Featured Exhibit

Facing Slavery: Reframing the Lloyd Family Portraits

Portraits were great luxuries during the colonial period, but unlike a silver teapot or a mahogany chair, they held little commercial value to non-family members. Instead, portraits embodied lineage and the passage of wealth from one generation to the next. For prominent early American families like the Lloyds, this wealth was almost always built and supported by enslavement. Few portraits from the colonial period depict non-white sitters as chattel slavery denied African-descended people the very things the paintings were created to represent: family identity and the achievement of intergenerational wealth. Thus, it is not surprising that there are no likenesses of any of the people the Lloyd family enslaved, not even Jupiter Hammon (1711–before 1806), one of our nation’s first published African American writers. While Hammon’s surviving words embody his thoughts and identity, the Lloyd family portraits give face to at least one side of a story about kinship and bondage across the eighteenth century.

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