One such resident was Lydia Broadnax, a literate slave in the home of George Wythe, whose name appears first among Virginians to sign the document.
Working in the home of one of Virginia’s leading patriots, Mrs. Broadnax heard the ideas of freedom and independence before they bore fruit in her own life.
Mrs. Broadnax was born c. 1742, but it’s not certain when she joined the Wythe household. Mr. Wythe granted her freedom in 1787, but she continued to work for him until his 1806 death by poisoning. As his cook, Mrs. Broadnax may have been able to identify Mr. Wythe’s ne’er-do-well grand-nephew and namesake George Wythe Sweeney as his murderer, but it was illegal for a black woman to testify against a white man, and Mr. Sweeney was never convicted.
History records little of her life afterwards. Mrs. Broadnax died some time during 1820-27 and is buried on property she owned in Richmond.
Freedom and independence weave their way slowly and awkwardly through real people’s lives.