Author: Jessie MacLeod

associate curator at George Washington's Mount Vernon

William Lee (fl. 1768–1810)

William Lee was the enslaved valet of George Washington for nearly two decades. Purchased by Washington in 1768, when he was at least sixteen years old, Lee was assigned to household work at Mount Vernon and accompanied Washington when he traveled, including during the American Revolution (1775–1783). The war made Lee, who often rode alongside Washington, well-known to both American and British soldiers. Although Lee was initially taken to New York at the start of Washington’s first presidential term in 1789, old injuries to his knees limited his mobility. Lee appears to have married twice and had at least one child, whose identity is unknown. In 1790 he was sent back to Virginia and assigned to make shoes for the plantation. Washington valued Lee’s service and loyalty. In his 1799 will, he ordered that Lee be freed immediately at his death and provided a $30 annual pension. As a free man, Lee remained at Mount Vernon until his own death, which sources suggest to have come either in 1810 or 1828.


Sambo Anderson (ca. 1760–1845)

Sambo Anderson was an enslaved carpenter at Mount Vernon, George Washington‘s Fairfax County plantation. Born in Africa, Anderson endured the Middle Passage to America as a child and was purchased by Washington. In 1781, when he was estimated to be about twenty years old, Anderson attempted to escape on a British warship anchored in the Potomac River during the American Revolution (1775–1783), but he was recaptured. Back at Mount Vernon, he married Agnes, a field worker, with whom he had at least seven children. As a carpenter, Anderson was involved in a vast array of work to build and repair the plantation‘s infrastructure and equipment. He was manumitted, or freed, by George Washington’s will in 1801, but his wife and children had not been owned by Washington but by the estate of Martha Custis Washington‘s late husband; as a result, they remained enslaved. Anderson continued living at Mount Vernon, supporting himself by hunting and selling wild game. His venture was successful enough to help him purchase the freedom of several family members. He became a prominent figure in the local community, evidenced by the obituary published upon his death in 1845.