Samuel or "Sambo" Anderson was born in Africa, enslaved as a child, and brought to America during the mid eighteenth century. He was purchased by George Washington and served on Washington's Mount Vernon estate as a carpenter. Anderson was among Washington's slaves who were freed by his will. Anderson remained in Fairfax County, living across Great Hunting Creek from Alexandria. He was a skilled hunter and made a living supplying the residents of Alexandria with game. He died February 20, 1845 at approximately one hundred years old.[i]
The following "Mount Vernon Reminiscences" of Anderson were penned by "an old citizen of Fairfax County" and published in the Alexandria Gazette issues of January 18 and January 22, 1876:
Sambo Anderson, as he called himself, but who was better known by the name of Uncle Sambo, belonged to General Washington. He informed the writer that he was brought to this country five years before Braddock's defeat. He was a genuine Guinea negro and claimed to have come from a Royal family. He was of a bright mahogany color, with high cheek bones, and was stoutly made. His face was tattooed, and he wore in his ears rings which he informed me were made of real Guinea gold. Sambo, I believe, was a great favorite of the master; by whom he was given a piece of land to build a house on. This lot is situated on the Little Hunting Creek, nearly opposite Mount Vernon, and here the old man lived to the day of his death. He must have been over one hundred years old when he died. I always knew Uncle Sambo, but more particularly in his latter days. I used to call on the old man often to hear him tell about his master and other things which had transpired in his day. He said that his master was very particular and the most correct man that ever lived. Why, said he, "to show you how correct he was, I kept a small boat or skiff to cross over the creek in, and for other purposes. Master sometimes would want to use my boat, but he never was the man to take it without asking me if he could use it. Then he was so particular to place the boat just where he took it from. If it happened to be high tide when he took it, and low tide on his return, I have known him to drag the boat twenty yards, so as to place it exactly where he took it from." Sambo was allowed to keep a gun and was, after his master's death, a considerable hunter.[ii] He told me that in those days the creeks and marshes swarmed with game, and that he had but little trouble to kill what he wanted, but, said he, these big gunners have killed and scared all the game away. Sambo used to supply the most respectable families in Alexandria with ducks, sora and other game. Some times he would sell to the hotels, but he preferred to sell to his gentlemen customers, who not only paid him his price but would make him handsome presents. Many of the old citizens of Alexandria remembered Uncle Sambo, and I suppose there are a few still living who remember the old man
In my last I mentioned that Sambo-an old slave manumitted by Gen. Washington-was allowed to keep a gun, and a very good flint lock it was. I remember at the time of Nat Turner's insurrection, I was ordered out as Captain of a patrol to collect all the fire arms, etc. from the negroes in the lower part of Fairfax county. Among the rest I called on Uncle Sambo. The old man was loth to part with his gun; indeed, I felt sorry to take it from him, for I believe that Sambo would have shot Nat Turner could he have met him. I told the old man that I would take particular care of his gun, and use my influence to return it to him. I did return it, and never will I forget his gratitude for the same. He said he loved that gun; that he had killed with it, and sold ducks and other game enough to buy two negroes. I don't think, however, that Sambo was as happy as he was before he became a slave holder. I know myself that he had much trouble with one of his slaves. Sambo was a carpenter by trade, and used to brag that he learned the art from one of the best mechanics in the land-William Barney Sayres. Sambo said that Sayres could make anything he pleased out of wood. Sayres was the architect for Old Pohick Church, and did all the inside work of that venerable old building. I remember to have been told by a friend of mine that Sayres carved a dove with an olive branch in its beak, and placed it over the pulpit of this church. This was not included in the other work, however. When the Vestrymen met to examine the job, the beheld the dove and inquired about the price they would have to pay. Sayres set his price, which the vestry thought was extravagant, and were not disposed to pay so much. "Well," said Sayre, "Gentlemen, if you refuse to pay my price, I will take it down, put breath in it, and set the bird to singing." This remark rather pleased the vestry and they agreed to pay the price, so the dove was not disturbed, but remained where Sayres had placed it. Sayres was a great favorite with Washington; indeed he stopped the most of his time at Mount Vernon. He layed out the work there, and Sambo, with his force, did the manual labor. Sambo considered himself the boss carpenter. Washington had much work done in the way of building; I remember some five or six splendid barns, with stables and corn houses. He had a barn with other buildings on each of his farms. Sambo informed me that he had helped to build them all. At one time, when he was building a corn house at Mount Vernon, he had the frame up and was setting the studding at the gable ends, but had not been particular to use his plumb. His master came riding along, and glancing at the building, said, "Sambo, that studding is not plumb; knock it off and use your plumb, and always do your work correctly." Sambo told me that he did not believe any man could have told the defect with his naked eye but his master, "but," said he, "his eye was a perfect plumb ball." I had heard from others, and Sambo confirmed it that Washington, every year, had one cornhouse filled with corn to give away to the poor people of the neighborhood, who, when they came, never went away empty. Another part of Sambo's business was to keep his master's hatchet in good order. Washington generally used the hatchet when he was walking through the grounds to cut any limb or other thing that was in the way. After using it he would return it to Sambo for safe keeping. I don't know whether it was the same little hatchet that the General used in hacking his father's cherry tree with, as Sambo did not inform me. I believe the last time I ever saw Uncle Sambo he was complaining of being very "painful," and said he was a much happier man when he was a slave than he had ever been since; "then," said he, "I had a good kind master to look after all my wants, but now I have no one to care for me." It has been my fortune to become acquainted with many of Washington's old slaves, and they all spoke in the highest terms of their master. It was pleasing to me, and should be to every American to know what a noble record he left for our imitation.
April 29th, 2007