William Lee: George Washington's Valet
For many years William Lee, also known as Will or Billy, worked as George Washington's valet. He also served as the butler until his brother Frank took over the job.
As Washington's valet, Billy looked after his master's clothes and probably powdered and curled his hair. He often picked up and dropped off mail at the post office in Alexandria. He accompanied Washington on fox hunts. He had a sturdy, athletic build and was a wonderful horseman.
During the American Revolution, Billy went to war with Washington and was put in charge of the General's most important papers. Two years after the war, Billy fell and broke one of his knees, which left him disabled. Several years later, he fell again and broke the other knee. The last accident made it impossible for him to continue his duties as a valet, and he thus became the Mount Vernon shoemaker.
During the Revolution, Billy was married to a free black woman named Margaret Thomas, who was hired to help at one of Washington's military headquarters. After the war, Billy asked the General to bring his wife to Virginia. Although Washington did not like her very much, he arranged for Margaret to live at Mount Vernon. Surviving records do not tell if she actually ever did go there, but Billy seems to have been single in 1799.
Washington made arrangements to free Billy in his will, providing him with food, clothing, and $30 dollars a year (a rather large sum at the time) for the rest of his life. As an old man, Billy was popular with visitors to Mount Vernon who wanted to meet him because he had known George Washington so well.
Billy Lee died about 1828 and is buried in the slave burial ground at Mount Vernon.