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In 1770, when the Scottish portraitist Cosmo Alexander was in Williamsburg, Virginia, he paint- ed the wealthy enslaver Samuel Griffin. Born into privilege, Griffin studied classics and law, was admitted to the Virginia bar, and worked as a lawyer. He is best known, however, for his role as a colonel during the Revolutionary War. Serving as aide-de-camp to General Charles Lee, Griffin helped change the course of the war in 1776 when he led several hundred militia and Virginia regulars into Mount Holly, New Jersey, to distract enemy troops. His action allowed General George Washington to cross the Delaware River, which led to the Continental Army’s first major victory at the Battle of Trenton.

As a Federalist, Griffin represented Williamsburg in the Virginia Assembly (1786-88) before Virginians elected him to the First Federal Congress in 1789. He was reelected to Congress twice more but declined to run again in 1796.

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