Also, on October 10, in 1857, George Washington Parke Custis died. For those of you keeping score, he was the step-grandson of George Washington and the owner of three estates (including Arlington) and nearly 200 slaves. Those slaves transferred to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee with strict instructions that they be freed within five years.
Mary Lee’s husband, the famed Robert E., served as executor of his father-in-law’s will and saw fit, in his prim army way, to follow it black letter. He refused to even contemplate emancipating anybody for the full five years. The enslaved 200, on the other hand, assumed they were good to go. When, rather awkwardly, they realized they were not, they went anyway, escaping in large numbers. His back up, Lee responded by hiring many of them out and, by so doing, breaking up families that had been together for decades. He then filed legal petitions to keep these men and women enslaved indefinitely.
Only when a court ruled against Lee did he promise to free the slaves, a promise made, finally, in the document pictured above. This, the first of the four-page deed of manumission, reads that “the following named slaves, belonging to the Arlington estate,” be set free, including “Selina Grey and Thornton Grey and their six children Emma, Sarah, Harry, Anise, Ada and Thornton; Margaret Taylor and her four children Dandridge, [John], Billy and Quincy; Lawrence Parks and his nine children—Perry, George, Amanda, Martha, Lawrence, James, Magdalena, Leno, William …”
A version of this post was originally published on October 11, 2011.
IMAGE: Detail of a manumission document dated January 2, 1863 (The Museum of the Confederacy)