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Why Lemon?

The Project is named for Lemon, a man who was once enslaved by William & Mary. Though he was, legally, the property of the College, his relationship with the university was complex and often ambiguous. As an enslaved man in Virginia, he owned neither his work nor his own person. But he grew and sold produce to the College, and received a monetary Christmas bonus from the faculty at least once. Even from scant evidence, we can tell that Lemon was an actor on the stage of history, using ingenuity to help mitigate the circumstances of his enslavement.

We do not know why the faculty gave Lemon a Christmas bonus in 1808, but there is evidence that the white professors took Lemon’s well-being into some consideration. In 1815, an aging Lemon was given an allowance to purchase his own food, and William & Mary paid for his medicine in 1816. Finally, in 1817 the university paid for the coffin in which Lemon was buried. The faculty might have made these provisions for Lemon out of a sense of obligation; their motivations for doing so will almost certainly never be known. But from this small snapshot of early-nineteenth-century life at W&M, we know that enslaved workers maintained their humanity in the face of brutal dehumanization, and it was a humanity that the institutional master was forced to recognize on occasion.

The above information was taken from a report prepared by the late Dr. Robert Engs, who proposed the title for the Lemon Project.