The details of when and where Washington purchased Anderson are not known. Many details of Anderson's life come from a series of recollections published in the Alexandria Gazette on January 18 and 22, 1876, by a white male author who had grown up in the local area and spent time with Anderson. That author recalled Anderson saying that he had arrived in the American colonies "five years before Braddock's defeat," referring to the British general Edward Braddock's failed attempt, in 1755, to take Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War (1754–1763). Other evidence suggests that Anderson arrived later than 1750. An article in the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, published on September 26, 1854, described another enslaved man, Simon, whom George Washington identified in 1785 as Anderson's "shipmate," as arriving from Africa between 1760 and 1770.
This later arrival also squares with Mount Vernon records, where in 1774 and 1776, Sambo is described as a "boy." He does not appear on Washington's 1774 tithable list, suggesting that he was under the age of sixteen at that time. Sambo was among five enslaved people sent to work on a tract of land owned by Washington in the Kanawha River Valley. His presence there is mentioned in a March 7, 1776, letter to George Washington from his cousin Lund Washington, who managed Mount Vernon during the Revolution.Sometime before early 1781, Anderson was sent back to Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon reports from the 1780s and 1790s record the vast array of carpentry work that Anderson performed with other enslaved carpenters across the plantation. He constructed barns and sheds, made plows, repaired carts and wheels, sawed timber, made sheep troughs, dressed shingles, made a fishing boat, along with many other tasks. In early summer, Anderson was often among the tradesmen reassigned to assist with the plantation's grain harvest.
Family, Personal Enterprise, and Health
Agnes and the children lived on River Farm, while Sambo Anderson was assigned to the Mansion House Farm, the center of carpentry operations. He likely lived in the greenhouse slave quarter, a barracks-style dwelling that housed many men who were similarly parted from wives and children. He could see his family on Sundays, or possibly at night during the week (though Washington frowned on such visits). River Farm was separated from Mansion House Farm by Little Hunting Creek. The 1876 Alexandria Gazette article recounted that Anderson had "a small boat or skiff to cross over the creek in," likely facilitating visits to his family.
Mount Vernon records indicate that Anderson endured bouts of injury and illness late in the 1790s. Weekly reports from 1797 and 1798 note that he was unable to work on several occasions due to "a pain in his back," and later, "a boil under his arm." In 1799, Anderson received treatment from Dr. James Craik—Washington's personal physician who was hired to treat the enslaved population—that included a cathartic and bloodletting.
Anderson and his family made efforts to reunite with each other. In May 1810, twenty-one-year-old Ralph Anderson fled from the Peters' Oakland plantation in Maryland. In a newspaper advertisement offering $20 for the young man's return, Thomas Peter noted, "A free negro man by name Sambo, living on Judge Washington's estate, Mount Vernon, is his father, and it is very probable he is thereabout or in Alexandria." Ralph Anderson's fate is unknown.
Sambo Anderson died on February 20, 1845. A death notice appeared in the Alexandria Gazette two days later. He may have been buried at Mount Vernon's African American burial ground, which continued to be used well into the nineteenth century.
ca. 1760 - Sambo Anderson is born in Africa. He is enslaved as a child, brought to America, and purchased by George Washington.
1774 - Sambo Anderson first appears in Mount Vernon records, described as a "boy."
Autumn 1775 - Sambo Anderson possibly assists the craftsman William Bernard Sears with carpentry work in the Mount Vernon mansion.
March 1776 - Sambo Anderson is on George Washington's property on the Kanawha River, returning to Mount Vernon sometime in the subsequent five years.
ca. 1781–1784 - Sambo Anderson and an enslaved field worker named Agnes marry.
April 1781 - Sambo Anderson is among seventeen enslaved people who escape from Mount Vernon seeking freedom on the HMS Savage.
October–November 1781 - Sambo Anderson, who escaped slavery in April, is recaptured by George Washington after the Battle of Yorktown
January 1, 1801 - Sambo Anderson is freed according to the provisions of George Washington's will.
1802 - Agnes, the wife of Sambo Anderson, and the couple's six children are inherited by Martha Washington's granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter and her husband, Thomas Peter.
1810 - Ralph Anderson escapes from Oakland plantation, possibly seeking refuge with his father, Sambo Anderson, at Mount Vernon.
1818 - Sambo Anderson, formerly enslaved at Mount Vernon, frees his daughter Charity.
1835 - Sambo Anderson and his grandson William assist with landscaping around George Washington's new tomb at Mount Vernon.
1842 - Sambo Anderson frees his grandchildren, William and Eliza, as well as Eliza's three children.
February 20, 1845 - Sambo Anderson dies at Mount Vernon and is possibly buried in the African American cemetery there.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
MacLeod, J. Sambo Anderson (ca. 1760–1845). (2019, August 15). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Anderson_Sambo_ca_1760-1845.
- MLA Citation:
MacLeod, Jessie. "Sambo Anderson (ca. 1760–1845)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 15 Aug. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 15, 2019 | Last modified: August 15, 2019
Contributed by Jessie MacLeod, associate curator at George Washington's Mount Vernon.