Stories that Demand to be Told: Fielding Lewis and the Bray School for Educating Enslaved Children

During the 18th century, the city of Fredericksburg was described as “a considerable town of trade, furnishing the country around.”[1] As such, it was deemed a rather important town and was the site of one of two schools for enslaved children established in Virginia during the Colonial period. The school was located somewhere downtown, likely near St. George’s Church. Two of the trustees in charge of operating the school were the Reverends James Marye, Sr. and later his son James Marye, Jr. Another trustee was none other than Historic Kenmore’s own, Fielding Lewis.

The school was funded and established by a group of English clergymen and philanthropists known as the Associates of Dr. Bray. Thomas Bray was an Anglican minister who had grown up without wealth. Due to his family’s financial situation, Bray found certain doors, specifically education, closed to him. Through his time in the ministry, however, he was able to gain the knowledge needed to become a great influence and practitioner of philanthropy. Towards the end of his life, he established The Associates of the Reverend Dr. Bray. Its eventual goal was to create avenues of religious and secular education for black children. While never condemning slavery, Bray felt that the souls of enslaved people needed to be saved in the Anglican faith. In order to be able to worship properly, they would need to be able to read and write. By the end of the 18th century, the Bray Associates had founded 41 libraries, donated over 22,000 books to different Anglican parishes in the colonies, and established a handful of schools across British North America.

Thomas Bray as depicted in The Founders: Portraits of Persons Born Abroad Who Came to the Colonies in North America Before the Year 1701; With an Introduction, Biographical Outlines and Comments on the Portraits. E 187.5 .B69. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. Credit: encyclopediavirginia.org

The first Bray Associates colonial school was established in 1758 in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania’s Quaker population was decidedly anti-slavery even in the 18th century so Philadelphia already had a sizable population of free blacks. By 1780, the state of Pennsylvania completed the process of gradual emancipation and did not allow slavery, though there were loopholes in the law, one of which allowed President George Washington to use enslaved men and women at the executive mansion situated in Philadelphia. Slavery in an urban setting like Philadelphia looked different than on plantations in southern colonies. Most urban enslaved people typically performed domestic labor. This meant different expectations for enslaved people in cities, i.e. knowing how to read and write was more important. Due to these circumstances, the Bray school in Philadelphia operated quite successfully. A location for the school was procured without much effort, and a schoolmistress was also easy to come by. The school’s trustees reported full enrollment to the Bray Associates throughout its operation. The school was so successful that it reopened after the American Revolution, and the Bray Associates opened two additional schools in Philadelphia during the 19th century.

After the school in Philadelphia was established, the Associates were eager to create additional schools in the colonies. At this time, Benjamin Franklin was in London and became an Associate. He suggested several potential locations and even trustees for the next school. This second school was established in 1760 in Williamsburg. The Associates sought an enrollment number of 30, and the school opened with 24 pupils. The trustees deemed this quite successful and thought the number was a fair amount for one schoolmistress to manage. In fact, the trustees had a difficult time finding a schoolmistress at all. Their solution was that the Associates would provide additional funding for a few years but, in turn, the Associates encouraged the trustees to find charitable citizens in the town to help supplement the endowment.

The Bray-Digges House in its original location on Prince George Street, c. 1928
Credit: Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
. Credit: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation [PDF]

Another issue at the Williamsburg school was that pupils, even those who belonged to the small free black population in town, were unable to attend regularly. They often stayed for no longer than it took to gain basic reading and writing knowledge. The goal of the Bray Associates, however, was to bring black children to the Anglican faith. This could not be realized if they left school too soon. The trustees attempted to draw up formal rules and a desired curriculum that would encourage the children to remain in the school longer, but it didn’t help the situation.

The Williamsburg school operated for a little over 13 years and was closed in 1774. The closure likely stemmed from the financial difficulties of securing a new schoolmistress after the first one had passed away as well as from the frustration over the lack of returning students year-to-year. There was not an overall lack of students, however, because a report in 1769 said the school still had a full 30 enrolled.

