Facing Slavery: Reframing the Lloyd Family Portraits
Painted portraits were great luxuries during the colonial period. Unlike a silver teapot or a chair made from exotic mahogany wood, portraits held little commercial value to those outside the family. Instead, they embodied a shared lineage and the wealth that passed from one generation to the next. For prominent families like the Lloyds, this wealth was almost always built and supported by chattel slavery, a dehumanizing system that worked to deny enslaved people the generational wealth and identity that portraits were meant to represent. Despite this, enslaved individuals found other ways to maintain their family connections and cultural traditions, often through food, music, craft, religion, or fleeing their enslavers to reunite with loved ones. Unsurprisingly, very few colonial portraits depict non-white sitters, and no likenesses of any of the people enslaved by the Lloyds are known to exist—not even of Jupiter Hammon (1711–before 1806), one of the nation's first published African American writers. Hammon's surviving words remind us that the Lloyd family portraits represent only one side of a story about kinship and bondage across the eighteenth century.