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Samuel Gist

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Samuel Gist (1717 or 1723, – February 1815) was an English-American slave owner. An Englishman, he rose from humble beginnings to become a wealthy slave owner and plantation owner in the Colony of Virginia. Upon the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he returned to Great Britain. In 1808, he drafted a will which stipulated the manumission of all of his slaves. He later amended it so that his executors could revoke that provision. However, the executors freed many, possibly all, of the slaves, probably numbering around 500, though some estimates go as high as 1,000.


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Gist was orphaned at an early age, and grew up at the Bristol Hospital in Bristol, Great Britain. In 1739, he became an indentured servant of Virginia tobacco farmer John Smith. When Smith died in 1747, Gist married his widow, Sarah (or Mary), and became very rich as a result, with large holdings of land and slaves. This acquisition of wealth was the subject of a court case, Rootes v. Gist. Gist, living in London, obtained the legal opinion of Charles Yorke concerning his rights in the matter. Patrick Henry, in a letter dated February 1770 (believed to be the earliest known letter of his), laid out his reasons for disagreeing with Yorke's conclusion.

Among other things, Gist engaged in land speculation, being a partner in the Dismal Swamp Company.

Gist wrote to George Washington from London on June 17, 1769.

When the American Revolutionary War began in 1776, Gist remained loyal to his native land and returned to Great Britain. In 1782, the Virginia Assembly vested his property, including 82 slaves, in his stepdaughter, Mary Anderson, because he was a non-resident British subject. Later, he regained ownership through legal action, though he apparently never returned to the United States, living in London in the last years of his life, still engaged in business.

Will and freeing of his slaves

Gist drafted a will dated June 22, 1808, that freed his slaves and provided for them; at that time, he supposedly owned 274, though a later codicil noted that that number had increased substantially. He later amended the will so that his executors were not required to free the slaves. Nonetheless, it appears that they did indeed free many, possibly all, of the slaves, probably numbering around 500, though some estimates go as high as 1,000.

Some of the freed slaves continued to live on their former master's lands. Others moved to Ohio to the so-called Gist Settlements in the late 1820s and early 1830s, though many later left, probably due to the soil being poor.


Samuel Gist Wikipedia

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