Skip to main content

tv   Slavery Martha Washington and Dolley Madison  CSPAN  June 18, 2017 9:04pm-10:01pm EDT

9:04 pm
thank you very much. announcer: interested in american history tv, visit our website, you can view our tv schedule, andiew upcoming programs watch college lectures and more. american history tv at wartx marie dinkins about how founding mothers martha washington and had relationships with slaves. >> good afternoon.
9:05 pm
thank you so much for that lovely introduction. it is wonderful to be here. i felt like i have come home. i lived in washington for a number of years and logged many hours in this building doing research for my first book. today i am talking about two of our most popular first ladies, martha washington and dolley madison. at martha jefferson and her daughter cassidy but i am confining my remarks to the washington's and madison. the important people in the book are the enslaved people martha and dolly claimed as property. martha washington and dolley
9:06 pm
madison both supervised a large contingent of domestic slaves at their homes in virginia. martha washington at mount vernon and dolley madison at montpelier. they also took slaves with them to serve in the executive mansion with their husbands became president. their husbands became president. slavery for martha and dolly was not just an economic stem that made their lavish lifestyles possible, although he did that. slavery for them was a constituent part of daily living. they were with slaves from morning until night. the relationship between the first ladies and their enslaved help forms the core of my book
9:07 pm
"ties that bound." we admire martha washington and dolley madison for many reasons and rightly so. for their patriotism, social graces and fashionable attire and for playing the role of hostess while their husbands served as president. martha washington is especially esteed for traveling to winter camp's during the american revolution. -- camps during the american revolution. dolley madison is particularly admired for saving from capture and destruction a portrait of george washington as the british tour down washington dc -- tore down washington dc in the war of 1812. we cannot admire their slaveholding.
9:08 pm
slavery was cruel. underwrote slavery. punishments could be harsh, involving a beating or sale. even when enslaved people did their owners bidding, -- their owner's bidding, they could be sold or moved for such reasons as the owner needed to pay a debt or the owner needed less slaves. suggesting all slaves, even young children -- subjecting all children to young psychological terror. in the united states or who did the slaveholding. it is hard to connect to these
9:09 pm
facts with our founders. true in the united states no matter who did the slaveholding. we same fathers and mothers did so much to champion freedom and equality made enslavement and inequality a part of their everyday lives by owning slaves. our instinct has been to look away. we have not wanted to think about our country's founders as placeholders. turning away, we deny ourselves with knowledge of the past. --we have not wanted to think about our country's founders as slaveholders. disturbing. people somehow
9:10 pm
asked me how i can stand to research and write about it. i have a three-pronged answer. first is my belief that recognizing a wrong in history is the beginning of a way to make amends or at least in short it does not happen again. happenre it does not again. i am a trained eye carnival's story --trained archival historian. i rely on my professional training when i in the archives are sitting by my computer reading or writing about slavery's atrocities. writing history is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. you have to think about the emerging big picture as you come across small bits of
9:11 pm
information. if i let my emions oveome me, i'm never going to get that large story. even so, i find sometimes i just have to pause and think about what is emerging. the small details. it is a difficult subject to listen to, which allows me to appreciate your presence all the -- your presence all the more. closely when examined
9:12 pm
becomes a human relationship and by studying that human relationship we can see the capacity for humans for cruelty but we can also see the capacity of humans for resilient. resilience. enslaves people were not just werems -- enslaved people not just victims of a cruel labor system, they prayed and protested against the very real constraints imposed by a slaveholding regime. slave owners had enormous power but masters and mistresses were completelyontrol
9:13 pm
the men and women they held in captivity. the first ladies and new that human property -- knew that human property was hard to manage. waited on the washington's and madison's in the home could not be placed about exactly as the owners wanted like furniture. domestic slaves exercise a degree of human agency and no matter how hard the mistress, master or other overseer tribe, that could not be -- or other coulder tried, that not be taken completely. i knew that slaves could not be
9:14 pm
despite the best efforts to do so. when they were not being watched, enslaves people took time for themselves and their families. for te working long hours most enslaves people managed to raise families, tended gardens, forge friendships and entertain each other with music, dance and stories. they carried out some of these activities with the approval of the owners. when the approval was not forthcoming, they did what they could sue repetitious sleep. what they could. george washington, as general of
9:15 pm
the continental army during the revolution, he had brought together a ragtag band of men who defeated the mighty british military. exercisef anyone could -- an iron will over their slaves, it would be the washingtons. keepcould not even prizedn off of their yards. slave children ran around the vernon.mount offered to keep the
9:16 pm
children away, george thanked him for his efforts but expressed doubt anything could be done. one of the reasons of the washington's could not keep the children off the lawn is they were unwilling to use after tony and measures that would anger measurese draconian the highlyanger skilled and prized house staff. this was the case with a young man who in 1794 hurt himself doing manuel labor for his family. insisted he begin lighter worked in the house. when george's farm manager
9:17 pm
thought he should go back to his regular work, george cautioned against it. he was not sure what might happen but he was sure his mother would do something or whatever it took to keep her son from being assigned physically taxing labor. howe this example to show domestic staff in the contracts agency.ry used their owners could use the threat of violence and threats of sale, bu sell highlyted to ervants who took
9:18 pm
years and to train and no one wanted to beat slaves doing their job. -- they could retaliate. everyone knew when an important matter was at stake such as the recovery of a son from an injury, slaves sometimes stood their ground. this knowledge gave martha paul's when it came -- pause when it came to having her maids disciplined.
