On the Fringe of Fame, by Elizabeth Fleming Rhodes, Chapter 1

On the Fringe of Fame


Childhood and Family Pride

HERE I ENCOUNTERED the severest weather known for many years, the rapid mountain streams were frozen to their bottoms, and we were almost buried by successive snow storms. The mountains became impassable, and with my worn out animals and dispirited party I was forced to seek refuge in a large bottom of cotton wood and undergrowth. In this situation I remained until the 22nd of February exposed to many hardships and great suffering from the want of provisions being reduced to the slender allowance of one pint of flour per day to a man, and no meat except occasionally a dog or wornout horse.1

Captain Richard Bland Lee was writing about the winter of 1833–34, which he had spent in the mountains and canyons on the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains, an area then as remote from the United States the moon is today.

When Lee returned to Washington, D.C., weary but proud of his explorations into this crucial area which was coveted by the Mexican, British, and American governments, he was met with a rebuff. His superiors were skeptical and even questioned his veracity.

“Never has the honor of a Lee been doubted!” Richard Bland Lee exclaimed and tore up his report.

Lee’s pride stemmed from his childhood, when he was taught that he followed a family tradition of leadership which went back five generations to Richard Lee the emigrant.

As the son of a younger son, the first Richard Lee knew that he would receive no inheritance; he would need to work hard and use his wits. As a teenager (he was probably born in 1613), Richard journeyed to London where he worked for his cousin, John Lee, who was a merchant in hides and pelts. In London he acquired both legal and commercial experience before sailing for Virginia prior to May 22, 1638 to serve as Clerk for the Quarter Court at Jamestown and factor for his cousin.

The dangers of the fur trade and wilderness did not deter Richard Lee from taking his bride, Anna Constable, a ward of the Governor, Sir Francis Wiatt, into the wilds to live near the Indians of Gloucester Point.

Richard Bland Lee the Congressman (1761–1827).

Back in the tradition of public service, however, was Henry Lee II (1729–1787). Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee served as Justice of the Peace, as Burgess, and represented Prince William County in the state conventions in 1774, ’75, ’76 and in the State Senate in 1780. In 1753 Henry Lee married Lucy Grymes, the “Lowland Beauty” whose hand had once been sought by George Washington.

Our protagonist’s father, Richard Bland Lee, was born at Leesylvania in Prince William County in 1761, the third son in a family of five boys and three girls. He was graduated from William and Mary College in Williamsburg where he was elected the forty-fifth member of the recently formed Phi Beta Kappa Society, bringing a declamation titled “Whether Religion is Necessary in Government” to his initiation.3 Thus prepared for government, he was elected to the State House of Delegates at age twenty-three, and to the Virginia Assembly of 1788 where he opposed Patrick Henry’s effort to call a new convention to reconsider the United States Constitution. The next year, he was elected to the First United States Congress.

In spite of his youth, at the First Congress in New York Richard Bland Lee introduced a bill to establish the capital on the Potomac, a bill which seemed to have little chance of passing. Later an approval was won by means of a deal—Southern votes for the assumption of revolutionary debts by the states were promised for approval of the Potomac site—all neatly arranged at Jefferson’s dinner party for Hamilton, Madison, White (of Maryland) and Richard Bland Lee. Thus, by a small minority vote, the District of Columbia was created, and Richard Bland Lee’s name became associated with the new capital. Later when the issue of Jay’s treaty caused a rift in Congress, Lee supported General Washington and was dropped from the Republican party, becoming a Federalist.

While serving in the “City of Brotherly Love” where the Third Congress was held, the thirty-three-year-old Congressman fell in love with twenty-seven-year-old Elizabeth Collins. The daughter of Stephen and Mary Parrish Collins was as proud of her Quaker-New England background as the Lees were of their Cavalier past. The Collins family had produced a gunsmith, yeomen, and merchants in Lynn, Duxbury, and Newbury. Stephen Collins had abandoned his native Massachusetts, moving to New Jersey and then to Philadelphia. There, he soon became a merchant and importer of wealth and prestige, as we see in the following quotation from John Adams’s diary, written on September 1, 1774.

