George Washington’s Mulatto Man – Who was Billy Lee


Paperback Edition Color and Black & White
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014918875
Size: 6″ x 9″
Pages: 540
Images: 18




In “George Washington’s Mulatto Man – Who was Billy Lee?”, author James Thompson re-weaves a fabric of events that began more than twenty-five years before the Declaration of Independence was written and ended more than twenty-five years after its ratification. Most of these events are known only through passing comments, many of them George Washington’s. Sketchy though the record is, it confirms that Washington had a unique relationship with the mulatto boy he bought in 1767 for 61.15£. What made this relationship special is not in the written record. Mr. Thompson unravels the mystery in his new book. The tie that bound Washington to Billy Lee remained unbroken through the last three decades of Washington’s life. In his will, Washington freed “my mulatto man Billy” and bestowed upon him a lifetime annuity. What force forged this unique bond? Mr. Thompson discovered it, he says, by stepping beyond the boundaries that have limited previous deliberations on this curious matter: George Washington and Billy Lee were more than master and slave. The written record says nothing of Billy Lee’s parents apart from his being a mulatto. It shows, however, that George Washington knew Billy Lee’s former owner. In fact, he knew all of Billy’s former owners. The author contends that the future President also knew the boy’s parents and that therein lay the reason he sailed to Cabin Creek, Westmoreland County, and purchased the seventeen year old maroon (and his brother) from his distant kinswoman, Mary Smith Ball Lee. Mr. Thompson completes his stunning commentary by unveiling a portrait of his subject. The picture was painted from life by one of the four artists who knew Billy Lee. Charles Willson Peale portrayed him where he always was, at his celebrated master’s shoulder. Mr. Thompson’s ingenious detective work shows readers how conspicuous facts become invisible when viewed through the wrong lens. His investigation confirms the qualities that made George Washington history’s greatest man. It also changes our understanding about race in colonial America.

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