What we know about Gilliat, does not include a portrait or a soundbite. We don’t know what he looked like, or what he sounded like inside the Governor’s house in Williamsburg. However, we do have enough information to contextualize his place in a world fascinated with the exotic elements provided by European expansionism. As a star of singular proportions in the vice-royal court in Virginia, Gilliat was not alone.
Sy Gilliat was the property of the British governor, an African prodigy, a fiddler, a living legend. The exotic and fashionable trend of promoting Black musicians was in vogue for decades in Europe. George Bridgetower, Beethoven’s beloved friend and music genius