9:19 pm
reporting at a thee of the slaves annoyed passiveons with her resistance to being an slaves. the washingtons often threatened caroline to the field when she displeased but they never followed through. the seamstress, charlotte, usually performed work to martha's satisfaction and avoided punishment when she did not. once, when she failed to complete a task, she was whipped. by refusingtaliated to do anything for a wild. she did not explicitly say she was not doing anything because
9:20 pm
of the whipping. instead she simply said she had hurt her finger. the washingtons clearly understood her behavior as protests. refusal to work was a weapon. againstometimes wilted against an owner. slaveholders expected a certain amount of work for the shelter and food they provided. moral, andhey had a they were treating -- a moral treatingnd they were their slaves fairly. that is notord but
9:21 pm
a morality we would tolerate today. slaves tended to cooperate with owners in less they were punished egregiously for a minor offense or were told to perform more work than usual. a slave owner who tried to impose extra work beyond the normal, which was still a lot or harshlyshed, especially could produce the exact opposite result, as was the case with charlotte. such edence to demonstrate that the washingtons could not direct all aspects of their slaves lives all the time. the notions that slaves holders untrue, evenply for general and mrs. washington.
9:22 pm
my book tells the story about how the first ladies try to maintain control over their enslaves help and how -- over their enslaved help and how the slaves defined themselves as more than cook and maid. mastery of personhood on the part of enslaves people -- enslaved people is central to "ties that bound." book, iearched the found many ideas that were not true. first was the idea that martha washington and dolley madison excepted slavery because they had grown up with it and did not know another way to live.
9:23 pm
another one is of that mistresses in general dislike slavery but they could do nothing about it. the laws and customs of a patriarchal society left them helpless to take action. i found a kernel of proof behind there was ats but different story. whoha and dolley new people advocated an end to slavery and some of them were members of their own families. martha washington's parents were slaveholders but in the era of the american revolution, many people were questioning slavery's place in the new nation. northern state were in the process of outlawing slavery within their borders and in virginia, where the first lady's
9:24 pm
--es, certain slaveholders first ladies lived, certain slaveholders were emancipating their slaves. george washington became one of them. he died in 1799. george wrote a will emancipate --emancipating his slaves, not at the end of his life but on martha's death. martha at the time was a wealthy woman in her own right and she did not need his slaves to live well. she possessed a more slaves than he did. not hers our ho died iny belonged to thes
9:25 pm
1757. martha had inherited the use of his slaves. all the slaves were to pass it heirs at theother time martha died. there was one exception. somehow martha had come to own him in her own right. rather to follow george's him, shend free bequeathed him to her grandson. she modeled her will on that of her husband in always but this one. her's freed no slaves. i'm going to return to martha and what she did about george's slaves in a moment.