We dined at Friend Collins’, Stephen Collins, with Governor Hopkins, Govern Ward, Mr. Gallaway, Mr. Rhoades, etc. . . . This gentleman is of a fine figure and eminence, as well as fortune, in this place. He is of the profession of the Friends, but not stiff nor rigid. He is a native of Lynn, in New England, a brother of Ezra Collins in Boston. I have been treated by him in this city, both in the former Congress and in the present, with unbounded civility and friendship. His house is open to every New England man. I never knew a more agreeable instance of hospitality. 4

Stephen Collins’s hospitality often had an ulterior motive. When the American shoe market was threatened with ruin shortly after the Revolution, because of the competition from cheap shoes that were being imported from England and France, Stephen Collins waged a campaign to urge Congress to impose a duty on imported shoes, a campaign which he successfully culminated at a dinner party at his home.5

Elizabeth Collins and Richard Bland Lee were married on June 30, 1794, by Bishop White, who was well known in Episcopal circles for his revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: after the Declaration of Independence, he had deleted all references to the Crown from the liturgy. To be married by an Episcopal priest was a forbidden rite for a Quaker, and three months after their wedding, Elizabeth was “read out of meeting” by a Philadelphia Meeting for “Marrying contrary to discipline.” A few months later, her close friend, Dolley Payne Todd,, suffered the same humiliation upon marrying James Madison.

Fortunately, Stephen Collins’s love for his daughter was not affected by her having been censored by the Friends. He visited the young couple who were honeymooning in a log house on Richard Bland Lee’s plantation, “Sully,” and when he died a few months later, his will divided the bulk of his fortune equally between Elizabeth and her brother, Zaccheus Collins. Elizabeth’s share was four houses in the city of Philadelphia, four tracts of land in Mifflin County, tracts in Northumberland County, “lots of ground” on the South side of Market Street “between fifth and sixth Streets from Schuylkill and between Market and Chestnut Streets,” one half of her father’s plate and plated ware, and three certificates of Funded debt “Standing in my name on the books of the Treasury of the United States.” Besides these tangible bequests, Stephen willed his love and fatherly wisdom.

Finally my dear children let me conjure by the tenderest ties of Paternal affection that you be Industrious, frugal & temperate & endeavor to be rich, rather by bringing your wants to your circumstances, then trying in vain to get sufficient to satisfy the accumulation of wants for this consists the Philosopher stone, if there be any such thing in Nature. And that you study to love and to serve each other, “And remember that if thy Brother or thy Kinsman will be thy friend thou should prefer him to a stranger, or thou shews little nature or duty to thy parents.” I have had much experience in the many pleasing seens as well as in the Cross occurrances & vicisitudes of life and finally conclude myself perfectly convinced of the emptiness of all sorts of Ambitious pursuits and the unsatisfactory nature of all human attainments and therefore submit myself freely to a dissolution and change of this Body and without remorse or uneasiness resigne this vital spark of heavenly fire to its original Fountain.6

Defeated for re-election to Congress in 1796, Richard Bland Lee continued to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates as delegate from Loudoun County 1784–1788, 1796, and from Fairfax County 1799–1800 (the countys’ adjustment throwing his home. Sully, into the latter county).

Richard Bland Lee; Jr., was born on July 20, 1797, in his parents’ newly finished house at Sully Plantation. Sully, a museum house today, was described by a visitor in 1797 as a comfortable house, “furnished from Philadelphia with every article of silver, mahogany, Wilton carpetting and glassware that can be conceived or that you will find in the very best furnished houses of Phila. Parlour and Chambers equipped with every luxury as well as convenience.”7 Greatly cherished by the family was a set of blue and white Canton china, which had come all the way from China on one of grandfather Collins’ ships.8

Richard’s grandfather, Stephen ColIins, liked Sully so much that he wrote a letter describing it to his wife.

Richard’s grandfather, Stephen Collins, liked Sully so much that he wrote a letter describing it to his wife.

It is a very clever house, has an elegant hall 12 feet wide: and a handsome staircase and two pretty rooms on the first floor. One is 19 by 20 feet and the other 20 by 17 feet. There is two large and one small chamber in the second story, namely square with a large window in the gable and another good lodging room besides. Indeed it is and will be a very neate handssome house.

The kitchen is about 60 feet from the house and is a finer one than is in a twenty miles square, and it is, in fact, Kitchen and Laundry with very handsome some chimney with cranes in them. Indeed it is, property speaking, compleated Double Kitchen or Kitchen and Washouse. . . .9

The kitchen was always bustling with activity, a magnet for the children. Marvelous odors wafted from the kettles hanging in the fireplace and from the ovens; good-natured servants could be wheedled into giving Richard samples of crisp brown Scratch-Backs, Ash Cake or hot Sally Lunn. The kitchen sink was carved from a single block of stone and seemed immense to the children.


