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tv   George Washingtons Mulatto Man  CSPAN  January 24, 2016 8:00pm-8:56pm EST

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diane: thank you all very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] diane: what a great audience. you're watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend, on c-span 3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. >> william lee, known as billy lee, was short washington's personal slave. washington granted billy lee land and freedom in his will. next, author james thompson explainingis theory why washington may have taken this action. the daughters of the american revolution hosted this one-hour event. >> today, we are pleased to have
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jim thompson discussing his new who is billy lee, george washington's mulatto man. toward acquired, in his words, 1767.atto man, in he was well-known known to washington's staff, including lafayette. thompson presents an analysis of washington's complex relationship with billy lee and discusses a deeper relationship between the two. mr. thompson is the author of a number of books on the arts and history, among them being the birth of virginia's aristocracy and thomas jefferson's enlightenment. after his presentation, there will be a q&a and mr. thompson will be happy to sign copies of his book. please take the opportunity to explore our library and museum with its new exhibition, remembering the american resolution.
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we also have 31 period rims detecting life in early america. resources are free and open to the public. o, pleaseurther ad welcome jim thompson. [applause] mark, for the, fine introduction, and thank you all for coming today. i appreciate you joining me and learning with me about billy lee. i'm going to begin with a couple brief comments about my background and my approach, my view of the past, and how i research. then i'm going to talk about the book. i'm only going to focus on a couple aspects. -- theng to focus on first point is, how was george washington related to billy lee?
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i believe they had a family bond. second, what did billy lee look like? i will give a little lead-in to that, and then the slides to support my comments. philosopher. i have degrees in philosophy, undergraduate and graduate, from the university of virginia. iring my graduate tenure, lived on the farm of thomas jefferson's daughter, margaret jefferson randolph. i was wondering through the hills of jefferson country and i took an interest in history. i didn't study much history in college. philosophy is the science of knowledge, in one sense, and students of philosophy learn how to analyze ideas, how to analyze concepts, what they entail.
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they learn to evaluate propositions, and what inferences can be made, and what entailment's they have. and they learn to investigate arguments and create valid arguments from premises to conclusions. this is my lens for looking at history. the ideas, thein history of ideas. of abook is an example history of an idea. factor -- i'm going to introduce the story by saying, about six months before washington died, he changed his will. ,e acknowledged william lee gave him his freedom, recognized his service, his loyal service during the war, provided him with a life pension, and a place unusual which is a very
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-- the greatest man on the world would have this attachment to an insignificant member of his household characterized as a slave. this was my focal point. what was the nature of the bond that tied george washington to billy lee? as mark pointed out, the relationship began on 15 october, 1767, when george washington went to kevin point in westmoreland county, about 60 miles south of mount vernon, and he signed a note with a woman , and mary smith ball lee in this note, he purchased two mulatto individuals, billy lee and his brother frank. he calls them mulatto billy and
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ditto frank. he purchased two slave boys. this document has been lost. we can't actually refer to it. it was sold by a document vendor, and he made a note about it that's available. you can see it in the washington papers at the university of virginia. the referred to that as source. what isn't commonly known is that when george washington made this transaction, he was making a transaction with his cousin. explain that everybody in this neck of the woods -- kevin point is on the potomac river, on a peninsula between the nominal i creek and match it are creek. everybody in that neck of the
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woods was related to george washington. in fact, george washington's brother, john augustine washington, was the neighbor of colonel john lee and mary smith ball lee. when they made this transaction, they were making a transaction between friends. it wasn't some serendipitous event. i'd like to point out that nothing in my story is a serendipitous event. very little in the relationship between george washington and his mulatto man was a fortuitous accident. i spent a lot of time creating the network of societies, the family relationships, the nature of the social circles, the connections -- it's very tightly wound. these people were guided by invisible but powerful protocols that determined what their activities were. in that regard, i think it's
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fair to say that what washington did, and what the fair faxes did, they were bound to do. they saw themselves that way. i'm not going to try to go through the whole line, but tracing back through all of this information that i assembled, there's a lot of snippets of information that mention billy lee, but there's no comprehensive order to it. it's a matter of connecting the dots. when i connected the dots, i determined that there was 1 -- the source of the connection between george washington and billy lee, only one force could have been strong enough to tie these two men together through their 32-year relationship. that one force, i believe, was a vow that george washington made
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to his half-brother, lawrence. on his deathbed, i believe that lawrence washington revealed to george that he was involved in a deceit, in a way. he had taken charge of his best oys, billy lee and frankly, i think, were the children of george william fairfax.nd sally kerry i explain in the book that circumstances made it awkward for them to have these children, considered black by the nature of things, not so much within the fairfax family, but within the fairfaxes were building an empire in the western part of virginia and they were
