George Washington’s Slave

Every once in a while I get a reference question that reinforces just how important our manuscript collections are. A woman from Vernon asked if we had the letter to Oliver Wolcott, Jr.  in which George Washington mentioned a runaway slave.  After a bit of searching, and using the finding aid to help guide me, I found it. I had no idea that this letter existed, although it has been published numerous times.

In the letter, dated 1 September [1796], Washington asked Wolcott to make some inquiries about a young slave girl who ran away from Philadelphia and was last seen in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The slave girl was the personal servant to Mrs. Washington, and he stated that they had raised her like a daughter and hence could not understand why she would want to run away. A transcription of the entire letter (3 pages) can be found in the book George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal, available online through Google Books.

Washington wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Connecticut resident Oliver Wolcott, saying he was sending a description of a runaway slave girl. Ms Wolcott, Oliver Jr.

Washington wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Connecticut resident Oliver Wolcott, saying he was sending a description of a runaway slave girl. Ms Wolcott, Oliver Jr.

Wolcott's letters were at one time pasted to slips of paper that were then bound into a book-like form. The strip is very visible here.

Wolcott’s letters were at one time pasted to slips of paper that were then bound into a book-like form. The strip is very visible here.

Wolcott’s papers arrived at CHS in 54 bound volumes plus several boxes of material, much of it gathered by a grandson of his, George Gibbs. On the first page of the letter illustrated above you can see a volume and item number written in the upper left corner. That mark was made when the volumes of correspondence were dis-bound, thus preserving the”original” organization.

Wolcott served as Secretary of The Treasury in 1795 and was later elected Governor of Connecticut. As I saw in once article I read about Wolcott, what the Adams family is to Massachusetts,the Wolcott family is to Connecticut. The Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers is an extensive collection and shows just how important Connecticut was to the formation of the United States in the years just after the Revolution. Ask for the Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers finding aid in the Research Center if you would like to begin exploring Connecticut’s early Federal period history.

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