Harry Washington

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Harry Washington
Bornc. 1740
Resting placeSierra Leone
OccupationSlave, soldier, politician, colonizer
Spouse(s)Jenny Washington
Military career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
UnitBlack Company of Pioneers
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

Harry Washington (c. 1740–1800) was known as a slave of Virginia planter George Washington, later the first President of the United States. He served as a Black Loyalist in the American Revolutionary War and was granted his freedom by the British and evacuated to Nova Scotia. In 1792 he joined nearly 1200 freedmen for resettlement in Sierra Leone, where they set up a colony of free people of color.

Harry had been born in Gambia and sold into slavery as a war captive. He was purchased by George Washington, who had plantations in Virginia. During the American Revolutionary War, Harry Washington escaped from slavery in Virginia and served as a corporal in the Black Pioneers attached to a British artillery unit. After the war he was among Black Loyalists resettled by the British in Nova Scotia, where they were granted land. There Washington married Jenny, another freed American slave.

In 1792 the couple were among more than 1,000 freedmen chosen[how?] to migrate to Sierra Leone, West Africa, where the British had established a new colony of people of African descent. In 1800 Washington joined a rebellion against the British colonial authorities in the Sierra Leone Colony. He was exiled to the Bullom Shore, where he subsequently died.

Early life[edit]

Washington was a saltwater slave (a term for American slaves born in Africa, rather than in North America), born in the Gambia River in West Africa around 1740.[1] In the colony of Virginia, he was purchased in 1763 to be part of George Washington's workforce in the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.[2][3]

Washington later went to work on one of the Washington plantations in Mount Vernon, Virginia Colony.[4] In 1771 he escaped from Mount Vernon and took refuge in New York,[5] but later returned to his master.[2] He had been working in the stables at Mount Vernon, caring for Washington's horses, when he fled again in 1776 to join the Virginia Ethiopian Regiment, established from escaped slaves by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore during the American Revolutionary War. Dunmore had recruited slaves of rebel masters, promising them freedom if they joined the British military effort.[3]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Moving to New York in late 1776, Washington served as corporal in the Loyalist Black Pioneers, attached to a British artillery unit[2] and part of the British forces in Governor Lord Dunmore's fleet. The British occupied New York City through much of the war.

At the end of the American Revolution, Washington was one of about 3,000 Black Loyalists evacuated from New York by the British and resettled in Nova Scotia. The Crown granted the Loyalists land there. When Sir Guy Carleton's officials included him on the list for evacuation in the "Register of Negroes", Washington gave his age as forty-three and said he had fled Mount Vernon in 1776.[5]

Emigration to Nova Scotia and then Sierra Leone[edit]

Under General Sir Guy Carleton's policy, Henry Washington took a British ship to Nova Scotia (as did two other former Mount Vernon slaves, a man and a woman).[5][6] He lived for several years in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, Canada, which had become the largest free African-American city in North America. There he married Jenny, another freed slave, and they began to plan for their future.

Discontented with conditions in Nova Scotia, he and his wife chose to join the 1,192 black colonists who migrated to Sierra Leone, West Africa (see Nova Scotian Settlers), a new colony founded by the British in West Africa.[7] He planned to begin a farm, using scientific farming techniques he had learned at Mount Vernon.[5]

Rebellion in Sierra Leone[edit]

In 1800 Washington was among several hundred settlers who rose up in a brief rebellion against British rule.[5] The precipitating issue was one familiar from the American Revolution: taxation.[5] The Sierra Leone Company, which ran the colony for the British government, required the settlers to pay taxes, called quitrents, for using their land, which land remained the property of the company.[5] The rebels formed a provisional government and wrote a set of laws, which they nailed to the office door of a company administrator.[5]

Internal exile and death[edit]

The Sierra Leone Company responded by sending a corps of recently arrived black Jamaican maroons against the rebels. In the trials that followed the defeat of the rebellion, Washington was among the rebels sentenced to banishment to Bullom Shore, another location in Sierra Leone. He became one of the two leaders of a new settlement, but died there of disease.[5][8] His descendants and those of other African Americans make up a portion of the Sierra Leone Creole people.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harry Washington, the slave of the first U.S. president who escaped and fought for the British before settling in Sierra Leone". Face2Face Africa. 2018-09-19. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  2. ^ a b c Black Loyalist, Harry Washington, University of Sydney
  3. ^ a b BlackPast.org.
  4. ^ Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, vol. 7, pp. 300, 314-15, 442-3, 516.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
  6. ^ Washington is listed as leaving New York in the Book of Negroes, where he is incorrectly listed with the name Henry. He is called Harry in all other documents. ("The Book of Negroes", Black Loyalist).
  7. ^ List of Blacks who gave their name for Sierra Leone" in National Archives of the UK, CO217/63.
  8. ^ Cassandra Pybus, "Washington's Revolution, Harry that is not George", Journal of Atlantic Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2006, 183–198.