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In Their Own Words

May 20, 1791

Washington Noted Tobacco and Escaping Slaves in Diary

In Augusta, Pres. George Washington made observations in his diary about the growth of the city and the increasing importance of tobacco to the economy. He also noted the long-standing practice of black slaves escaping to freedom in Flordia:

“Friday, 20th. Viewed the Ruins, or rather small Remn. of the Works which had been erected by the British during the War and taken by the Americans. Also the falls, which are about 2 miles from the Town; and the Town itself.

” … The town of Augusta is well laid out with wide and spacious Streets. It stands on a large area of a perfect plain but it is not yet thickly built tho’ surprizingly so for the time; for in 1783 there were not more than half a dozen dwelling house; now there are not less than [ ] containing about [ ] Souls of which about [ ] are blacks. It bids fair to be a large Town being at the head of the present navigation, and a fine Country back of it for support, which is settling very fast by Tobacco planters. The culture of which article is encreasing [sic] very fast, and bids fiar to the be the principal export from the State; from this part of it, it certainly will be so.

“Augusta, though it covers more ground than Savanna [sic], does not contain as many Inhabitants the latter having by the late census between 14 and 1500 hundred whites and about 800 blacks.

“Dined at a private dinner with Govr. [Edward] Telfair to day; and gave him dispatches from the Spanish Govr. of East Florida, respecting the Countenance given by that Governmt. to the fugitive Slaves of the Union, wch. dispatches were to be forwarded to Mr. Seagrove, Collector of St. mary’s who was requested to be the bearer of them, and instructed to make arrangements for the prevention of these evils and, if possible, for the restoration of the property - especially of those slaves wch. had gone off since the orders of the Spanish Court, to discuntenance this practice of recg. them.”

Source: John C. Fitzpatrick (ed.), The Diaries of George Washington: 1748-1799 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1925), pp. 180-181.