9:26 pm
before that, i want to say more about dolley madison's upbringing. dolley madison grew up in a slaveholding household but her parents were quakers and like other quakers in the era of the american revolution they concluded that slaveholding was immoral, and contrary to the principles of the nation. 15, herley was age parents sold thier slaves and moved the family to philadelphia. it was one of those states that was moving to outlaw slavery within their borders. father said he wanted to start life and new in a free state. lawyer arried a quaker few years later and they had two
9:27 pm
boys. she might have lived out her had as a good quaker wife not yellow fever struck the city. sadly, the epidemic to the life of her husband and one of her sons. how the dolley process the means andolley was young attractive and caught the eye of james madison. proposed,, he soon which put dolley in a dilemma. he was an important congressman from virginia but he was also episcopalian and he lived a life of luxury on his family's montpelier estate. his elite lifestyle ran counter to the quaker ideals of plain living. wealth came dison
9:28 pm
slaves theydreds of held in captivity. marrying james with mean renouncing quakerism and the abolitionist principles her parents held dear. she took some time to decide but she said yes. it seems that neither martha washington or dolley madison were reluctant mistresses of slaves. neither followed spousal or parental example to renounce the concept of human property. remains, what kind of mistresses were they? biographers and certain historians have said that they were good mistresses but what does that mean? defining anyn
9:29 pm
slaveholder as good is this. no matter how well enslaves people were treated, no matter how satisfactory their conditions of living, they longed for liberty. as the george washington bias observed of number and slaves, they may be well closed and said -- well clothed and fed and no subject to beatings but still they are slaves. slaves to the nations capital when george washington became president -- when georgetial washington to became president.
9:30 pm
well trained and highly skilled. her material conditions of living were better than most of slaves belonging to the washington. small sumsgiven oni nd permission to travel on her own. thefled one day when washingtons sat down to dinner. she made her way to new hampshire where she married and had children. sh life was not easy, but e preferred it to the one she had with the washingtons.
9:31 pm
she said she wanted to be free, to learn to read and write. departure was a blow to martha washington. making things worse from the washington's perspective,, their prize cook hercules ran away around the same time. other runaways from married the washingtons to the time george washington died. one slave ran away from mount vernon per year. not everyone italy did recapture, as it did -- not recapture like
9:32 pm
oni and hercules. enslaves people did not think -- d people did not think of their owners as good to them. the number of runaways from mount vernon master the numbers that ran away from other similarly sized plantations in virginia. the slaves at melbourne fared no better -- at mount vernon fared no worse or better than other slaves living in virginia. george washington's slaves eventually gained their freedom through the terms of his will but even this is not the happy occasion we might like to envision. during the years of george and
9:33 pm
marriage, her slaves had intermarried with his. free,eorge's slaves were there were 123 of them. slavesarried to martha's had to leave spouses and children behind. slaves the washington's managed to stay near their famili at mount vernon butn truth we don't really know what happened to all of them. freedom, though welcomed, was bittersweet. of montpelierity slaves seemed to have fared no better or worse than other slaves in virginia, at least while james madison was alive. had dolly been willing to remain at montpelier after james died
9:34 pm
this might have remained true y found life in the virginia countryside tedious. she wanted to return to washington dc and reestablish herself as a preeminent host, a firsthe had relished while her husband served as secretary of date for eight years and then later during the eight years james madison had served as president. such a life took money and montpelierly selling and it slaves became a way to slavest -- and its became a way to raise it. wnerdeath of a slave on was a difficult time for
9:35 pm
slaves. enslaved people who attended james'funeral were visibly upset. one of her relatives took it as bereavement in the loss of a kind and hezbollah threat master master.d and benevolent shed werethe slaves real enough. rumors were circulating that the president's widow would sell manyf them. slaves who cried and carried on weree death of an owner participating in a tradition of
9:36 pm
long-standing. race relations throughout the south required that slaves and slaveholders outwardly appear to care about one another. family members expected expressions of grief from slaves when a slave owner died. slaves rarely disappointed. applied the aternalistic contract at such momentous moment would have disastrous consequences. people who did not demonstrate the proper demeanor could expect to be among the first sold. appearances mattered, particularly to public figures like dolly madison, cared about her husband's legacy. so the slaves cried. they knew their fate rested in dolley's hands.
