This unit is a primary source exploration of the section of Washington’s will in which he made provisions for the care and education of his slaves after his and his wife’s death.
There are three separate activities. I recommend taking one day for each one. The final activity is a good one for followup homework or even a test.
The material satisfies Common Core requirements for using historical documents for reading/English tasks.
It’s often said that George Washington freed his slaves in his will. He did, but not immediately after he died. Many “dower negroes”—slaves who were part of his wife Martha’s dower property—were working at Mount Vernon, and he had no power to free them. Some had married his own slaves, and he did not want the families to be broken up after he died. Therefore, he decided to wait until Martha’s death to grant freedom to his slaves.
The unit also provides a look at the laws of Virginia and how they affected slaveholders’ decisions about freeing slaves.
Students must carefully read the will and examples of laws to answer questions with short paragraphs. The responses require using facts to form opinions.
There is an answer key at the end of the unit.
This unit has been used for groups of very advanced 5th graders, but is mostly suitable for middle and high school.
I've also provided links to Internet sites with more in-depth information.