Due to the measured success of the Williamsburg school, the Associates began to search for other southern towns in which to continue their mission. Fredericksburg was suggested by a local minister and the supplies for the school were sent in 1764. From the start, Rev. James Marye, Sr., and Fielding Lewis were pessimistic about the school’s outlook. When the idea was presented to prominent members of the town, there was no enthusiasm. Nonetheless, in September of 1765, Fielding Lewis sent a letter to the Bray Associates informing them that the school had been opened the previous April.

There are three letters (14 September 1765, 31 October 1768, and 1 February 1772) written by Fielding to the Bray Associates that survive. They provide what little information we have about the Bray school in Fredericksburg. It appears that Fielding followed the rules and curriculum that the Williamsburg school had established. It also seems as though he faced similar problems to the Williamsburg school. He had a difficult time securing a schoolmistress for the low wages offered. Unlike Williamsburg, the Bray Associates did not offer additional money. Again, enslaved children were only permitted to attend until basic literacy was obtained, and then they were removed back to work by their owners. The school in Fredericksburg struggled with enrollment numbers. It opened to 16 pupils and dropped to nine by 1768 with only four of those attending in summer. A smaller population of black children (whether enslaved or free) and even less support from local slave owners probably affected the school’s attendance more than Williamsburg. In Fielding’s final letter to the Associates, he stated “learning them to read is rather a disadvantage to the owners, we having had some examples of that sort.” These concerns hint at what led to Virginia passing extremely restrictive ‘slave codes,’ which included a law forbidding enslaved people to be taught to read and write, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Virginia historical marker W-109 at the original site of the Bray School. Credit: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

It is unfortunate that more information regarding the Bray schools throughout the colonies did not survive. What is clear though is that these schools led to the literacy of a significant number of enslaved and free blacks throughout the colonies. Recently, Colonial Williamsburg determined that the building that housed the school is still intact and had been moved to William & Mary’s campus. They added a historical marker honoring the school and the children who attended it. As we gain knowledge and rediscover the past, stories like those of the enslaved and free children who gained a new foothold in a literate world are stories that demand to be told.

Elizabeth Hosier
Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services


[1] Oscar H. Darter, Colonial Fredericksburg and Neighborhood in Perspective, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1957), 62-63.

The Christmastime Escape of Stephen and Guile

“My Dear Brother, I wish you to give Howell some advice how to Proseed in regard to two Negroes that Runaway from me a few days before Christmas…”

With those words in the early spring of 1794, Betty Lewis informed her brother, George Washington, of a difficult situation.  She also provided us with a few clues about the identities of two more members of the enslaved community at Kenmore during the Lewis era, and a larger story of resistance and survival.

Betty wrote the letter quoted above from Kenmore on February 9, 1794.  By that time, Betty’s financial situation was precarious at best.  Her land was not producing a crop that could support her, her debts were mounting, and although all of her grown children were living on their own, she was caring for at least two grandchildren and one niece, all living under her roof.  Her youngest son, Howell (mentioned in the letter) actually lived on his own property in Frederick County, and handled much of his mother’s farming and land affairs on occasional visits to Kenmore.  Betty would only remain at Kenmore for another two years before moving to a small farmhouse outside of town, much to the relief of her children.  Her letter goes on to describe the runaway slaves as “the Principal hands on the Plantation,” and continues, “…the hole Crop I made the last year was thirty Barrils of Corn and a Hundred and tenn Bushels of Wheat, if I am so unfortunate as not to get them (the runaways) again, I have no chance to make any thing the insuing year.”

Who were these two men, and what can we learn about their situation? It turns out that the letter from Betty to George is only the first of several surviving documents connected to this story.  On March 25, 1794 – more than 3 months after the men ran away from Kenmore – Betty placed an ad in the Virginia Gazette, offering a reward for their return.  The ad provides us with their names: Stephen and Guile.  Stephen’s name is not in any of the four original primary documents that began our Enslaved Community Project (click here to read more about these documents and our research into other members of the enslaved community), which tells us he was likely acquired by the Lewis family after Fielding Lewis’s death in 1781, and may have been rather new to the community at the time of his escape.  Guile, on the other hand, was listed in Fielding’s probate inventory as “Guyle” and valued at £50.  The 1782 Divvy List, written by Betty Lewis after her husband’s death to show which enslaved persons were to go to each of her children, shows that Guile was 9 years of age at that time (so he was approximately 21 years old at the time of his escape).  He had most likely been at Kenmore for his entire life. 

