“Shoemaker Will”: A Timeline of William Lee’s Life

About The Project

William Lee—who preferred to be called by that name, though Washington often called him “Billy” or “Will”—was George Washington’s enslaved valet for 20 years. During that time, Lee rarely left Washington’s side, meaning that there are numerous records preserving Lee’s travels and responsibilities. Archives, however, hold fewer details on Lee’s life after a series of knee injuries made him retire from his role as a valet. We know now that in the years following, Lee began making shoes for the enslaved community of Mount Vernon plantation, with records remembering him as “Shoemaker Will (or Billy, or William)”. ​A timeline of Lee’s life is provided in this visualization.

William Lee, shoemaker on computer screen