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30 Did U.S. Grant and R.E. Lee both own slaves and free them? (U.S. Civil War)




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This article is from the U.S. Civil War FAQ, by Justin M. Sanders jsanders@jaguar1.usouthal.edu with numerous contributions by others.

30 Did U.S. Grant and R.E. Lee both own slaves and free them? (U.S. Civil War)

[from the late Paul Cowan and James Epperson with amendments by JMS]
1. R. E. Lee personally owned at least one slave, an elderly house
servant that he inherited from his mother. It is said that Lee continued
to hold the slave as a kindness, since he was too feeble to have made his
way as a free man. Although it is commonly believed that Lee owned the
Arlington Plantation and the associated slaves, these and two other
plantations totalling over 1,000 slaves were the property of Lee's
father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis. Upon Mr. Custis's death in
1858, Lee did not personally inherit either the plantations or slaves, but
was named the executor of the estate. Mr. Custis willed that his slaves
should be freed within 5 years. Legal problems with the fulfillment of
other terms of the will led Lee to delay in the execution of the terms of
manumission until the latest specified date. On 29 Dec 1862, Lee executed
a deed of manumission for all the slaves of the Custis estate who were
still behind Confederate lines (Arlington was in Union hands by then).
Sources: _Lee & Grant_, by Gene Smith; _R.E. Lee: A Biography_, by
D.S. Freeman.

2. In 1858, while attempting to make a go in civilian life as a farmer
near St. Louis, MO, U.S. Grant acquired a slave named William Jones,
probably from his father-in-law, although the record is not entirely
clear. In March, 1859, Grant gave Jones his freedom despite the fact that
Grant desperately needed the money he might have recovered by selling him.
Grant's wife, Julia, had the use of four slaves as personal servants; the
record is unclear as to who held legal title to them (it could well have
been Julia's father). In her own memoirs, Julia states that these were
freed at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Sources: _Captain Sam Grant_, by Lloyd Lewis; _The Personal Memoirs of
Julia Dent Grant_, by Julia Grant; _Let Us Have Peace, etc._ by Brooks D.
Simpson.

 

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