West Ford (c. 1784-1863), American farmer and founder of Gum Spring, Virginia, is said by some to be the black son of George Washington. By 1860 he was the second richest free black person in Fairfax County.
There are three separate family stories about Ford among his descendants:
- Two stories say he is the son of George Washington;
- One story says he is the son of Bushrod Washington, nephew of George.
The two stories about him being the son of George Washington, because they are so alike and come from branches of the family that had been out of touch for over a hundred years, can be dated to when Ford was still alive. The stories sound like the memories of a son whose father denied him – they talk about how George Washington used to take him hunting, take him to church, take him riding.
Bushrod, on the other hand, had greater opportunity to be the father since Ford’s mother, Venus, was a slave of John Augustine Washington – his father, George’s brother.
Although John and George lived 150 km apart – a day and a half of travel in those days – they did visit each other during the time when Ford was conceived.
The black oral history says that Venus met George several times, was asked to “comfort” him, that he stopped having sex with her once she got pregnant, that she said, “The Ole General be the father, mistress.”
White scholars say that Washington would never do such a thing - despite several (unproved) sex scandals with both black and white women. They said the same about Jefferson too, also in the face of black oral history and reports of scandal – and were shown to be bad judges of character by DNA tests.
DNA testing has not yet been done in this case. Partly because the Mount Vernon Ladies Association has blocked it. A DNA test could rule out George Washington, but otherwise might not be able to tell whether George or Bushrod was the father.
Ford was freed and given 160 acres of land (65 hectares). Ford was the only slave that Bushrod’s mother freed. Since she gave no reason, like faithful service, it is almost certainly because he was a blood relation. That means either George, Bushrod or Corbin, her other son, was the father – but probably not her husband, since in his case Ford would have been a child of infidelity.
How George Washington and West Ford looked in their twenties:
There is no written record of who Ford’s father was, which is not surprising since he was born to a slave woman.
White scholars are quick to point out there is “no proof” that Ford was Washington’s son. But “no proof” in this case is not the same as “unlikely” since whites kept the records back then and since whites have prevented DNA testing. Given what we do know at this point – the black oral histories – it is more likely to be true than not.