Original Author: Stockholders in the Dismal Swamp Company
Created: November 3, 1763
Medium: Handwritten manuscript
Dismal Swamp Company’s Use of Enslaved Labor
This hand-written, signed document is a record of a November 3, 1763, meeting in Williamsburg of the shareholders in the newly created Dismal Swamp Company. The investors were a veritable who's who of politically connected late colonial Virginians, including George Washington and his brother-in-law and second cousin, Fielding Lewis; William Nelson, governor of colonial Virginia in 1770 and 1771, and his son Thomas Nelson, who immediately followed his father as governor; Robert Burwell, then a member of the governor's Council; and Thomas Walker, Robert Tucker and William Waters, all of whom served at various times as members of the House of Burgesses.
According to the document, Washington, Lewis, and Walker were in charge of surveying the tract of land the company controlled in the Great Dismal Swamp in Norfolk and Nansemond counties. The hard physical labor of draining the swampland and making it economically viable was to be done by enslaved laborers. The document states:
As it is thought that the work of draining Improving and saving the Land cannot be done with less than Fifty able male Slaves, it is agreed and resolved that each member shall furnish five such Slaves for his share…
Citation: George Washington Papers, Series 9, Addenda, circa 1732-1943, Subseries 1973 Addition: Dismal Swamplands-Survey and Records, 1763-1785