Monday, November 30, 2015

George Washington and Billy Lee

George Washington bought William “Billy” Lee, his brother Frank and two other slaves in 1768.  Billy Lee was eighteen.  Frank became the butler at Mount Vernon, while Billy became Washington’s valet.  Billy also became the keeper of Washington’s pack of hunting dogs. 

Fox hunting was an important part of the social life of Virginia’s gentry, and Billy Lee distinguished himself as a huntsman at Washington’s side.  An eyewitness described Lee during a hunt, “Will, the huntsman, better known in Revolutionary lore as Billy, rode a horse called Chinkling, a surprising leaper, and made very much like its rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle. Will had but one order, which was to keep with the hounds; and, mounted on Chinkling ... this fearless horseman would rush, at full speed, through brake or tangled wood, in a style at which modern huntsmen would stand aghast.” 

Washington took Billy Lee to war with him, where he served at Washington’s side for eight years.  After the war, between 1785-1789, Lee injured both of his knees and found himself back at Mount Vernon.  William Lee was freed under the terms of Washington’s will for, “his faithful services during the Revolutionary War”, and received a substantial pension for the remainder of his life and the option of remaining at Mount Vernon.  Lee lived on at Mount Vernon until his death in 1828.

Who were the slaves of the Founding Fathers? What do their individual stories tell us about the Founding Fathers as men?

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