The colonial-era note by the first President of the United States served as a commitment to purchase four slaves, including William Lee, an African-American youth who became a trusted personal valet.
A financial ledger at Mount Vernon specifies that the transaction was for Mulatto Will £61.15, Ditto Frank £50, Negro Boy Adam £19 and Jack £19. The document is hand-signed in black quill-pen ink by Washington and his brother John Augustine Washington, and is addressed to Mary Lee, Acting Executor of John Lee, Deceased.
William ‘Will’ Lee spent two decades at Washington’s side – at social events, on surveying expeditions, at the First Continental Congress, and on the battlefield during the 1777-78 winter at Valley Forge and the Siege of Yorktown. He was almost certainly the most famous slave of his day.
On Washington’s demise, his will stipulated that all of his 120 slaves were to be freed on the death of his wife, Martha – with Lee made an exception. He was immediately freed and provided a $30 annual salary, stating, “This I Give Him As A Testimony Of My Sense Of His Attachment To Me, And For His Faithful Services During The Revolutionary War.”
The framed George Washington signed promissory note, offered on the market for the first time, has an opening bid of $10,000 at the York, Pennsylvania auction.
More US previews in this issue.