his life—as a Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president and statesman.
Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts (an incident ignored by earlier biographers). Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington’s attitudes began to change. He and the other framers enshrined slavery in the Constitution, but, Wiencek shows, even before he became president Washington had begun to see the system’s evil. …[more]
The Hairstons are extraordinary families, both black and white, who share a complex and compelling history that embodies the legacy of slavery and shows how that legacy has passed into our own time.
Opening at the remote North Carolina plantation of Cooleemee, The Hairstons reads like a gothic tale filled with vexing mysteries. In an attempt to resolve those mysteries, Henry Wiencek crisscrossed the old plantation country in Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi, seeking out Hairston descendants and immersing himself in the musty archives of plantations and courthouses. The result is a richly textured portrait of seven generations that examines the ambiguities of slavery and its painful aftermath.
The black family’s story traces the triumphant rise of a remarkable people—the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren…[more]