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Slaves of Robert E Lee

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Spotsylvania, Virginia, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Lee Custis Washington
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Slave Owners

For the below enslaved persons, three generations of slave owners are identified, but the overlap may not completely reconcile to all of the named persons. All efforts have been made to reconcile and annotate, where possible, any duplicate mention of enslaved persons who are named.

  1. George Washington (1732-1799). President Washington was the step-grandfather of George Custis; thus, many of the enslaved persons were removed from Mount Vernon to Arlington,[1] because they were enumerated at what is believed to be the time that Washington was preparing information for his executors as belonging to George Washington in his own right and by marriage, where the Dower (in the Washington List)[2] includes a list of those inherited by Martha (Dandridge) Custis Washington upon her first-husband's (Daniel Parke Custis (1711-1757)) intestate death.[3] Some narratives state that Washington's slaves were freed within his lifetime, but this does not square with what the Washington List, nor with what National Park Service site says;[4] and perhaps most importantly, with the documented transfer of Martha's portion: whereas, Washington's portion were able to be manumitted between Dec 1800 and Jan 1801, the Daniel Parke Custis slaves were transferred to Martha's grandchildren.[5]
  2. Martha (Dandridge) Washington (1731-1802). Many of these slaves eventually passed to George Custis, apparently formerly the charge of his grandmother.[1][5]
  3. George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857). Heir of the above, 1,110 Arlington estate,[6] who subsequently bequeathed to his grandson [i.e., his son-in-law], then Lt Col Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870), the King William County, Virginia estate.[7] Other sources indicate that the first slaves of Custis were inhabitants of Arlington by 1802.[1]
  4. Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870). Lee was the person who provided manumission for the majority of the below-listed enslaved persons.[8]

Index of Surnames

  • Armistead
  • Baker
  • Banham
  • Bingham
  • Braxton
  • Brown
  • Burk
  • Check
  • Clarke
  • Crider
  • Crump
  • Custis
  • Dandridge
  • Daniel
  • Davy
  • Demicks
  • Gray
  • Grey
  • Harris
  • Henry
  • Johnson
  • Johnston
  • Jones
  • Leanthe
  • Locky
  • Macon
  • Meredith
  • Merriday
  • Mike
  • Milly
  • Minday
  • Norris
  • Parks
  • Peyton
  • Piler
  • Pollard
  • Randolph
  • Reuben
  • Smith
  • Stewart
  • Syphax
  • Taylor
  • Webb
  • Young


  • Early slaves identified by name:
  1. Nat, house slave who travelled with Lee circa 1831. Nat died at Cockspur Island: [Lee’s] mother had willed [Nat] to her granddaughter Mildred and who the family was sending south with hopes that the milder climate would restore his declining health.[9]
  2. William Mack Lee (1835-1932), body servant of R E Lee:
In 1918 the Reverend Mack Lee (b. 1835), a former slave once owned by Lee who served as his body servant and cook, published a pamphlet, History of the Life of Rev. Wm. Mack Lee Body Servant of General Robert E. Lee Through the Civil War, Cook from 1861 to 1865, to raise money to build black churches. Characterizing his former master as ‘one of the greatest men in the world,’ Mack Lee claimed that all of Lee's slaves were freed ten years before the war but remained at the Arlington House plantation until after the surrender—Mack himself returned to Arlington after the war and lived there for eighteen years—and that Lee at his death had left him $360 for the purpose of earning an education, which he did, entering the ministry.[9]
  • One enslaved person was put under the charge of Mr James Eveleth, effective 1 Aug 1852:[10]
  1. Philip Minday
  • Former enslaved, Wesley Norris, personal account, I was born a slave on the plantation of George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857) Lee’s father-in-law; after the death of Mr Custis, Gen Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy:[11]
  1. Wesley Norris
  2. Mary Norris (sister of Wesley)
  3. Unnamed cousin of Wesley and Mary Norris
  4. 67 additional slaves, per adjusted estimate in Wesley Norris’s statement
  • For the following, the intersection between the 70 in Wesley Norris’ account is presently unknown. Other accounts of the total number of slaves are higher, but spread across three locations, counts of slaves aged twelve and over as of 1861.[12] Noting that Custis had written in his will that the slaves were to be emancipated by his executors ‘’not exceeding five years from the time of my decease,’’ but which emancipation from other accounts may not have occurred within that exact timeframe:
  1. Arlington plantation, Alexandria County: 30
  2. White House plantation, New Kent County: 78
  3. Romancoke plantation, King William County: 23

Manumissions to Liberia

In November 1853, Robert E. Lee manumitted several slaves and offered to pay expenses for those who wanted to go to Liberia. Former slaves William and Rosabella Burke and their four children sailed on the Banshee, which left Baltimore with 261 emigrants. [13] See also:The American Colonization Society.

