History March 12, 2020 at 04:30 pm

Is George Washington really the father of African-American West Ford?

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

Michael Eli Dokosi March 12, 2020 at 04:30 pm

March 12, 2020 at 04:30 pm | History

West Ford on the Mount Vernon estate in 1858 via mountvernon.org

African-American, West Ford’s background has been the subject of controversy for years.  Many of his descendants hold that he was the son of George Washington and an enslaved house servant at Bushfield Plantation, named Venus. 

Mount Vernon contends that George Washington and Ford’s mother, Venus were not in the same place during the time Ford was conceived.

Ford was born about 1784 at Bushfield Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, near present-day Mount Holly. He grew up there with his mother Venus, and grandparents Billy and Jenny. Bushfield, 95 miles south of Mount Vernon, was the property of Washington’s brother, John Augustine Washington and his wife, Hannah Bushrod Washington.

In Hannah’s will written in 1801, she stated, “it is my most earnest wish and desire this lad West may be as soon as possible inoculated for the small pox, after which to be bound to a good tradesmen [sic] until the age of twenty one years, after which he is to be free the rest of his life.”

Her concern for the 17-year-old was interesting. Special provisions were also made for West Ford by the Washington family from Bushfield Plantation.

When Hannah’s son, Bushrod Washington, became the owner of Mount Vernon in 1802, he brought West Ford with him. Ford continued to work for the Washington family after he received his freedom in about 1805. 

He took care of Washington’s elderly former slave, Billy Lee, who had been freed in 1799, for his faithfulness and loyalty during the Revolutionary War. West Ford also supervised the slaves, helped conduct business for the family, and took visitors around George Washington’s estate and tomb even earning mentions in letters and in newspaper articles.

When Bushrod Washington died in 1829, he left West Ford over 100 acres of land in Fairfax County, Virginia. Ford later sold that plot to buy a larger property nearby, which became the nucleus for a free black community called Gum Springs.  West Ford eventually became the second wealthiest black man in Fairfax Country, Virginia.

When the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association bought George Washington’s home in 1858 in order to preserve it, Ford, who was then a very elderly man, gave the Association information about the appearance of various architectural features on the estate.

He became very sick in the spring of 1863 and died about one month later and he is believed to have been buried in the slave burial ground at Mount Vernon aged 79.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon handlers, however, submit that George Washington, the founding father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797 couldn’t have been Ford’s father as he was born at Bushfield plantation between March 3, 1783 and June 22, 1784.

They contend since George Washington was not in Virginia between November 1781, following the victory at Yorktown, and his return to Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve of 1783, at the end of the American Revolution, he was not in proximity to Venus and did not father West Ford.

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