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businessmen and they had relationships with people. they refer to them as buckskin's, but they were clai nnish, dangerous, suspicious of strangers, and nobody knew what would happen if the agent of fairfax had a black family. they didn't want to find out. asrge william was an heir, you probably know, the third in ofe to inherit the title lord thomas fairfax. he was the third in line to inherit lord thomas' english estates. and he was the third in line to inherit a 5.3 million acre proprietary. there was a lot on the line. forces the energizing behind all the activities. george washington made this commitment to his brother, who he idolized, and the commitment lay dormant for 15 years, until
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his cousin, mary smith ball lee's husband died. boys -- thet, the future of the boys was uncertain. washington had been monitoring this for the whole time, since his brother's death, and his sister-in-law took the boys with her to westmoreland county. now, when the arrangement could no longer be sustained, he stepped forward. i think he made a sham transaction with his cousin and his brother jack. it was a family activity. and he brought the boys back to mount vernon, where he kept them in his household in privileged as a shins for 30 some years -- privileged positions for 30 some years. what i want to do is trace through the genealogy of washington and show -- george
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was, -- his half-brother lawrence was 14 years older than george. you all may know that augustine washington had attended school in england. he had gone to the applebee grammar school in county westmoreland england, which is very close to yorkshire. in his school days, he would have connected with a circle of people who were known to the fairfaxes, because they were from yorkshire. about nine orwas 10, his father took him to the same school, and lawrence spent several years integrating himself into this network of connectionsho had with the virginia. younger,eing 14 years
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didn't have the same experience. he ended up attending a couple grammar schools as i explained in the book in westmoreland county and fredericksburg. genealogy -- you can see the line. if you go from the bottom, up, lawrence's father was augustine. augustine's father was lawrence again. and lawrence was the son of john the immigrant. john the immigrant arrived in virginia. it a very colorful story i explain in the book. first in theme early 1750's, but he moved to virginia in about 1757. his father was lawrence washington of soul grave pearly. you can go to england now, in northampton, and go to the manor
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house where george washington's forebears lived. lawrence washington had three brothers, or two brothers. not going to go into the third brother. one of them was william washington of packing 10. william was born in 1589 and died in 1643. it's kind of interesting. although washington has been the subject of decades of genealogical research, there are still some questions about all of his english family lines. interesting and critical is, he's referred to, this man here, henry washington of south cave, is referred to as washington's uncle.
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there's no genealogy that shows what the relationship was, but the man that i think was the --st to say this was sparks what's his name -- the first biographer of washington. he identified -- what? i'll think of it. i'm sorry to forget, but there's so many names. anyway, henry washington of south cave was probably a collateral line to the washington's of northampton. i speculate, though there's no proof of this, that william, who had a son, henry, and that's documented, and henry was born in 1615 and died in 1664, he may have had a son. two, questionnry
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mark. he may have been the father of henry of south cave, who was 1717.n 1665 and died in henry of south cave is interesting. he ends up marrying the sister of the wife of henry fairfax of tools to an. , henryy of south cave washington of south cave, is the brother-in-law of henry fairfax of toolston. i show you hear that henry of fairfax,s son, william would have been in south cave -- yorkshire while lawrence or john the immigrant, was living in that area. they probably would have known
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each other. ist the direct connection yet beenes -- hasn't determined, but this is the link between the families. i go into a little more detail here. henry washington of south cave married a woman named eleanor 1689son of south cave in and eleanor was the sister of henryrrison, who married fairfax in 1684, and they were yorkshireether in during the childhood of william of bellflower. william is a colorful story. there are three primary sources of information about william. one of them was by a man named reverend burnaby, a professional traveler in the mid-1700s and
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knew his lordship, and may have met william. another man was writing in the mid-1800s, edward neil. and the third was sally fairfax's probably brother, descendent of her brother, named wilson miles carey, who wrote a biography of sally. all three of these men refer to the same information and they all are wrong in several key points. it's not that difficult to determine where the errors are, but nobody bothered to do it until now. the lifeed through story of william of belvoir. he was a fortune hunting wayfarer. he was the second son of a second son.
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he had a famous family name and his brother had wonderful estates in yorkshire. but william inherited only his name and his family connections. encourageds cousin him to come to virginia. he came to virginia, settled outside of fredericksburg, and while he lived there, who should move in a few miles down the road but augustine washington, had business men connections. it wouldn't have taken long for them to discover they had these -- they were family. can you imagine coming to virginia, living in the wilds of this vast proprietary owned by lord thomas and discovering you are living next to one of your kin?
