Lexington, Va., 10 Jany 1867
Mr. John A. Simkins,1
Bay View, E. Shore Virginia
My Dear Sir: I request that you will present my sincere thanks to Mr Hamilton L. Neale for his kind letter enclosed in yours of 27 Nov. last, & to Mr Miers W. Fisher for his of the 7 Dec. As I desire to do everything in my power to carry out the provisions of Mr Custis’ will, I wish to take all proper measures to accomplish them. I therefore send you a copy of his will, which though not legally attested, I believe to be correct, that those gentlemen may correctly understand the conditions on which Smith’s Island was devised. From inquiries made before the war, I could learn of no land in the counties of Stafford, Richmond & Westmoreland remaining in the name of Mr Custis. All had been sold during his life time. Smith’s Island, the White House, and Romancock constituted the whole available fund to pay the legacies to his grand daughters and the debts of his estate. I endeavored to sell Smith’s Island, but the offers received were so low that I did not think it advisable to accept them, & the profits from the White House and Romancock, up to the commencement of the war, did not more than pay the debts of the estate. In the advance of the Federal army from Yorktown, everything was swept from them of value, negroes, houses, stock, fences, teams, implements &c, but the bare land. At the expiration of the five years, Dec. 1862, the negroes were emancipated according to the terms of the will, and deeds of emancipation were given to those who could be reached. After the cessation of hostilities, the devisees by my advice took possession of the White House and Romancock, cum onere, to rescue them from further loss, and are endeavoring to farm there. If anything therefore can be realized from Smith’s Island, it will afford some relief to the estate; but if not, its repossession will be attended with no advantage. As the estate is entirely without funds, and I am in the same situation, I am unwilling to incur useless expenditure. I would therefore be obliged to you to consider the profit likely to be derived from obtaining possession of the island, and the costs of acquiring it.
Mr Fisher expressed the opinion that the Secty. of the Treasury, upon a proper representation, would set aside the sale upon the payment of the taxes and interest; but that opinion was based partly upon the ground that the freedmen were injured by the refusal of the Collector to receive the taxes offered by you. It would have been an injury, had they not been emancipated; but they will receive no benefit from it now. Upon consulting Mr Francis L. Smith of Alexandria as to the measures proper to be taken for the restoration of Arlington to Mrs Lee, which was left to her during her life by her father, and was sold, 11 Jany. 1864, under similar circumstances as Smith’s Island, he stated that by the amended act of Congress passed 3 March 1865, she would be required in making application, to make the oath required by the proviso of that act, and as I could not comply with that condition. I supposed it would be a bar to any application on my part for the restoration of the island. If however, upon consultation with Messrs Neale and Fisher, they think differently and will prepare the necessary papers for presentation to the tax commissioner, or to the Secty of the Treasury, as they may deem best, I will make the application.
Any papers required from the Alexandria Co. Court, I can procure through Mr. F. L. Smith, should they prefer.
I have deemed the foregoing account necessary for a full understanding of the subject by yourself and the gentlemen who so kindly have given their advice, and beg that you will all accept my thanks for your kind offices.
Very respectfully, yr. obdt. Svt.
R E Lee
Source: Photocopy of photocopy of letterbook pages, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51c 738, pp. 12-14, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 February 1
1. John A. Simkins (1812-1874).