On the 12th of February, 1749 Richard Mynatt, cook, of London, England signed a simple one page agreement. With his signature he agreed to four years of indentured servitude to Thomas Lee, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner. In exchange, Richard was to be paid 8 pounds Sterling per year, room and board, and his passage to America was included. With that my 20 year old Great Great Grandfather left England behind and journeyed to America.
Thomas Lee, though prosperous and wealthy, isn’t as widely known today as his two sons, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lighthorse Lee, both signers of the Declaration of Independence. After disastrous theft and fire destroyed his earlier mansion, Thomas Lee built Stratford Hall as a working plantation, which is equally famous as the birthplace of Robert E. Lee in 1807.
Within months of Richard’s arrival at Stratford Hall, Thomas Lee died, leaving the plantation in the hands of his son, Phillip Ludwell Lee. Richard Mynatt’s indenture was also inherited by Phillip Lee and he remained for the next four years as a beloved cook at Stratford Hall.
Richard’s services were so valued by the family that when his indenture was completed in 1754, Phillip Lee refused his release. Richard Mynatt, lowly indentured servant, took one of the most powerful families in Virginia to court and sued for his release. Mynatt won, preserving his place in history as the first indentured servant in America to successfully sue for freedom.
Given the proximity of their ages, there is no doubt in my mind that Richard Mynatt followed closely the exploits of Thomas Lee’s
sons through the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Freedom was no doubt precious to Richard, having won his own battle against involuntary servitude. When War with England broke out, Richard Mynatt enlisted, serving as a courier for General Washington. He is listed as having two tours of duty in the Revolutionary War. Richard’s eldest son William also served in the Revolution.
In 1787 Richard sold his Virginia land and moved the family to Grainger County in Tennessee along the western edge of North Carolina or the “Lost State of Franklin” depending on your political point of view at the time. There is no doubt however of his support for Tennessee statehood. Richard served two terms in 1795 as a doorkeeper for the Southwest Territorial House of Representatives for which he was paid the princely sum of $1.75 per day with a mileage allowance of 3 cents per mile for the 7 hour horseback ride from Grainger County to Knoxville.
Richard Mynatt died in 1823 and is buried in a small family cemetery at the corners of Union, Grainger and Knox Counties. Although he commanded no militia nor sought high political office, GG Grandfather Richard Mynatt served both country and state ably, as he occupied his front row seat to both the birth of our nation and our State. I wonder if he ever paused to think the fateful act of signing over his freedom had setting in motion his life’s journey.