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arrived, the they washingtons arrived on river farm, lawrence returns from school and is introduced to the fairfaxes. of can see how this network relations begins to grow. when lawrence had brought his third wife with him from salem, massachusetts, and his second wife, which is the most interesting to our story was a woman that he had married while he was an official in the government of the bahamas. he was a wayfarer. he ended up in the bahamas and he became -- at one point, he was the deputy governor of the bahamas. sounds very grand, but when you look at it, it was nothing but debris. the bahamas were an amazingly neglected place. there was virtually no trade, no
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wealth, which is one of the reasons william left. but while he was there, he married and he had 3, 4 children by this first wife, or by this second wife. this was sally walker fairfax. sally walker is interesting aday because she was either slave or a daughter of a slave. so she would have been black by the standards of the day. it hadn't defected him. they lived a fine life in the bahamas. they went to massachusetts and moved right up into the society in the port of salem. when he came to virginia, he was connected to his lordship and he was at the top of the social ladder. but his children were mulatto by definition.
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theeorge william, who is oldest child of william fairfax and sally walker fairfax, was born in the bahamas and came to virginia in 1734. shortly after that -- i'm sorry, before william fairfax came to virginia, he sent george william to england to be schooled by his family, who was living in yorkshire. so he's moving back into the english family network. i think that what happened was, he stayed in yorkshire, see, the the -- let's beverly school outside of beverly, yorkshire. when he finished his grammar school, i believe that lord thomas fairfax brought him to leeds castle and made him his protege, his secretary.
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all theup meeting lords of london. he was a popular, attractive, intelligent, cultured person. lord fairfax finally sends him to virginia to become the assistant of his cousin, william , george williams father. rightorge william moves to the top of the social pyramid of virginia. because he's at the top and he's -- lord line after his thomas' brother, robert, he's fourth in line after lord thomas' brother, and after his father, william, george william is fourth in line at that point to inherit the title, the english estates, and the 5.3 million acre proprietary. there's a bell in southern virginia, who is the most
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scintillating young woman in the colony at that time, and her name is sally kerry fairfax. i'll show you a picture of her in a moment. marries sally and i think it is a fascinating image. she thinks she's marrying the , and goingf fairfax to be inheriting 5 million -- i shouldn't say she thought, i think her father thought that. problem -- her father probably was keeping tabs. george william, he was the right stuff. shortly after he arrives, they are married. i leave that part of the story for a moment. going back now to lawrence, lawrence returns from england,
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he gets -- amazingly, he's given a commission by the governor and he becomes a captain in one of the regiments going on this police action going on down and wentiral london worth, to fix the problem in the west indies. it turns out to be a disaster. 90% of the force dies of disease. washington and wentworth survived. this is discussed in some detail by washington irving, who interestingly wrote one of the early biographies of george washington. he talks about the serendipitous moment when lawrence returns and his bags are packed, he's on his way to go to england to join the military, when lo and behold, there's the love of his life standing over there, and they get married, and live happily
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ever after for a few years. that is probably not what happened. it is probable that augustine washington was having a bowl of punch with william fairfax one evening, they knew they were the they understood importance of family mergers through marriage, and they arranged the marriage of lawrence with fairfax's oldest daughter, ann. lawrence comes back, his bags are packed, he's ready to go to england -- this is the woman you are marrying and this is how it's going to work, and they married. they had several children. , he had plenty of opportunity to commune with his father, he knew what the
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heritage of the lawrence family was. he knew the relationships. he probably knew who henry of south cave was. he might have shared some of this with george in later years, but he died. 1752, whiled in george was still getting his bearings. fathere and george's died in 1743, before he transferred any of this knowledge to george. so george never really knew what his relationship to the fairfax family was. but all caps -- but lawrence knew and there he is on his deathbed, tuberculosis or one of on hiseases he got expedition to the west indies, his health interior rates. the fairfaxes decide they can't risk keeping their mulatto at bren under their roof
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elvoir. not that the family cares about it, but the empire is at stake. that is my theory. cary and george william fairfax, i think had three children. the first was a daughter. she's only mentioned once in history. i think it's a significant comment. where she's mentioned, some of you have probably done this, you can go down to fort belvoir and you can go down to the site of belvoir manor, and the foundations of the house are still there, the sheds, and the grave site. if you have a chance, i encourage you to do it. the first time i went there, i was alone. i got the sense that somebody was watching me. i get up and i get the sense somebody's watching me.
