Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943

William and Mary Quarterly

3d ser., 68, no. 2
April 2011

Interactive Digital Project

Atlantic Slavery, Atlantic Freedom: George Washington, Slavery, and Transatlantic Abolitionist Networks

By François Furstenberg

The first wave of Atlantic abolitionism during the late eighteenth century was a transnational movement par excellence. Activists, philosophers, politicians, writers—and slaveholders—across the Atlantic world communicated with other both in person and through print and clearly shaped one another’s thinking. This diagram attempts to map out exactly how such influences and channels of communication worked.

We begin with the similarity between the thinking of George Washington and the Marquis de Condorcet, a similarity rendered somewhat puzzling by the fact that they never met and by the absence of any publication by Condorcet in Washington’s library. By focusing on their links within a transatlantic conversation about slavery and abolitionism, however, the channels of influence begin to emerge. Each was connected to this conversation by various individuals: by the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, most obviously, but also by a host of others.

Clicking on each individual will reveal/hide the connections the documentary record firmly establishes with others in the conversation. Though this is only a partial diagram of a much larger network of printers, abolitionists, and others who fought against slavery through means both peaceful and violent, it helps reveal insight into the circulation of knowledge in the late-eighteenth-century Atlantic world.

Image Credits: Washington: courtesy, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-2968; Condorcet: ibid., LC-USZ62-103106; Lafayette: ibid., LC-USZ62-26671; Brissot: courtesy, Print Collection, New York Public Library, digital ID 1124759; Kościuszko: ibid., digital ID 424400; Mazzei: ibid., digital ID 1686693; Clarkson: Harry H. Johnston, The Negro in the New World (London, 1910), image no. 293, courtesy, Butler Library, Columbia University; Sharp: ibid., image no. 292; Jefferson: courtesy, Independence National Historical Park; Hamilton: courtesy, Collection of the New-York Historical Society.