Review of George Washington’s Barbados Diary, 1751-52, Journal of Southern History

George Washington’s Barbados Diary, 1751–52. Edited by William M. Ferraro et al. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2018. Pp. xlviii, 168. $34.95, ISBN 978-0-8139-4137-0.) At the age of nineteen, George Washington traveled with his brother Lawrence to Barbados. The voyage there took from September 25 to November 2, 1751, and after a brief visit of less than two months, George returned alone on December 22, arriving in port at York, Virginia, on January 30, 1752. Washington kept track of the two maritime voyages, with attention paid primarily to the state of the ocean and the winds, with occasional notices of storms, dolphins, and other aspects of life at sea. His notations on activities ashore are brief, with mentions of dinners, fortifications, the vast fields of sugarcane, and comments on the people: the plantation gentlemen, the plantation ladies (he thought they mimicked the fashions of the enslaved women too closely), and the slaves. Washington’s entries are sparse in all details: for example, he merely mentions that on November 16 he “Was strongly attac[k]ed with the small Pox: Sent for Dr Lanahan whose attendance was very constant till my recovery” (p. 71). There is not another entry until he was well enough to leave his quarters, on December 12. The journal, while it fills in some details for Washington’s only trip away from the North American mainland, is so brief as to offer little insight into what impact this journey had on him. Nevertheless, as an editorial project, George Washington’s Barbados Diary, 1751–52 is a tour de force. It begins with a history and evaluation of all previous printed versions of the diary, either in portions or entire; then there is an elegant essay on Washington’s early life and the trip to Barbados. Following a short essay on sailing and navigation is Washington’s version of a log of the voyage, the editors having corrected his measurements and observations. The actual diary comes next (following an essay on the island), complete with extensive footnotes explaining and elaborating on Washington’s text. The text has been transcribed with extraordinary care and expertise. Included are four appendixes: a glossary of nautical terms, a chart explaining navigational data and computations, two letters by Lawrence Washington, and a discussion of the editorial methodology employed. The volume concludes with an extensive “Essay on Sources” and a listing of references cited. There is an index. Altogether, this slight diary is here handsomely presented to the public.

John B. Boles
Rice University


“Book Notes.” Journal of Southern History 85, no. 4 (2019): 977-982. doi:10.1353/soh.2019.0246.