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Book Breaks with Bruce Ragsdale on Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery
The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s weekly program Book Breaks features the most exciting history scholars in America discussing their books with host Gena Oppenheim live, followed by a Q&A with home audiences.

Join us online on Sunday, November 20 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PT) with Bruce Ragsdale as he discusses his book Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery.

Washington at the Plow depicts the “first farmer of America” as a leading practitioner of the New Husbandry, a transatlantic movement that spearheaded advancements in crop rotation. A tireless experimentalist, Washington pulled up his tobacco and switched to wheat production, leading the way for the rest of the country. Slavery was a key part of Washington’s pursuits. He saw enslaved field workers and artisans as means of agricultural development and tried repeatedly to adapt enslaved labor to new kinds of farming. But Washington eventually found that forced labor could not achieve the productivity he desired. As Bruce Ragsdale shows, it was the inefficacy of chattel slavery, as much as moral revulsion at the practice, that informed Washington’s famous decision to free the men, women, and children he enslaved after his death.

Bruce A. Ragsdale served for twenty years as director of the Federal Judicial History Office at the Federal Judicial Center. The author of A Planters’ Republic: The Search for Economic Independence in Revolutionary Virginia, he has been a fellow at the Washington Library at Mount Vernon and the International Center for Jefferson Studies. He was the winner of the 2022 George Washington Prize, sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Washington College, for Washington at the Plow.

For more information, please contact us at bookbreaks@gilderlehrman.org or visit us at gilderlehrman.org/bookbreaks.

Nov 20, 2022 02:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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