The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon


Product Details

$29.95  $27.85
University of Virginia Press
Publish Date
8.4 X 9.8 X 1.3 inches | 1.9 pounds

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About the Author

Mary V. Thompson, Research Historian at George Washington's Mount Vernon, is the author of In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington (Virginia).


Thompson, a research historian at George Washington's Mount Vernon, offers a superb study of slavery there from Washington's first cultivation of the estate in 1754 to his death in 1799. Through meticulous research gathered over 30 years, Thompson glimpses Washington and slavery in contextualized, fine-grained discussions, primarily drawn from concerns articulated by Washington in his copious correspondence.... Summing Up: Highly recommended.


Drawing upon decades of research and writings as staff historian at Mount Vernon, Mary V. Thompson has, in "The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret," produced a superb, moving portrait of the plantation's enslaved community. Thompson's admiration for George and Martha Washington is strong, but her focus is on the enslaved, whose stories she tells vividly and without sentimentality.

--Henry Weincek "Washington Independent Review of Books "

Mary Thompson skillfully describes George Washington's attitude toward slavery and his treatment of the Mount Vernon slaves. But forget Washington. With her decades of research and her narrative gifts, Thompson brings us closer to this eighteenth-century slave community than we have ever been.

--Woody Holton, author of Black Americans in the Revolutionary Era

Mary Thompson is uniquely positioned to offer this detailed case study of enslavement at Mount Vernon. For decades, she has worked in the copious records of this unique historic site with a single purpose in mind. The impressive result is a careful, understated book that will open new perspectives for thousands of Americans. After exploring the lives of hundreds of President Washington's unpaid black workers, you may rightly ask, "Why didn't I know about all this before?" Read. Rethink. Discuss with a friend.

--Peter H. Wood, Duke University, author of Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America

Thompson focuses on various aspects of slave life with each chapter of The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret. The reader gets a thorough understanding of how Mount Vernon operated as a business community. There are valuable and interesting facts about how the slaves ate, worshipped, dressed, and spent their infrequent recreational time. Other topics include crime and punishment, the slave economy, diseases, housing, and how the slaves resisted their condition.... The extensive research is evident throughout the book. Thompson's extensive work at Mount Vernon has made her an unquestioned authority on the estate and the people involved with its history.

--Journal of the American Revolution

A judicious scholar, Thompson treats a difficult subject with an unflagging evenhandedness.Nuanced, richly detailed, and thoroughly researched, "The Only UnavoidableSubject of Regret" seems likely to become a landmark in Mount Vernon's historiography.

--North Carolina Historical Review

Importantly, throughout this study, Thompson consistently centers the lives and voices of the enslaved when possible. She also works to situate Mount Vernon within the broader trends of plantation management and organization, the relationship between the enslaved community and the broader white community, agricultural improvements, and the role of slavery in Americans' understanding of the late eigh- teenth century. Furthermore, explorations of how George Washington reacted to the enslaved community provide an important contribution to understandings of his life. Because of this, "The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret" is an excellent addition to the historiographies of race, class, slavery, and the founding of the United States.

--Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Mary Thompson's book is the most detailed examination yet published of slavery at Mount Vernon.... [Her] command of the sources makes possible an almost encyclopedic description of the conditions of slave life.

--London Review of Books