Lexington VA; 5 Apl ‘66
My dear Sir
I have seen by the papers that Mr Ward of N.Y. had read in the Ho: of Reprs. a letter from the Secy of War, stating that at a sale of lands for unpaid taxes on the 11th Jany ’64, the Arlington Estate had been bidden for the U.S. at $26,860, & turned over to the Military authorities, that the certificate of sale was in the hands of the U.S. Tax Commr of Alexa but that it would be soon placed on file in the Treasy Dept; Should that be the case, cannot the property under the laws of VA: be reclaimed? I would be obliged to you if in your power, to have the tax sale examined, & to let me know the facts in the case; whether the sale was regular & legal, & what can be done? I have refrained from taking any steps as to the recovery of the property, as the Executor of Mr Custis, until I should see whether I would be restored to civil rights, & have thought that any premature application on my part, might prejudice the claim, & perhaps induce some action of Congress unfavorable to its restoration to its rightful owners. As you are acquainted with Mr Custis’ will, I need not inform you, that he left it to his daughter, Mrs Lee, during her life, & afterwards to his GrdSon. When Mrs Lee left the place, which she did on being informed that it was to be seized by the U.S. forces, she left her manager, servants, teams, cattle &c on the place. The occupation of the place, the use of the great body of wood, the sale of furniture, &c &c, has surely amounted to more than the taxes.
I would have written to you on the Subject before, but I heard that you were not admitted to practice in the U.S. Courts, & others of my acquaintance were in the same condition & I did not know that they were free to act. I think it better even now to persist quietly in the matter, & to exercise as much patience as possible, so as not to jeopardize the final recovery of the property for the heirs. What is your opinion?
I wrote a month Since to Mr Reverdy Johnston1 on the Subject but have recd from him no answer.
With my Kindest regards to Mrs Smith & your family
I am most truly,
R E Lee
Francis S. Smith
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 4, M2009.342
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 May 24
1. Reverdy Johnston, sometimes spelled “Johnson,” was a lawyer and U.S. Senator from Maryland during and after the Civil War. Though personally opposed to slavery, he defended Sandford in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case in 1857. He was a key figure in keeping Maryland a part of the Union.