In his Last Will, President Washington left his estate, including all but one of his slaves (William Lee), to his wife, Martha Washington.
He provided immediate freedom to that one slave, William Lee, but delayed the release of the remainder of his slaves until after the death of Martha.
He citied his reasoning for delaying their release in stating, “[t]o emancipate them during her life, would, tho earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties on account of their intermixture by marriages with the dower negroes, as to excite the most painful sensations, if not disagreeable consequences from the latter, while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same proprietor.” (PBS, Rediscovering George Washington, Last Will and Testament).
Last Wills – George Washington – Bio
Born February 22, 1732 – Died December 14, 1799
1st President, United States
Last Wills – George Washington – Note
William Lee was freed by Washington in Washington’s Last Will, citing “his faithful services during the Revolutionary War”.
William Lee was the only one of Washington’s 124 slaves freed outright in his will; the remaining slaves owned by Washington were to be freed upon the death of Martha Washington.)