As is often the case with runaway slave advertisements, which were incredibly detailed, this document also provides the only physical descriptions that we have of any enslaved person at Kenmore during the Lewis era.  Stephen is said to be a “black fellow,” about 24 years old, around 5’8” tall, and could play the violin very well.  Betty also described him as “very impertinent and talkative.” Guile was said to have a “yellowish complexion,” about six feet tall and “large in proportion.”  He also had a long scar under his right eye Betty added that he had a “down look and very little to say.” Betty summed up her thoughts on the two men by saying Stephen “…is an artful fellow and I am inclined to think he has induced the other fellow Guile to accompany him.”[1]

Newspaper advertisement placed in the Virginia Gazette on March 25, 1794 by Betty Lewis offering a $20 reward for the returned of runaways Stephen and Guile.

Apparently sometime between writing to her brother in February about the escape, and placing the advertisement in March, Betty had learned a bit more about the two men’s plans.  In her letter to George, Betty speculates that they were most likely headed for Philadelphia, where they probably believed they could gain their freedom.  When Pennsylvania enacted The Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780, Philadelphia became a center of abolition and activism as well as a major hub for the Underground Railroad.  Many enslaved persons who made the risky decision to flee the South headed for Philadelphia, so Betty’s speculation was justified.  However, in her newspaper ad, Betty changed her opinion, and stated that she had, “reason to believe that they are on the way to Maryland, if not already there – Stephen was formerly the property of Mr. Sprigg, in the neighborhood of Annapolis, and may now be lurking about his negro quarters.”[2] How Betty came into this information is unknown, but it suggests that Stephen may have had a reason beyond freedom for running away.  By choosing to head for Maryland instead of Philadelphia, Stephen indicated that there might be something at his old home in Annapolis drawing him back, possibly a wife or other family members who he was separated from when he came to Kenmore.  The Mr. Sprigg mentioned in the advertisement was most likely Richard Sprigg of Strawberry Hill, near Annapolis.  He was an associate of George Washington’s and frequently corresponded with him, usually about breeding cocker spaniels and mules, and wildlife for game parks.  No apparent connection has been found between Sprigg and Betty Lewis, but evidently Betty acquired one of his enslaved workers. 

If you’ve been following along with the dates of these documents thus far, you might have noticed that a rather long period of time elapsed between the time the men supposedly ran away, and the time Betty first mentioned taking any action on the matter to her brother.  According to the newspaper ad, Stephen and Guile made their escape just before Christmas on December 20,1793.  Betty didn’t mention it to her brother for more than a month, on February 9.  That seems a long time to wait, when she was supposedly so concerned for the future of her property without the labor of the two men.  What could account for it?

There’s actually a fairly good chance that Betty wasn’t aware of the escape for quite some time after it had happened.  The Christmas season was a popular time among the colonial enslaved population to attempt escapes.  To understand why, we have to take a look at what exactly the Christmas season was like for enslaved communities.  First, it is important to understand that there was no one common practice or tradition for the Christmas season amongst the enslaved population in 18th century America.  Customs and rules varied greatly by region, by town, and even from one plantation to the next.  Generally speaking, most masters gave their workforce some time off during the holiday season.  In most written accounts from the period, it seems the amount of time varied between 1 day and a full week, with the most common allotment being 3 days.[3]  During that time, enslaved people were often granted unusual amounts of personal freedom.  They could sometimes be allowed to travel to visit friends or family members on neighboring farms, they could plan their own gatherings or celebrations, and they could take part in gift-giving and receiving, even with the master’s family.[4] 

