George Washington with His Family and Personal Valet, 1796

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This record was last updated on 01 Jun 2016

Image Reference

Original painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. (NGA accession # 1940.1.2)

Painting by Edward Savage, 1796. The image shown here is a (mistakenly) reversed image of the original, in which G.W. appears on the left (see, for example, the b/w reproduction published in Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art [Menil Foundation, Harvard University Press, 1989], vol. 4, pt. 1, p. 47, fig. 13). The black "servant" shown in the upper left hand corner (on the right in the original painting) is usually identified as William ("Billy") Lee, G.W.'s valet and favorite slave, but some scholars have speculated that he may be, in fact, Christopher Sheels, who served in that capacity after Lee became crippled in the 1780s. There is no documented likeness of William Lee so that any "identification is conjectural" (Sidney Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 1770-1800 [New York Graphic Society, 1973, pp. 218-19], pp. 33, 35).