• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



[1831 September 4]1




As I am quite alone my dearest mother & have finished my morning’s reading which you know consists generally of Doddridge & my Bible, have got Cassy2 down to her Bible lesson. I think I may indulge in a little serious converse with you. I know you feel most anxious to know how my soul prospers what must I say to you but that I still feel the consolations the soothing influences of Religion, still feel an anxious desire to do something to shew forth my gratitude to that all merciful saviour who has done all for me but it is hard to find what I can do. The only actively pious family here have not visited me on account of sickness or some other cause, & the rest of the ladies seem not to be expecting themselves to improve the condition of the people here. However I may be representing them uncharitably, for I am so little acquainted here & their benevolence may be of that unobtrusive kind which is known only by the objects towards whom it is exerted, so I beg you will keep this part of my letter to yourself. There is a Sunday School of which the principal is a Mr Baker but I have not seen it nor do I know how it is conducted. Mrs whiting says the soldiers seem to think it is quite a condescension to send their children. There are coloured meetings occasionally held by a black man. There are no seats provided in the room where Mr Cheves preaches for the blacks, consequently they never go which seems to me a great omission, as it might keep them at best part of the day out of mischief if this was the only light in which they would view it here. I am much obliged to you for the books though I must confess I have not read the others yet. Mrs Hale & I commenced the life of Luther, but like you she is so much interrupted between children & servants that we have not progressed far. I have been enabled to go on regularly with my prayer & bible but ah my dearest Mother how often do I find myself listlessly perusing what ought to be my highest pleasure. Yet I must thank Him from whom alone spiritual gifts are derived that it is not always thus with me. Yet never do I feel half the love or devotion which the subject ought to inspire, oh for some of Mrs Rowe’s ardent feeling pray for your child that she may be quickened & animated in her Christian course. Cassy is wanting to say her lesson so farewell for the moment.

I sat up with my Minge 2 nights.3 She is a great deal better now but about a week since they thought her dying I have not seen her for several days but fear her illness has not produced much effect on her. She is very pretty & very young & engaged to a Mr Bolling. There is a Mrs Halliburton at the tavern who says she is a relation of mine but I have not seen her yet ask father if he knows anything about her & tell him he must not expect people to be the same in these degenerate days as they were in Revolutionary times. I have not been able to catch a glimpse of that white puss yet though the children often fancy she flits by them. I am very sorry to hear of poor Ann’s situation. Remember me to her & tell her I hope & pray it may be blessed to her for her souls good, for has He not said “call upon me in the time of trouble.” Do not trouble yourself about newtons sermons. Dwights will answer perfectly well. I do not know how it is, but we do not seem to find a great deal of time for reading though I hope as we get settled down we shall accomplish more. The old vehicle I trust will take you up safely. You must remember me most affectionately to all my friends. How much I should like to go with you & stroll about. What what [sic] would I give for one stroll on the hills at Arlington this bright day. The only objection I have to this place it is so public that you can never go go [sic] out alone except sometimes to the bath but I must add that I have a husband always ready to go with me when his duties will permit I must give him a little just commendation sometimes. I am much obliged to you for the cover, it is a very nice one & answers perfectly well. I got Mrs Hackley to get me a yard of oil cloth in Norfolk to cover my wash stand so we are very well fixed up & have got about as much in our little room as it will hold. Tell Father as you will be at home when you get this letter I will not write to him until next boat. Mr Mercer is down here & will probably go up then & I shall have a private opportunity. It is so cold to day I am obliged to put on my flannel I should not think that we would have any more warm weather but it is impossible to tell in this climate. We anticipate making an excursion to Norfolk & the Dismal Swamp some time this fall also to Shirley but we have not fixed any time yet I feel anxious to go to Shirley & see dear cousin Mary though Robert has but little time for going about as his duties require his presence daily & keep him pretty well employed but this you know is no misfortune.