However, time off wasn’t equally distributed between members of the same community.  Because of the winter season, field hands and manual laborers got the bulk of free time, as there was simply less for them to do at that time of year.  House slaves, however, saw their workload double and triple with the holiday influx of visitors, household preparations, meals, etc.  This was the case for people like Billy and Charlotte, two enslaved individuals at Kenmore who we’ve met in this post and this post.  As the household butler, Billy’s work was nearly unceasing during the season, overseeing all of the food procurement and preparations, taking care of the needs of any visitors staying in the house, and coordinating all of the arrangements for holiday parties and balls, including the culminating celebration on Twelfth Night.  Charlotte, a seamstress, was most likely inundated with making, remaking and repairing all the Lewis family clothing needed for the season’s many special occasions.  Other enslaved individuals at Kenmore known to us from this post and hired out to other farms or businesses, like the rope makers Abraham, Bob, George and Randolph, could anticipate a return to Kenmore at the Christmas season.  Most of the agreements Betty Lewis and her sons made for the hiring out of their enslaved workers were for up to a year and often terminated at Christmastime.  For those workers, there might have been some joy in the prospect of returning to a familiar home, family and friends.

In Betty Lewis’s letter to her brother George, she refers to Stephen and Guile as the “principal hands” of her farming operation, indicating that they were not house slaves and therefore were probably among those granted more free time during the Christmas holiday of 1793.  Because of this free time, and because owners and overseers were otherwise occupied, Stephen and Guile may have had their best chance during the year to escape.  And because they weren’t expected back on the property or to be performing specific jobs for quite some time, their departure might go unnoticed, giving them a sizeable head start.  It may have been several weeks before Betty knew that she had lost two important assets to her income, and it was obviously several months before she had enough information to place an ad for their return in the newspaper.

So what became of Stephen and Guile? Did they make it to freedom in Philadelphia? Was Stephen reunited with family in Maryland? As it happens there is one more document in the Kenmore archives that may provide a clue as to how their story ends.  On June 4, 1793, about three months after Betty placed her ad in the Virginia Gazette for the return of Stephen and Guile, she entered into an agreement with her step son John Lewis.  According to a fragmented bill of sale written in John’s hand, he agreed to sell Betty two of his slaves – Reuben and Lewis – for the bargain price of £140.[5]

Fragmented bill of sale from John Lewis to Betty Lewis selling two slaves – Reuben and Lewis – for £140.

The two men were among a group of ten enslaved people originally gifted to John Lewis as a wedding present from his father many years earlier.  It is the only documented occasion on which Betty purchased any enslaved person following her husband’s death, and the only time such a purchase was made from one of her children, most likely indicating that it was a rare occurrence, perhaps made necessary by an emergency situation.  The timing of the transaction seems to suggest that John sold Reuben and Lewis to Betty to help her make up for the loss of Stephen and Guile.  Neither of the runaways’ names show up in the list of enslaved people sold at vendu following Betty Lewis’s death, and no further mention of the incident was made in Betty’s correspondence with her brother George.  Taken together, all of this evidence strongly supports the conclusion that Stephen and Guile were never recaptured, and they never returned to Kenmore.  Perhaps their Christmastime escape was a success.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations


[1] Advertisement, Virginia Gazette, Purdie and Dixon. 25 March 1794.  Copy in Kenmore Manuscript Collection, PH677.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bigham, Shauna, and Robert E. May. “The Time O’ All Times? Masters, Slaves, and Christmas in the Old South.” Journal of the Early Republic 18, no. 2 (1998): 265.

[4] Ibid, 263-88.

[5] Bill of sale, Lewis, John to Betty Lewis, 4 June 1794.  Kenmore Manuscript Collection, MS 385.

Billy at the Door

In our ongoing series of investigations into the lives of Historic Kenmore’s enslaved community during the Lewis era, we recently uncovered another full identity behind what was once just a name.  Once again, close examination of long-forgotten documents and analysis of hidden clues revealed this man’s story, and in a rare turn of events, gave us some extra details about his life. 

If you read the previous posts in this series, you know that our hunt for information began with four basic primary documents – 1) Fielding Lewis’s 1781 probate inventory, 2) the 1782 Divvy List written by Betty Lewis, 3) the Vendu (public auction) List compiled in 1798, and 4) the Final Disposition list also written in 1798.  Each provides a list of enslaved persons associated with the Lewis family at key moments in their history (for further discussion of these documents click here).

