Did Ulysses Grant Own and Rent Slaves?

Even among the most Grant-partial historians there’s no denying that Ulysses Grant and his wife owned slaves prior to the Civil War. In fact, “Ulysses Grant” is the correct answer to a crafty American history trivia question that asks: “Can you name the last slaveholding President?”

As growing political correctness causes our culture to increasingly condemn historical figures connected with slavery, Grant supporters are scrambling for explanations to exempt him from denunciation. Foremost among these are his role in defeating the Confederacy and his (suspect) advocacy for minority civil rights during his presidency. But Grant fans also try to explain away his pre-war participation in the slave economy. Here are the facts:

When Grant married Julia Dent in 1844 he wedded into a slave owning family whose patriarch was Frederick Dent. In 1850 Dent owned about thirty slaves including eighteen on his Winter Haven farm near St. Louis. After resigning from the pre-Civil War army, Grant moved to the St. Louis area to earn a living as a private citizen in 1854. His first attempt was at farming during which he used a number of the Dent slaves to fell trees, plant crops and build a house for his family.

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Following the death of his wife, Frederick Dent moved into St. Louis in 1857 and rented 450 acres of Winter Haven to Grant. In 1858 Grant wrote his sister, “I have now three negro men, two hired by the year and one of Mr. Dent’s, which, with my own help, I think, will enable me to do my farming pretty well.”

At some point during Grant’s time at White Haven he also acquired personal ownership of a slave named William…

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