Deed of Manumission

  • The following three sections organize those named in the 29 Dec 1862 R E Lee Arlington, New Kent and King William County Virginia Deed of Manumission, in his role as executor of his father-in-law George W P Custis's estate, delivered in Spotsylvania, Virginia; Hustings Court in Richmond, Virginia.[8][14]

Arlington Estate

For the enslaved persons named in the Deed of Manumission, above-described:[8] please see Arlington House, Arlington County, Virginia

White House Estate

Please see White House plantation, New Kent County, Virginia for the enslaved persons named in the Deed of Manumission, above-described:[8]

Romancoke Estate

Enslaved persons named in the Deed of Manumission, above-described:[8]

  1. Louis
  2. Jem
  3. Edward
  4. Kitty [Dandridge] (following two Dandridge children)
  5. Mary Dandridge
  6. Infant Dandridge
  7. Nancy
  8. Dolly
  9. Esther
  10. Serica [sic]
  11. Macon
  12. Louisa (wife of Macon)
  13. Walker
  14. Peggy
  15. Ebbee
  16. Fanny
  17. Chloe Custis
  18. Julia Ann Custiss, child of Chloe,
  19. Elvey Young
  20. Charles Young, child of Elvey
  21. Airy Johnson
  22. Anne Johnson
  23. William Johnson
  24. Sarah wife of William Johnston (following five Johnston children)
  25. Ailey Johnston
  26. Crump Johnston
  27. Molly Johnston
  28. George Johnston
  29. James Henry [Crump]
  30. Anderson Crump
  31. Major Custis
  32. Lucy Custis
  33. Nelson Meredith
  34. Phoebe Meredith (wife of Nelson) (following five Meredith children)
  35. Robert Meredith
  36. Elisha Meredith
  37. Nat Meredith [probably not the same Nat, as above, who travelled with Lee in 1831]
  38. Rose Meredith
  39. Sally Meredith
  40. Ebbee Macon
  41. Martha Jones (following two Jones children)
  42. Davy Jones
  43. Austin Jones
  44. Patsey Braxton
  45. Susan Smith
  46. Mildred Smith, child of Susan
  47. Anne Brown
  48. Jack Johnson
  49. Marwell Bingham
  50. Henry Baker