One of the first quirks we noted in these four documents was that each began with the same name: Billy.  The rest of the names are often in similar, but not quite the same, order from document to document.  But, Billy is always the headliner. What could that mean? Did it really mean anything?

1781 Probate Inventory of Fielding Lewis’s property showing Billy listed from amount the enslaved people.

The obvious assumption is that Billy’s position as the first named indicates importance – the top of any list is usually someone of importance.  However, different people wrote these four documents, and importance may not mean the same thing to all of them. For example, the Divvy List written by Betty Lewis was her account of which enslaved persons were to stay at Kenmore and which were to be divided among her sons following her husband’s death. As the mistress of the house, Betty was aware of  who she felt was most important to the operation of her household and who she preferred to keep.

Conversely, the person conducting a probate inventory might not be familiar with the enslaved people on a property and might not know their comparative significance.  We know the 1781 probate inventory was written to follow the inventory-taker’s path through the house. It starts with the chamber (immediately inside the entrance door), proceeds through the passage into the dining room, then into the drawing room and ends in the office, which is the last room you encounter before leaving the house through the side door.  Perhaps the inventory-taker was listing the people on the property as he encountered them, just as he was doing with the contents of the rooms.  Therefore, perhaps Billy was the first person he came across when entering the house.

On both the Vendu List and the Final Disposition, Billy is listed first and is valued at £99, suggesting he had skills or traits that were valued by auction bidders. While the Vendu List recorded the trade for some people, Billy was shown simply as a “house servant.”  Any of these reasons could explain Billy’s primacy on the documents.

Without further clues, divining why Billy was always listed first was all speculation.  The odd repetition of Billy’s name at the head of every list was noted in his file, and we moved on.

As our project progressed, we found more references to Billy in other documents and fragments in Kenmore’s manuscript collection.  The Billy that is the focus of this particular research was 38 years old in 1782. (There were actually three people named Billy living on the Lewis properties, but we were able to separate the references based on age.  Betty Lewis recorded ages next to every name in the Divvy List.)

One of the earliest references to Billy may indicate how he came to be in the Lewis household.  In 1755, Fielding and Betty Lewis made a land purchase from Fielding’s brother Charles.  In addition to 1,800 acres, the purchase also included 40 enslaved individuals.  The names of those individuals were listed in the land deed, and Billy appears among them.[1]  He was approximately 11 years old.  Because this land purchase was made only a year after Fielding’s father died, it is possible that Billy and the other enslaved people on the property originally belonged to Fielding’s father at Warner Hall in Gloucester, meaning Billy was owned by the Lewis family for his entire life.

Charles Calvert and his Slave (1716) by John Hesselius. This portrait is particularly evocative because it depicts a relationship that might have been similar to Billy and young George Lewis. Credit: Baltimore Museum of Art / Wikipedia

The other reference to Billy occurred during the Lewis era at Kenmore and was on a fragmentary list of textile rations allotted to enslaved individuals.[2]  Bundles of either cotton or linen yardage were distributed to 26 people.  As with the four main enslaved community documents, Billy is again at the top of this list of rations.  He is one of only two people to receive both cotton and linen, and the amount of yardage distributed to him is more than for any other person on the list.  The list is undated, but by process of elimination we have placed it between 1786 and 1797. Billy was between 42 and 53 years old.

Portrait of a Youth in an Embroidered Vest (1785) by Marie-Victoire Lemoine shows a young enslaved man wearing an example of the fancy livery often worn by the house servants n wealthy households like the Lewis one. Credit: Cummer Museum

 Interestingly, all other references to Billy found in Kenmore’s manuscript collection deal with his post-Kenmore life.  The Final Disposition document shows that Billy stayed within the Lewis family after leaving Kenmore. He was sold to George Lewis, Betty and Fielding’s son.  George Lewis owned Marmion plantation in Westmoreland County, and so Billy went to live there, along with the 8 additional people George purchased from his father’s estate at the vendu.  Prior to the vendu sale, perhaps after Betty’s death in March of 1797 but before her estate was settled, it appears that actually Billy was already working in George Lewis’s household.  In that year, George paid for rather expensive shoes to be made for Billy, as well as for two other men he would eventually purchase at vendu.[3]  Billy also appeared to be trusted to handle money and run financial errands for George. In 1797, he delivered payment for George’s debt with merchant Clement Burrass.  Burrass referred to him as “Old Billy” on the receipt.[4]  These references in 1797, prior to the vendu sale, may indicate that George Lewis already had a significant relationship with Billy and knew that he would bring him into his household once his mother’s estate was settled. 

