Most Americans know that George Washington owned enslaved people at his Mount Vernon home. But fewer probably know that it was his wife, Martha, who dramatically increased the enslaved population there. When they wed in 1759, George may have owned around 18 people. Martha, one of the richest women in Virginia, owned 84.
The high number of people Martha Washington owned is unusual, but the fact that she owned them is not. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, a history professor at the University of California-Berkeley, is compiling data on just how many white women owned slaves in the U.S.; and in the parts of the 1850 and 1860 census data she’s studied so far, white women make up about 40 percents of all slave owners.