9:37 pm
toes had bequeathed them her. slavesbegan selling within two months of her husband's death. brother, and abolitionist, right in horror -- wrote in horror. negroday or two the hiser would make appearance like a hawk among the pigeons. based on conversations, he had come to believe that james had followed through and written a
9:38 pm
will that freedom all or at least some of his slaves. , when its will , showed became known otherwise. agricole was outraged. emancipated,e not he wrote his sister in late july. outraged. thatme to a conclusion there had to be a second will. i cannot divest myself of the belief that he is made a secret will whereas his slaves will be free at the death of his life -- at the death of his wife. george washington's slaves had
9:39 pm
--george washington's will martha'sfree at death. martha was concerned about finances. mount vernon had a more slaves at the time they could be put to productive use and letting early wouldves go have saved expense. martha was also worried about slatedgeorge's slaves, othersedom, mixing among that would remain in bondage. martha's slaves were not going to be free and she actually has
9:40 pm
more than george. a lot of slaveholders worried, they thought that mixing slaves slated for freedom with those that would remain in bondage with added to the disgruntlement of other slaves. martha decided to let them go early. the madison's new full well what happened at mount vernon -- the well whatnew full happened at mount vernon. a secret will offered a solution. cole and the madisons slaves willto believe in a secret orecting dolley to free all some of james' slaves.
9:41 pm
there is circumstantial evidence of its existence. he searched for the truth and included that his cousin dolley had destroyed it. and didlose to dolley not want to believe it but he could not come up with any explanation. i cannot go into the evidence today. i want to use my remaining time to talk about why we cannot understand james madison without knowing what dolley did. traditionally, historians and biographers have ignored dolley and other first ladies when writing about the president. they go through documents
9:42 pm
written by men to find out what james madison and the other presidents thought about slavery and other important issues. ,y looking at the women scholars see something important about james and the other presidents. certain historians and biographers have seen, in the early presidents, a nascent , if realized,hat could put the nation on a path they could have avoided civil war. postulate that the founding fathers might have done more to end it. them, it represented a colossal failure of leadership, a lack of political kurds. courage.itical
9:43 pm
news is that george washington freed his slaves in his wil electrify the nation. large numbers of americans believed him a hero. john adams followed washington in office and he owns no slaves. thomas jefferson came next. he managed to free only a small number of favorite slaves at the end of his life. the vast majority of jefferson's people had been sold at a very public auction. it was necessary to pay the debts he had run up living. for his slaves, it had been a heart wrenching plundering of family ties. was arson's it public humiliation. no one wanted to see such a
9:44 pm
scene repeated. many hugs that james madison would take concrete debts to further the cause of toncipation --concrete steps further the cause of emancipation. he supported the idea that freed men and women knew to be sent out of the united states if slavery was ever ended. historians have criticized him for these ideas that they say were fanciful or delusional. what if james madison had freed his slaves without insisting on their exile. would he have inspired others to let their slaves go? would he still have been regarded as having failed the test of leadership, of lacking political courage.
9:45 pm
ldods knowledge that -- wou knowledge that dolley had boarded her husband's plans to free his slaves change our opinion of him or of her? women of the early republic were said to have exerted a moral influence on their men and on the nation. but what if the independent decisions made by women were not always nobler than those made by men and sometimes were less honorable? also, the traditional picture of elite women, particularly the lives of powerful women -- powerful men like the president has followed the dictates of husbands. what if women were not so dutiful and instead made
9:46 pm
independent decisions? these are questions i explore in my book with regard to martha washington and martha jefferson as well as dolley madison. keenly aware was that what he did about slavery at the end of his life would shape how others thought about him. as it has for his predecessors. yet he left the decision of what to do to dolley. he had every reason to believe she was out with him area she was 17 --believe she would outlive him. she was 17 years his junior.
9:47 pm
therwas a slow and steady gathering of the madisons slaves as a dolley arranged to sell .illier --montpelier by onere picked off one or sold for cash relinquished to creditors for loans and never paid. i'm going to read one brief paragraph from the end of the section on dolley. course there may not have been a second will or any additional document. even so, it is difficult to lley was not do involved in what was left in or out of her husband's will.
9:48 pm
during the former president's last years, she acted as his personal secretary, helping him with correspondence and other matters. she exerted an influence on james and as he grew weaker, her power to sway him grew stronger. edward cole directed all of his powers of persuasion at james, not to dolley. flaws perhaps the greatest in his scheme to emancipate the madison slaves. he tried to convince of the former president that his legacy depended on what he, not she did about them. let me conclude with a just a few words about the larger picture, the one that emerges from the many stories i tell abouthe first ladies and their slaves and the ties that bound.
