Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery
On December 9, 2021, historian Bruce A. Ragsdale presented a lecture about his book, Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery.
For more than forty years, George Washington was dedicated to an innovative and experimental course of farming at Mount Vernon, where he sought to demonstrate the public benefits of recent advances in British agriculture. The methods of British agricultural improvement also shaped Washington’s management of enslaved labor, and he was at the forefront to efforts to adapt slavery to new kinds of farming. His ultimate inability to reconcile the ideals of enlightened farming with coerced labor and race-based slavery was critical to his decision to free the enslaved people under his control. Washington at the Plow significantly enriches the more familiar biography of the revolutionary general and first president and offers a new perspective on the founders’ response to abolitionist appeals.
Bruce A. Ragsdale served for twenty years as director of the Federal Judicial History Office at the Federal Judicial Center. He has been a fellow at the Washington Library at Mount Vernon and the International Center for Jefferson Studies. He is the author of A Planters’ Republic: The Search for Economic Independence in Revolutionary Virginia and Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery.
The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
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