The Legal Power of Genealogy in Colonial America

By the time he was 18, George Washington was a competent genealogist — and he had to be. In Washington’s Virginia, family was a crucial determinant of social and economic status, and freedom.

How did Washington understand his family, and what can that tell us about the world in which he lived and played such a significant role? Thanks to a document long ignored by biographers and historians alike, we now know how fully he grasped the basic truth that genealogy is power.

Inscribed by Washington in distinct sections during the late 1740s and the early 1750s, decades before the American Revolution, the two sides of this document, held at the Library of Congress, help us to see how Washington viewed the importance of his family connections, including as a route to inheritance, and also how these relationships were crucially connected to the lives of enslaved people.

You can read the full story in an article by Karin Wulf in the Smithsonian web site at: http://bit.ly/2X6kj5i.

My thanks to newsletter reader Neil Barmann for telling me about this story.

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