Lemon (before 1779-1817)

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Lemon was a man enslaved by the College of William and Mary. He labored on the College’s tobacco plantation beyond Emporia, the Nottoway Plantation, and was in December 1779 “retained for cleaning the College, & other necessary Purposes” when others the College enslaved were hired out to work growing tobacco or other crops. A "List of Negroes at College" (circa 1780) includes Lemon as “hired outt” to other people. When Lemon died in 1817, William & Mary paid for his coffin. [1]

Robert Engs says of Lemon that he "may have had a family of his own--status as slave or free undiscovered so far--in Williamsburg. He was allowed to farm on his own time and sold the produce to the College. He was one of the slaves given the Christmas bonus in 1808. In 1815, an aging Lemon was given an allowance to provide his own food, and the College paid for medicine for him in 1816. Finally in 1817 the College purchased a coffin for him. We cannot know the full dimensions of Lemon’s life but he clearly was more than a cipher who merely provided labor for his institutional master." [2]

Lemon appears as “Old Lemon” in an autobiographical novel, The Valley of Shenandoah (1825), by George Tucker (at W&M 1795-1797). When the protagonist recalls moving a bed and furniture into the College (the Wren Building), he is assisted by “Old Lemon, one of the slaves then belonging to the college, and whose oyster suppers are fresh in the recollection of numbers now living.” On a later return to Williamsburg, Tucker depicts “sending off old Lemon to the post-office” to collect a letter.

In 2009, The Lemon Project: A Journey for Reconciliation was established to explore William & Mary's own past involvement with slavery and the complexities of race relations from the end of the Civil War to date. [3] The Lemon Project is named for Lemon, who "stands in the place of the known and unknown African Americans who helped to build, maintain, and move the College forward." [4]

At its April 2016 meeting, the Board of Visitors unanimously approved the renaming of the Jamestown South Residence Hall to Lemon Hall. [5]


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The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.