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Explanatory Essays

Personal Profiles





Personal Profile of Billy

Billy, William, or Will, property of John Tayloe of Richmond County, was around twenty years of age when he ran away from the Neabsco Iron Furnace in March 1774. Described as a "light coloured mulatto," Billy also served as a personal servant, traveling with his master or Tayloe's agent Thomas Lawson throughout Virginia and Maryland. A "very likely young fellow," Billy had a swagger in his gait, and had the "surprising knack ... of gaining the good graces of almost every body who will listen to his bewitching and deceitful tongue."

The personable young man may also have been the person mentioned in Tayloe's 1771 letter to his neighbor Landon Carter, in which he complains that Carter's "Patroll do not do their duty." Apparently numbers of Tayloe's slaves, including Billy, had been meeting with Carter's bondpersons in late-night "Entertainments." Billy, whom Tayloe described to Carter as "your favorite," was suspected of taking Tayloe's horse to join the party.

In 1781 Billy was captured in Prince William County while fighting for the British against the Virginia troops. Tried for treason, he was convicted and sentenced to hang, but Governor Thomas Jefferson was persuaded to issue a reprieve based on problems with the evidence against him and the argument that a slave, as a non-citizen, could not be guilty of treason. Billy's subsequent fate remains unknown.

[See Philip J. Schwarz, "Billy," in John Kneebone, et al., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, vol. 1, Richmond, 1998, pp. 490-491.]

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