9:49 pm
the washingtons, jeffersons and madison are rightly honored for setting important president -- the establishment of the nation. ents they seteced were of slaves serving in the presidents house -- president's house. five more presidents withhold slaves before serving -- would hold slaves before the civil war. we have failed to knowledge of this inconvenient truth, the same founding americans that counted freedom and equality -- equality also and inequality.ry and
9:50 pm
many americans would reject this paradigm and come to champion more fully human rights. today, we remain reluctant to knowledge slavery's place in the founding of our nation. public,cause we, the want to celebrate our embrace of freedom and democracy without the discomfort that comes from acknowledging the subordination and exploitation of particular that we simply don't want to know the truth about revered founding figures. is this why we have told ourselves they were good to their slaves perio? i think we have time for .uestions and comments
9:51 pm
>> there are microphones in the audience. >> i have always been curious when i read the missing slate slavecements -- announcements, they are not that descriptive. what was the chance of actually getting an escaped slave t back? were those announcements accurate enough to identify them and people were falsely recaptured, right? >> the chance of being
9:52 pm
recaptured was pretty high. hercules's ability to escape was unusual. puteholders would advertisements in the paper saying that a slave had a --shortly -- giving a short description of the person. george washington put an advertisement in the philadelphia paper after oni j udge ran away. i don't think the idea was to describe enslaved people in great detail but to alert others there might be this person lurkinground who might a stranger. that theation and in popution -- the population in
9:53 pm
the cities were much smaller than they are today. there were people who made a living as slave catchers. to show how hard it was to found byni judge was the washingtons and george and martha made efforts to get her back. the problem of, he was president of the united states and he did not look to make a public spectacle about what was going on. unseemlyid it would be for the president of the united states to chase down a runaway slave. he wanted to do it on the fly so laws, theling to bend fugitive slave act of 1793,
9:54 pm
which he had signed as president, he was willing to skirt that law but he could only go so far because he did not want to drag her kicking and screaming back to mount vernon. i think the short answer to what you are saying is these are 7,ef descriptions are often 8, nine lines long. that,lly wasn't so much it wasn't operating as something you might see today but just a warning to be on the lookout that there might be this person and they did not have any compunction about questioning free blacks. free blacks had to carry papers with them showing who they were. anybody could be accosted.
9:55 pm
it was not a modern way that we might think of of tracking down slaves but definitely they were going after them and most of them were returned. it was very hard to get away. i would love to have questions. this is my first chance to have to talk with people about the book. >> thanks for your interesting presentation. connection with your book that you pay visit to each of the three historic, and andtations -- homes plantations, what have you learned in connection with those visits that would enhance the story for today? impresses the
9:56 pm
truth of slavery that has not been told. >> i learned a lot. i went to mount vernon, monticello, montpelier, one of the reasons i did that was i wanted to get the lay of the land. i did not want to be talking about so and so was on the south lawn when there is no south lawn, there is a river. at all of the historic sites, people are working very hard to uncover the story of slaves. i'm glad you asked the question because he gives me a chance to applaud the many people who are working on these topics. it is a labor that takes years. there are archaeological things as montpelier, if you go down there you can take a tour of the archaeological sites they are
9:57 pm
doing to learn more about the slaves there. vernon areand mount also doing things. how many of you have been to one of those three sites? >a good number of you have. you probably know that in recent years they are giving what is called a slavery tour, they take you around and show you some .eplicas of how slaves lived i do address this topic in my book. i am so grateful for the time that some of the staff gave me. i worry because when you go on is stilles, it segregated, when you're are on the slavery tour, you are
9:58 pm
outside and when you are on the inside, you are learning about the furniture, jeffersons library, the pictures on the wall, the chairs in the great room, there is a great deal of emphasis on that and it seems to me that the two stories needed to come together. first ladies,, and their families interacted with slaves from morning to night. you cannot separate out the story. if you do, you do not have the whole story and that was kind of an inspiration for writing the book. if i wanted to put the presidents and first lady and enslaved people together in the same rooms and places so that we can understand the story better. mount vernon has a wonderful slavery museum that if you have
9:59 pm
not gotten to, i highly recommend. it just opened in january of this year and they have a much exhibit talking about the people who waited on the washingtons. when you walk through jefferson's bedroom at monticello, i would like someone to say there would be enslaved people seeing to the chamber pot. they do not say who was doing what. that is something i try to emphasize in my talk. we are reluctant to put them all together in the same room, in the same story. we have reached a point in our history and our uncovering of our past is looking to know who
10:00 pm
we are as a people and we're trying to do that. thank you for that question. anything else? ok. well, thank you very much. i really appreciated your turning out today. it was great. [applause] >> don't forget there is a book signing in a few minutes one level up in the bookstore. you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend, on cspan3.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on