Tell my dear Aunt she must read this letter & expect mine next boat. I commenced one to her but found I had nothing to say except what I have told you & thought it most adviseable to wait. I will if possible write to Molly by the same opportunity you must tell me where to direct. I hope indeed your trip up the country will restore you. A most melancholy accident occurred yesterday on the return of our troops. They marched in with music & a little girl about 10 years of age the only child of her Mother & she a widow ran in company with some other children to the top of the bank to look at them & immediately fell down dead. She was perfectly well before, though she had been troubled with an affection of the heart which the Dr said must have terminated her life at some period. Her Mother I hear is inconsolate. She is a lady from Norfolk who had come here to spread a few days with her sister. This is a lesson for us all yet I fear it will make but a transient impression. Robert wishes to write so you must give my warmest love to all who are dear to me & believe me your own devoted Mary.

[Robert E. Lee portion below]

I believe my dear Mother everything has been told you by Mary except that the insurrection in South Hampton is at an end. The troops returned to this place last night from Jerusalem where they did not arrive untill the whole affair was concluded. Col. Worth4 says that from all he can learn he is satisfied that the plot was widely extended, and that the negroes in S.H. by anticipating the time of rising by one week (mistaking the 3rd Sunday for the last in the month) defeated the whole scheme & prevented much mischief. It is ascertained that they used their religious assemblies, which ought to have been devoted to better purposes, for forming & maturing their plans, & that their Preachers were the leading men. A man belonging to a Mrs Whithead & one of their Preachers was the chief under the title of Maj. Nelson & his first act was to kill his Mrs her 5 children & one grand child. However their are many instances of their defending their masters & one poor fellow from the inconsiderate & almost unwarrantable haste of the whites, was sadly rewarded. He belonged to a Mr Blunt & himself & two others assisted by his master & his son, nobly defended them against 20 of the Blacks & after beating them off ran in great haste for horses for them to escape on, when a party of whites suddenly coming upon & thinking the horses were for other purposes, shot him dead. The whole number of Blacks taken & killed do not amount to the number of whites kille murdered by them. The rest have taken refuge in the swamps. Yesterday 3 men were arrested in Norfolk on the evidence of the Brother of one of them living in S. H. who was himself arrested on suspicion. But I declared his innocence & said that his Brother who is a favourite Preacher in Norfolk, was the 2nd in command & assisted by a Butcher (Black) & another in Portsmouth was to stir up the Blacks, get possession of the Navy Yard & Old Point &c &c, and that since the discovery of the Plot had associated himself with the whites was armed by them & assisting to discover the Blacks. The 3 men were found as described, by persons sent from S.H. & arrested, whether innocent or not I do not know. I am glad that no further mischief was done & hope it is all at an end. The Boat is in sight & I must now stop. Tell Mrs Lewis that the lace cannot be found, there is a handkerchief here of miss A’s which Mary will take care of & send up. The capt. of the Baltimore Boat sent for her shawl. She left at Mrs Taylors Norfolk. Miss Catherine M. has returned from Green Spring bringing her Brother & sister. Mr J Mercer is here & goes up next Boat. we shall send letters by him. Good bye my dear mother with love to all & each I remain yours

as ever

R. E. Lee


I yesterday got a letter from Carter. He had been to Patrick & was going to Arlington     




1. The original letter is undated. In the letter, however, Robert E. Lee refers to troops from Fort Monroe returning the previous day after helping quell the Nat Turner uprising in South Hampton County, Virginia. Troops returned on September 3, which would put the date for this letter at September 4. The fact that September 4 was a Sunday—as noted in the original letter—further corroborates this date. One the use of federal troops during the Turner rebellion, see Robert W. Coakley, The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1789-1878 (Washington, D.C., 1989).

2. A maid that accompanied Mrs. Lee from Arlington.

3. Sarah Melville Minge Bolling, who was born 1813 September 10 in Charles City County, Virginia. She was the daughter of John Minge (ca. 1771-1829) and his second wife Sarah Minge. Her husband was Robert Buckner Bolling (1805-1881), a Petersburg native, who she married in 1831. The couple had nine children. She died in 1854. 

4. James House (1761-1834), a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was the overall commander at Fort Monroe. William Jenkins Worth (1794-1849), a veteran of the War of 1812, the Seminole War, and the Mexican War, commanded the artillery troops that were sent from Fort Monroe to put down the Turner uprising. He died of cholera in San Antonio.




Source: Transcribed from photocopy of original letter, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51 c 5, Section 1, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 October 31      

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