Research Notes

  • The detail on Washington's profile needs to be reconciled against the National Park Service (NPS) entry re: Slavery at Arlington.[1] Specifically, it is claimed that Washington freed all of his slaves within his lifetime; whereas, the NPS site makes it clear that Custis (and siblings) inherited their slaves from the Washingtons.
  • Slaves of the Washingtons are presently not on their profiles. Notwithstanding, Martha's profiles states: Upon Washington's death on 14 December 1799, the slaves owned by the Washingtons were promised their freedom upon Martha Washington's death. This does not reconcile with the precision of the statement regarding dispensation of slaves of George within his lifetime. The statement on the NPS site also indicates that their grandson, George Custis, among other grandchildren, was heir to slaves from Mount Vernon.
  • Please see Mount Vernon Plantation, Fairfax County, Virginia for comprehensive list of the enslaved owned by the Washingtons and Custis grandson. Pocock-248 21:40, 9 May 2023 (UTC)
  • Slave Schedule documents are listed here, but not all are able to be reconciled; nevertheless, they do appear to match the correct Robert E Lee / R E Lee from the correct counties. Additional information about his residence in places is noted. Caution that reconcilement with named enslaved persons may be difficult, if not impossible, given the utility of Slave Schedule reports, which typically include no names of enslaved persons, only ages.
  1. Additional census place for R E Lee: 1850: Baltimore, Maryland.[15]
  2. "United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860", database with images, FamilySearch: 16 Oct 2019, R E Lee, Alexandria, Virginia 1860. Rule out that this MIGHT belong to his son (check date logic).
  3. "United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860", database with images, FamilySearch: 16 October 2019), R E Lee, Alexandria, Virginia 1860. Specifically mentions his as Col (Colonel, which would seem to coincide to his sequence of promotions in the US military).
  • For review: "United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Land and Property Records, 1865-1872", database with images, FamilySearch: 17 Mar 2018, R E Lee, Alexandria, Virginia 1865.
  • Note to file: The "Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project" revealed no Lee-related testimony.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Slavery at Arlington. National Park Service: Arlington House, The Robert E Lee Memorial. Updated 7 Aug 2020. Accessed 29 Sep 2021.
  2. Washington, George. List: "Negroes Belonging to George Washington in his own right and by Marriage," Jul 1799. Papers of George Washington. Reel #5. Manuscript DA_000100. Accessed 30 Sep 2021. The Fred W Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
  3. Encylopedia of Virginia: Daniel Parke Custis.
  4. From Washington's profile: refer to "Slavery Database." George Washington's Mount Vernon. Web. This database should also be useful to cross validate some of those named below in the Deed of Manumission of R E Lee.
  5. 5.0 5.1 The sequence of events are described here: Mount A Community Divided: When George Washington died he intended to free freed all of the enslaved people he owned. However, he could not free the enslaved people from Martha Washington's first marriage.; and, here Mount A Community Divided: After George Washington’s death, Mount Vernon’s enslaved community was divided several times over.
  6. Woodson, Carter Godwin ed., Preston Jr, E Delorus. "William Syphax, a Pioneer in Negro Education in the District of Columbia." The Journal of Negro history. 1935, p. 448+. Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
  7. Custis, George. "Will of George Washington Parke Custis. 26 Mar 1855." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities. 7 Dec 2020. Accessed 29 Sep 2021.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Wetzel, Annette E, transcriber. Robert Edward Lee Papers. Museum of the Confederacy. Richmond, Virginia. Deed of Manumission: Arlington, New Kent, King William Counties. USGENWEB Archives. Accessed 29 Sep 2021. See also partial reproduction: Robert E Lee and the Custis Slaves. Citing Lee, Robert E. 2 Jan 1863. The Museum of the Confederacy Richmond, Virginia.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lee Family Member FAQs ( Accessed 23 Sep 2021.
  10. Woodward, Colin transcriber. The Archives of the Robert E Lee Memorial Foundation. Papers of the Lee Family: Box 3, M2009.217. 1 Aug 1852. Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall. Accessed 23 Sep 2021.
  11. Testimony of Wesley Norris, 1866 April 14 ( The testimony of Wesley Norris appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard on 14 Apr 1866. Woodward, Colin transcriber. Cited in John W. Blassingame, ed., Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, and Interviews, and Autobiographies (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University), 467-68. 6 Jan 2016. Lee Family Digital Archive. Accessed 23 Sep 2021. See also abstraction of this testimony and other historical accounts: Opinion: Eugene Robinson: Robert E. Lee's statue is gone. Now can we dismantle the myth, too? ( 9 Sep 2021. Accessed 23 Sep 2021.
  12. Robert, Joseph C. Lee the Farmer. Reproduced at from Vol 3. Nov 1937, p. 422-40. The Journal of Southern History.
  14. See also uncredited transcription: Lee. Manumission of 29 Dec 1862. Transcription on yumpu via Magazine Recommendation. Accessed 1 Oct 2021.
  15. "United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch: 22 Dec 2020, R E Lee, Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, United States; citing household 827, house 701, line 37, NARA microfilm roll 287 publication M432 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration).

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Comments: 6

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Good article: They're strangers with a painful shared bond: Robert E. Lee enslaved their ancestors

April 24, 2023

That's a wonderful article, Kathy. Thanks for sharing it! It's now time to get these profiles created! I'll add it to the sources section also.
posted by Gina (Pocock) Jarvi
Task List
  1. Construct plantation profiles (one has been done). For Lee's intersection, see: Robert, Joseph C. Lee the Farmer. Reproduced at from Vol 3. Nov 1937, p. 422-40. The Journal of Southern History. Note also that other ancestors may have documentation the predates that in Lee the Farmer, and that other enslaved ancestors took different paths than those on this list.
  2. Create enslaved person profiles after searching to ensure that they do not already exist. Persons with a known surname or family constellation will probably result in matches more so than those without.
posted by Porter Fann
There were 4 "red" or incompleted categories added to this page. please do not add non-existent categories to a page or profile unless you will be completing their creation. You can use this request form, to request new categories to be created, by the Categorization Project.

Many thanks, kind regards, Margaret, Categorization Project

Thanks so much for handling the category creation. I am easily frustrated by having to go off-profile to complete a profile related task. For this one, I exerted extensive effort to validate which categories were needed.

I really appreciate your help.

posted by Porter Fann
Hi Porter, can you update the plantation categories to "Category: White House Plantation, New Kent County, Virginia" There should now only be one plantation category for each location. Thanks!