Taken together, these fragments of information found throughout the manuscript collection on Billy seem to indicate that he was a man of significance among the enslaved community at Kenmore.  His name at the head of every list of individuals on the property, his comparatively large textile ration, his high value at vendu, his association with the Lewis family from a very early age, his early and trusted relationship with George Lewis, and the notation that he was a house servant all combine to indicate that Billy was among the enslaved people who lived and worked within the Lewis house itself. In fact, he was probably the head of that enslaved household staff, a position we know today as a butler.  He is now one of only three people positively identified among Kenmore’s house slaves.

But Billy’s story doesn’t end there.  The next references leap ahead to 1803, when shoemaker Jessee Davis requested George Lewis  send payment on his account “by way of Billy.” Apparently, by this time it was accepted practice among local merchants for Billy to act as George Lewis’s representative.[5]  This continued through 1809, when an account ledger from the shop of William Johnston shows cash paid out to “Old Billy” on George’s account.[6]  Unfortunately, no additional references to Billy were found in the manuscript collection until sometime shortly after George Lewis’s death in 1821. That’s when an already interesting story gets even more interesting.

Although George Lewis died in November of 1821, a probate inventory of his home at Marmion was not conducted until 1823.  That inventory, filed with the King George County court, survived and shows “Billy, Old” in the list of enslaved persons on the property. His monetary value is listed as zero, indicating that he is past the age of useful labor.[7]  However, Billy’s name is enclosed in a bracket with three others – Kizzey, Fanny and Bob.  In fact, there are several other groupings of people enclosed with similar brackets in the inventory. All were labelled to indicate the relationship, such as “James and Sylvia’s children,” except for Billy’s bracket.  Luckily, another document explained it. 

Apparently sometime before his death in 1821, George Lewis spent considerable time putting his affairs in order and making lists of various personal assets.  One such list was written on a page from a ledger book, divided into three columns headed “Names,” “To Whom Sold,” and “Price.”  It was a list of enslaved persons at Marmion that were to be sold at vendu.  Although only the first column –“Names” – was filled in, the page provided some crucial information.  The names were divided into lots.  Billy shows up in the 2nd lot as “Old Man Billy”, along with Kizzey, Fanny and Bob.  Billy isn’t listed for sale, however. His name is in a note written under the lot that reads,

“In this lot, Old Man Billy must be attached.  Whoever purchases this lot, Old Man must be supported as he has always been the balance of his life – that is, to be indulged in having one of his grandchildren to wait and attend on him, the old man to be well clothed with one good suit of clothes compleat every year so long as he may live.”[8]

That sentence both confirms Billy’s special status in the Lewis family, and reveals a huge piece of information: evidently, Kizzey, Fanny and Bob are Billy’s grandchildren.

Portions relevant to Billy of an 1821 list of enslaved people drafted by George Lewis.

The revelation that Billy had grandchildren is a rare bit of information not often found when researching the lives of the enslaved.  Among those individuals living on the Kenmore property, references to family relationships are almost always made from mother to child. Fathers and husbands are never noted.  It wasn’t until George Lewis set up his household at Marmion, that he began to occasionally note male family members among the enslaved community there.  Billy was the only holdover from Kenmore to receive such attention.  Of course, if Billy had grandchildren, he must have also had at least one child of his own, and that most likely means that he had a wife, as well.  Who could these missing members of Billy’s family tree be?