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when i came back down from the grave site, over in a thicket was a dear. the deer was there the whole time. anyway, it's a very interesting place to go. beside the foundation of the house is a sign. thatys, one of the things william fairfax included in his will -- he died in august of will,- he willed in his andave one of his slaves her offspring, who was sally ca ry i think it is, the way the goddaughter thing works is that
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the parent decides to the godparents are. they don't decide to be a godparents. this child i think was sally fairfax's first child and they kept the first child with them for their lives. to the cemetery where theirre buried in england graves are there. there's probably a marker there for somebody who is an attendant i called her miss fairfax. it was one thing to keep the daughter in the household. it was another thing to keep the sons. in.ence was already he was going to be their agent. everything was moving in that direction. until lawrence died.
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before his death he had and fairfaxth tohington and became close george william and sally cary fairfax. i think they agreed to take the boys to mount vernon. days you can see across from the miranda of mount voir.n to bel having the boys said was no hardship. the washington's weren't involved in the land business. everything was fine until lawrence succumbed at which point he passed to the duty on to george.
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this brings me down to the end of my genealogy. fairfax and sally cary fairfax have three children. miss fairfaxn she wasn'th george going to send her goddaughter out into some unsafe place. she was there. dies billy is probably born around 1750. frank is probably born a year or two later. they are living of mount vernon until mount he dies a few months later. and fairfax marries colonel george lee and moves to westmoreland county.
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later george butington steps forward everybody who was in this was aware this family that the lee boys were special. they probably thought they were lawrence's children. the only people who would know .he difference laura thomas fairfax might've know lord thomas fairfax might have known. but i will think anybody else knew who they were. summarizing the genealogical relationship of george washington to billy lee goes collaterally down through south cave and then
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through the marriage of henry down to william and george william to billy. then it goes collaterally between williams daughter ann and george's half-brother lawrence. it is entirely plausible but it can't be proved. here and i will go to the next part of my story and wrap up with this and then take some questions. there is a painting that was done of billy lee. i would like to preface my comments about this by saying that some things that seem aren't supported by
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any tangible evidence. some things that seem implausible are supported by all kinds of powerful circumstantial evidence. i presentedcture because it was painted by howard pyle a wilmington illustrator. washington,image of the retreat of the remnant of washington's army after they .vacuated fort lee just over the hill is cornwallis . i like this picture because you can see in the delaware art museum and you can put your face an inch from these characters. the picture is only this big. but he has an expression on his face. this guy was a master storyteller. here, let me say
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that there were four artists who knew and painted george washington who also knew billy lee. was this artist who is john trumbull. this picture is in the metropolitan museum and it has to be one of the premier museums .n the world the curators suggest this is billy lee. the history of the picture suggests that that is not billy lee. this picture was painted in 1780 while john trumbull was under indictment and subject to being hung as a spy. , thereted the picture was another american artist who was gilbert stuart. both of these men are painting pictures in the studio of
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nathaniel west who was this oil painter to the king. gilbert stuart had the same problem the trumbull had. he was bankruptcy and no money. he was talking with gilbert stuart. i think you were stuart said if you want to make some money paint a picture of george washington. though he knows what he looks like here. picture.nts this in the background this here is john andrejust after has been captured and hung. tense.a very in england. that is why trumbull is under investigation. so he paints this glorified image of the leader of the american revolution. informationmbolic or prop in the background.
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he creates this awestruck groom to them i exceptional man. this exceptional man. lived in the house where washington kept his headquarters. billy lee lived in the house. they probably would've seen each other. washington took billy lee everywhere that he wrote a horse. billy held his horse. when he wasn't combing his hair. trumbull didn't know that but he paints this picture and i think he got the idea for the picture lithographamous engraving that was done a year before trumbull painted his picture. lafayette. for
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lafayette purchased two pictures of george washington while he was at valley forge. there was a reform movement taking place in france. lafayette went there to smooth over some problems that were cropping up in the relationship between the french and the americans supporting the war effort. piece. a propaganda the declaration of independence. the groom is looking out and the message to me is we are ready to go. we are ready to take the field. let's get going and create a free nation.
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it says here he was the portrait painter who painted the battle for his highness the prince of c onde. the reigning prince was this man here. or he was a relative. it is believed to be joseph to orleans.the duke of the poor man ended up losing his head in 1792. here's a painting that was done by joshua reynolds and it is the same thing. we have here the groom holding the horse. he had been in the cavalry. they are incorporating these props into the story.
