William Lee isn’t forgotten in our nation’s history [Opinion]

As America has set aside the month of February as “Black History Month“ to honor the contribution and sacrifice of many black Americans, many think of the iconic civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King to salute and celebrate. But what about William Lee?

Just who was Mr. Lee? He was born on a Virginia farm and into slavery in 1750. At the time, Virginia was a British Colony and before we were the United States of America.

George Washington purchased William Lee, who at the time was a teenager, from Col. John Lee of Westmoreland County, Va.

Washington paid a little more than 60 pounds for Lee and his brother Frank and two other slaves. Lee and his brother were “house slaves” while the two others were “field slaves.” These were the terms used in the British colonies to characterize the service of slaves.

Lee served as George Washington’s “manservant“ before our war for independence. He was a talented equestrian and hunter. For the eight years of the Revolutionary War, William Lee was with Gen. George Washington at most battles. He was referred to as General Washington’s valet but he was much more and was trusted and respected by Washington and his battle staff.

More importantly, Lee often put himself in harm’s way to protect Washington on the battlefield. He was  always thinking of safeguarding Washington.

Our revolution was a marathon and fought by our first patriots. Those men fought against British and Hessian professional soldiers. Those professional soldiers were defeated by our citizen soldiers and Lee was with them.

Military history tells us that 10% of our first army was comprised of black men. None were allowed to be officers. Yet, they were proud to serve for a country that did not and would not treat them as equals.

When Gen. George Washington resigned as Commander in Chief and resigned his commission at the statehouse at Annapolis, Md., William Lee was at his side just as he was at Valley Forge and many other battles.

As Washington and Lee rode back to Mount Vernon to return to the farm in Virginia on Christmas Eve, they traveled on horseback to the farm Washington loved. Mount Vernon had fallen into neglect during the eight years of war.

George Washington was the most famous American of his time.  William Lee was amongst the most famous black colonists and Americans of that same time period.

Lee was with Washington at the Constitutional Convention, he was with Washington as he served as our first President and while he completed two terms. He was part of President George Washington’s staff even when personal injuries to his legs slowed him down.

He was at Washington’s side when Washington voluntarily stepped aside after two terms as President of the new republic of the United States of America.

Few men were as close to the man known as the Father of our Country as William Lee. Yes, he was a slave. He had been a slave to George Washington since he was a teenager. He served Washington with honor and distinction. He served at Gen. Washington’s side on the battlefields and while he served as our first President. He served into retirement at Mount Vernon, Va.

Lee knew our founding fathers and their families. This devoted man was amongst our nation’s best-known black Americans post Revolutionary War and should be so remembered in modern history.

It is said that upon George Washington’s death, he freed Will Lee. While Lee is the only slave George Washington freed immediately following  his death at Mount Vernon, Washington freed all slaves upon his wife Martha Washington’s death.

William Lee gave great service to our country on the field of battle while a valet in the service of Gen. George Washington.

Image Sources

  • Black History Month: Pixabay