Unfortunately, this is probably the end of the documented trail for Billy – anything further we can surmise about his family is complete speculation.  In the 1823 probate inventory of George Lewis’s estate – the one that initially showed Billy’s name in a bracket with Kizzey, Fanny and Bob – there is a couple, Tom Brown and Becky, enclosed in a bracket, listed directly above Billy.  They are the only people on the list that don’t have an identified family relationship.  There is no notation to explain this couple, but it is possible that they are related to Billy and his grandchildren in some manner – possibly their parents?[9]

Another possibility involves the group of people who George Lewis purchased from his father’s estate.  The only female among the group was Nanny, a woman who we know very little about from her time at Kenmore.  We do know that her mother was named Fanny.  Is it possible that Nanny was Billy’s wife, and that his grandchild Fanny carried on a family naming tradition?

In any case, by the time George Lewis was arranging for Billy’s sale at the age of 79, neither his wife nor a child was identified or likely existed among the Marmion enslaved community, indicating that Billy had likely been separated from them at some earlier time.  Although we don’t know when the actual vendu for the George Lewis’s estate took place, or who purchased the individuals on the list, we do know that by 1830 Billy and his grandchildren were gone from the Marmion property.

If you were to visit Kenmore as a guest between the years of 1775 and 1796, the first face you encountered at the door was Billy’s. He was a daily visitor to the bedchamber, where he received the day’s menu and instructions for the household from Mrs. Lewis. He oversaw the setting of the table. He was silently present in the dining room during meals. He served the madeira in the drawing room after dinner. He oversaw the turning back of beds and laying of fires at night.  If you were an overnight guest, Billy might have been the last person you saw before retiring for the night.  Billy had his own life, too – a wife and family living somewhere on the property. Friends and neighbors within his community who also followed his instructions in the house. When running daily errands in town, he was a recognized figure walking on Fredericksburg’s streets.  Eventually, he even had his grandchildren with him, when all others were gone away.  Billy is now one more name and one more life made less mysterious by our ongoing research into Kenmore’s enslaved community.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations


[1] “Indenture (Deed of Sale), Charles Lewis to Fielding & Betty Lewis,” October 9, 1755; Spotsylvania County Deed Book E, Pg. 299.  Photocopy from the original, Kenmore Manuscript Collection (PH 707).

[2] “List (fragment),” Kenmore Manuscript Collection (MS 1073).

[3] “Account with Major George Lewis,” October 30, 1794 – January 2, 1797; Kenmore Manuscript Collection (MS 868).

[4] “Account, Major George Lewis in Account with Clement Burrass,” 1797; Kenmore Manuscript Collection (MS 866).

[5] “Account, Major George Lewis to Jessee Davis,” 1803; Kenmore Manuscript Collection (MS 892).

[6] “Account, William Johnston in Account with George Lewis,” 1807 – 1809; Kenmore Manuscript Collection (MS 924).

[7] “Inventory and Appraisement of the Estate of George Lewis, D’sd,” February 7, 1823; King George County Will Book, Pg. 296.  Photocopy from the original, Kenmore Research Files (Wills and Inventories of Lewis Descendants).

[8] “List of Negroes” by George Lewis, ca. 1821; Kenmore Manuscript Collection (MS 1049).

[9] “Inventory and Appraisement of the Estate of George Lewis, D’sd.”

Lecture – Credit and Coinage: The Economy in Colonial Virginia [Video]

On Tuesday, May 8, 2018, Cash Arehart, Site Supervisor of the Capitol Building at Colonial Williamsburg presented a lecture titled “Credit and Coinage: The Economy of Colonial Virginia.” Using Kenmore’s Fielding Lewis as an example, he discussed currency, credit, the tobacco economy, and the Transatlantic trade and how they all converged to make Col. Lewis a successful and prominent businessman in Fredericksburg and Virginia a successful colony within the British Empire.

Join us at the library on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 for “Curiosities of Kenmore,” when Meghan Budinger, the George Washington Foundation’s curator, will talk about some of the most exciting and unusual objects in Kenmore’s collection and that are rarely seen by the public. Talk begins at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is FREE and hosted at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. To learn more, visit kenmore.org or livesandlegaciesblog.org.