"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

 - Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man"

West Ford, young

West Ford, young
  • West Ford, young

A drawing was commissioned by the Washington family on West Ford's 21st birthday and emancipation from slavery around 1805. West was born around 1785 or 1786 to Venus, his mother, on the Bushfield Plantation of John Augustine Washington. As a small boy, West was singled out of the pack of other slave children.  He was inculated for smallpox and taught to read and write when it was against the law for blacks to be educated in any form. As a young boy, George Washington took West on wagon rides along the Virginia countryside and to Christ Church with him where he was provided a priviate pew for the services. When Washington became the first president, he no longer associated himself with Ford, yet West retained his special position with the Washingtons. Upon moving to the Mount Vernon Plantation in 1802, Ford became a guard for Washington's tomb. His children would also hold this position. While the Washington family continued to treat West Ford like as a privileged, beloved servant and almost like a family member, they never claimed him as blood kin. The drawing of Ford was held in the Washington family for over two centuries before it was doanted to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1983 and remains in their possession.