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billy lee picture of and frankly his parents. the picture is at leeds castle. they were kind enough to make this available to me. tope of the people at the of the social ladder. this pyramid of virginia. also in england later. during washington's lifetime. the painting of george mulatto man. this picture was painted by charles wilson peel.
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they talked to peel's son. princeton can go into the museum and the big picture right in the center of the main gallery is one of peel's variations on this portrait. the last part of the battle of the british had retreated to nassau hall and they were hiding. they are shooting up the windows. the americans wield the cannons up and start blasting the building. one cannonball goes through the
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door. you can go through the door and the foyer and the hallway at the library which is now the faculty senate and on the far wall is a picture of george the third and the cannonball hit george the third and the british surrendered. the building was a wreck. gave the princeton university $200 to repair the building. charles wilsoned peel to paint a portrait. this portrait. poor general mercer who was killed at the battle. the account in the princeton magazine explained that this was .ctually james peel
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he was the fallen hero. the attendants were his sons. they don't look like this. peel had been at the battle of princeton. he must've been in the army. he couldn't get across that on theo attack at dawn hessians at trenton. but he had been able to get caoss any marched up with dwalader. you can go up there and stand on the little bridge. there is a painting showing the chaos of the battle. the pennsylvanians have never been in the battle before. they are very enthusiastic. now they are looking at a screaming horde of bayonet
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wielding british regulars charging at breakneck pace. they are trying to decide is this a time to time to go home. while they are wavering washington appears out of the thicket and he writes right and the british could have been a foreign is that wall. washington writes out to about where the camera is remade a little farther and he turns his horse and he commands his men to fire. they don't do so they fire. the battlefield is covered with smoke. certain men's pulled their hats down over their faces because they couldn't bear to see their gallant commander died. horsegton is still on his and the british are retreating. go charging after
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them. no was part of that battle. he fired a shot in anger. when washington comes to philadelphia in order to do some business with the congress. one of the committees of philadelphia commission peel to paint his portrait. .ashington knows peel they spent a lot of time together at valley forge. i will post for you. lee.s with billy lee.knew billy the only paints from life. i think he gets billy lee to be the groom.
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there are accounts of billy lee wearing his cocked hat through his life. and this is the hat. while it is very unlikely that trumbull painted a picture of billy lee it is likely that this .s a picture of billy lee it turned out to be quite a long book because i tried to build up all these networks of relationships that explain how we look back now and history and we think that these people were just pursuing their happiness like independent particles. when you look at the nature of
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the relationships in the structure of society. how people were dependent upon each other. there was quite a bit of protocols that were extremely important. washington is famous for always following his protocols. andring his relationships vow to his brother. thank you very much. [applause] >> washington ended up having a falling out with billy lee. >> i go into some detail about them.rrespondence between
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washington had a new confidant tobias lear. he was writing to clement billingham. trying to encourage washington to send to billy home. i think the final moment came for the break was that billy was had a york and new york very active abolitionist movement. it was being led by the leaders of the patriotic movement, john hamilton, aron burr. on every street he was very unpopular. washington was a national figure he was very sensitive about this. billy is there and he is working
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in a household that has freemen, free blacks. all mingled together. he was in new york for 13 months. i think he goes to washington and is listening to these street demonstrations and i think he went to washington and said who am i a slave? washington had never been approached by such a brazen question. .he protocol behind the most remarkable system of rules that govern his behavior. this was violating the protocol. he was dumbfounded.
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he didn't know what to do. he couldn't tell billy. raise the risk that he might mention it to someone else. and collapse the whole house of cards. the only person he confides in is tobias lear. he says you can't have this man around. washington sent them home. billy wasxt 10 years a cobbler at mount vernon and there is no indication that washington ever mention them. tomentioned them in a letter tobias lear and he was explaining how difficult it was to find a new butler. he was talking about william osgood.
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billy.s ruined to bil even though we hadn't had any communication with him he writes him into his will and make some famous. there is a very thorough account of washington's last days. it is kept by tobias lear. even the washington has recognized billy for his and his service deathbed he didn't invite billy to come see him. he didn't give him a farewell blessing or anything like that. lane in alone down the the cobbler's shop.
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thank you very much for coming. it is been a pleasure. [applause] been a pleasure. [applause] monday night on the communicators washington post technology reporter joins us from stanford university. insecurity. why security played such a small role for them.
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consumers billions of us are choosing things. we are choosing the speed of the performance. security really doesn't pay. campaign 2016 is taking you to the iowa caucuses. monday, february 1 our live coverage.
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