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Lydia Broadnax

Valarie Gray-Holmes portrays Lydia Broadnax.

  • Born ca. 1742
  • Owned by George Wythe who eventually granted her freedom
  • Remained in service to Wythe until his death
  • Died between 1820 and 1827
  • Buried on her own property in Richmond

Member of the George Wythe Household

Lydia Broadnax was George Wythe's slave and later his cook. Exactly when she joined George Wythe's household as a slave is unknown. She first appears in the official records in 1783, listed as a member of the Wythe household on the Williamsburg Personal Property Tax List. During her years in Williamsburg, records refer to her only as "Lydia" with no surname. Perhaps she appended her surname after Wythe freed her in 1787.

Accounts of circumstances surrounding Wythe's death in 1806 make it clear that Lydia was Wythe's cook at that time. She probably had been his cook since her emancipation in 1787. She is thought to have witnessed the poisoning of George Wythe, but she was not allowed to testify against a white man, who went free for lack of evidence.

Another member of Wythe's household, Ben, also remained with Wythe. It is highly probable that Lydia Broadnax was his wife, although there is no evidence that she was married or that she ever had children.

Buried on her own property

Lydia Broadnax's will was written September 25, 1820, and probated February 26, 1827. Her will indicates that she owned a house and lot in Richmond and that she wanted to be buried on her property. Lydia signed the will with a mark probably because of failing eyesight. She had written a letter to Thomas Jefferson April 9, 1807 in her own hand asking for money to purchase eyeglasses.

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