Catalogue


An imperfect god : George Washington, his slaves, and the creation of America /
Henry Wiencek.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
description
404 p.
ISBN
0374175268 (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
isbn
0374175268 (alk. paper)
contents note
Introduction : General's dream -- Home ground -- On the borderland -- The widow Custis -- A life honorable and amusing -- A scheme in Williamsburg -- So sacred a war as this -- A different destiny -- "A sort of shadowy life" -- The great escape.
catalogue key
5028874
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Henry Wiencek, a nationally prominent historian and writer, is the author of several books. He lives with his wife and son in Charlottesville, Virginia
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Southern Book Critics Circle Awards, USA, 2004 : Nominated
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2004-06-01:
This book joins a growing list of scholarship that places the issue of slavery at the center of the founding of the US by tracing the pilgrimage of George Washington from a typical Virginia planter to an opponent of slavery who freed his slaves in his will. Using traditional historical writing mixed with a research travelogue, Wiencek largely succeeds in capturing the grand irony of whites demanding political freedom for themselves while buying and selling others like cattle. Especially useful is Wiencek's concept of a racial frontier in describing the mixed-race members of Washington's own family. Like Jefferson, Washington held blood relatives in bondage; unlike Jefferson, he does not appear to have fathered slave children. Until the end of his life, Washington was immersed in the business of slavery, which was the core of his economic and political status. Well researched, especially in financial and court records, the book can be read with profit alongside Paul Finkleman's Slavery and the Founders (1996) and Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom (CH, Jan'76). ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels and libraries. E. R. Crowther Adams State College
Appeared in Library Journal on 2003-07-01:
Having won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, Wiencek here tracks Washington's change in attitude regarding slavery. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-09-08:
This important work, sure to be of compelling interest to anyone concerned with the nation's origins, its founders and its history of race slavery, is the first extended history of its subject. Wiencek (who won a National Book Critics Circle award for The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White) relates not only the embrangled "blood" history of Washington's family and that of the Custis clan into which he married, but also the first-person tale, often belabored, of his own search for facts and truth. What will surely gain the book widest notice is Wiencek's careful evaluation of the evidence that Washington himself may have fathered the child of a slave. His verdict? Possible, but highly improbable. Yet his detective work places the search on a higher plane than ever before. Also, while being a social history (unnecessarily padded in some places) of 18th-century Virginia and filled with affecting stories of individual slaves, the book stands out for depicting Washington's deep moral struggle with slavery and his gradual "moral transfiguration" after watching some young slaves raffled off. While by no means above dissimulation, even lying, about his and Martha's bond servants, by the time of his death in 1799 Washington had become a firm, if quiet, opponent of the slave system. By freeing his slaves upon Martha's death, he stood head and shoulders above almost all his American contemporaries. This work of stylish scholarship and genealogical investigation makes Washington an even greater and more human figure than he has seemed before. History Book Club main selection. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
"The process of fathoming Washington's moral evolution is not a simple one . . . [Wiencek] rises to the challenge." --Janet Maslin,The New York Times
"The process of fathoming Washington's moral evolution is not a simple one . . . [Wiencek] rises to the challenge." --Janet Maslin, The New York Times
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Library Journal, July 2003
Publishers Weekly, September 2003
Booklist, October 2003
San Francisco Chronicle, November 2003
Washington Post, November 2003
New York Times Book Review, December 2003
Choice, June 2004
New York Times Book Review, October 2004
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Unpaid Annotation
In this groundbreaking work, Wiencek explores George Washington's engagement with slavery at every stage of his life--as a Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president and statesman. Washington's heroic stature as Father of Our Country is not diminished in this superb, nuanced portrait: now readers see him in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time.
Unpaid Annotation
"In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the first president's engagement with slavery. Born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people, George Washington and his wife had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man, he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts. Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington's attitudes began to change. This revelatory narrative documents for the first time the moral transformation that culminated in his decision-unique among the Founding Fathers-to emancipate his own slaves. Washington's heroic stature as Father of Our Country is not diminished in this superb, nuanced portrait: Now we see him in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time."
Short Annotation
When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his "only unavoidable subject of regret". In this groundbreaking new biography, based on private papers, court records, and the voluminous Washington archives, National Book Critics Circle winning historian Henry Wiencek explores the founding father's engagement with slavery at every stage of his life-as a planter, soldier, politician, president and statesman.
Main Description
When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his "only unavoidable subject of regret." In this exciting new book, full of groundbreaking original research, Henry Wiencek explores the Founding Father's engagement with slavery at every stage of his life -- as Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president, and statesman.
Main Description
A major new biography of Washington, and the first to explore his engagement with American slaveryWhen George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his 'only unavoidable subject of regret.' In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the founding father's engagement with slavery at every stage of his life-as a Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president, and statesman. Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts (an incident ignored by earlier biographers). Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington's attitudes began to change. Wiencek's revelatory narrative, based on a meticulous examination of private papers, court records, and the voluminous Washington archives, documents for the first time the moral transformation culminating in Washington's determination to emancipate his slaves. He acted too late to keep the new republic from perpetuating slavery, but his repentance was genuine. And it was perhaps related to the possibility that a slave named West Ford was the son of George and a woman named Venus; Wiencek has new evidence that this might indeed be true.George Washington's heroic stature as Father of Our Country is not diminished in this superb, nuanced portrait: now we see Washington in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time.
Main Description
A major new biography of Washington, and the first to explore his engagement with American slavery When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his "only unavoidable subject of regret." In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the founding father's engagement with slavery at every stage of his life--as a Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president and statesman. Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts (an incident ignored by earlier biographers). Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington's attitudes began to change. He and the other framers enshrined slavery in the Constitution, but, Wiencek shows, even before he became president Washington had begun to see the system's evil. Wiencek's revelatory narrative, based on a meticulous examination of private papers, court records, and the voluminous Washington archives, documents for the first time the moral transformation culminating in Washington's determination to emancipate his slaves. He acted too late to keep the new republic from perpetuating slavery, but his repentance was genuine. And it was perhaps related to the possibility--as the oral history of Mount Vernon's slave descendants has long asserted--that a slave named West Ford was the son of George and a woman named Venus; Wiencek has new evidence that this could indeed have been true. George Washington's heroic stature as Father of Our Country is not diminished in this superb, nuanced portrait: now we see Washington in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time.
Table of Contents
Map of Washington's Virginiap. ix
Introduction: The General's Dreamp. 3
Home Groundp. 15
On the Borderlandp. 49
The Widow Custisp. 67
A Life Honorable and Amusingp. 87
A Scheme in Williamsburgp. 134
"So Sacred a War as This"p. 189
A Different Destinyp. 250
"A Sort of Shadowy Life"p. 279
The Great Escapep. 311
Mrs. Peter's Patrimonyp. 335
"The Justice of the Creator"p. 344
Notesp. 363
Acknowledgmentsp. 391
Indexp. 393
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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