Sully Plantation was a boy’s paradise: pony rides through fields and apple orchards, dam building in the run, and hunting in the nearby woods. Indian heating stones, flint chips and arrowheads lay near the pear tree-shaded springs. On cold days warmth and company could be enjoyed with George, the blacksmith, in the noisy clang and red glow of the forge.

Four younger siblings soon followed him: Ann Matilda, Mary Collins, Cornelia, and Zaccheus Collins. The household also included two cousins, Portia and Cornelia Lee, about twenty years older than Richard, who preferred living at Sully to living with their bachelor brother William at Greenspring Plantation near Jamestown. They were orphans, born in Europe where their father had served as American plenipotentiary. Portia married when Richard was only two, but Cornelia divided her time between her sister’s home in Alexandria and Sully until she was married in 180610 to John Hopkins, Esq.

When Richard was five years old, his mother described her typical day at Sully in a letter she wrote to Cornelia.

The little room called Old Mistress’ room is in readiness every morning when I keep school for an hour, when, after dismissing the Black part of the pupils, I attempt to instruct the White lady, that is to say, whiter by nature—in the art of drawing, was she a little younger I should have some hopes of her, as it is, I fear my labours are in vain. An hour before dinner I play with the children—after which I read rill night, when my old man with much more accomodating politeness than usual, takes up Anachrsis and reads and comments, until our humble meal, after which we go quietly to rest, to rise the next day and pursue the same thing—”This is all very well you will say” and should enjoy it, could I mix a little of the variety of this plan with it, it would be better I agree with you, but yet I assure you the evening generally doses in upon me before I am ready for it and I can truly say I know not one heavy hour. 1 have now in prospect a never failing source of amusement to me, which is the slow appearance of vegetation.

The letter ends with the request for another novel. Elizabeth needs novels as “a desert [sic] at intervals to the sounder food of Anacharsis—and as I never have a stomach for solids, in the absense of my dear Old Man—I shall read nothing of Consequence.”11

Life in the country, however, was not lonely. The Lees had many friends, and although Sully was 27 miles from the new capital (a strenuous jaunt for a horse-drawn carriage), interesting guests frequently came to visit. A young cousin, Thomas Lee Shippen, wrote to his father that the Sully hospitality was so overwhelming that he had been forced to delay his trip an extra day.

Mr. Lee’s family is composed of his lady and son 3 months old, Portia and Cornelia Lee who made choice of him as you may have heard on the death of their uncle Frank [Francis Lightfoot Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence] as their guardian and a young Turberville who is a branch of our family. They all received us with open arms, and tho their caresses were almost beyond description, no one surpassed Mrs. Lee herself, our towns woman and once your patient, always your most passionate admirer. . . . there is no describing or resisting the hospitable importunities of these Lees and indeed these Virginians. If you call at a house determined to stay but one day you are very fortunate if you can get off in 3 days and your servants are always leagued against you. Either your horse wants a shoe, or your carriage a pin or a screw or your clothes which were washed yesterday are not quite dry, or some such excuse is always ready and stay you must.

Now here is a glorious day after the storm and Madame Juba insists upon employing it at the wash tub as she could not possibly wash yesterday in the rain so the inhabitants of Leeton [seat of Mr. Tuberville, husband of Herriet Lee] and a half doz. other Lee families are to come here today to dinner and try I suppose to keep us a week or two in the neighbourhood. God willing we go tomorrow. . . .12

The Lee family was definitely clannish, with a great deal of writing, visiting, and even intermarrying among branches. Two of Richard’s uncles, Charles Lee and Edmund Jennings Lee, had married two of Richard Henry Lee’s daughters. Light Horse Harry Lee’s first wife, Matilda, was a Lee second-cousin.

Uncle Charles lee (1758–1815), who had been appointed Attorney General by Washington, served under John Adams and was one of the lawyers for the defense of Aaron Burr in his trial for treason. He was a counsel in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison, which set the precedent in U.S. Supreme Court annals for being the first use by the Supreme Court of its veto power over Congress and its right of Judicial review.

Uncle Edmund Jennings Lee (1771–1843) was the mayor of Alexandria; he was such an austere and ardent churchman that he was known to have reprimanded the clergy at Episcopal conventions. He was a strict observer of the Sabbath, and when the horses and carts from his farm were delayed on Saturday, he would keep them where they were until Monday, at extra expense, rather than permit them to be on the road on Saturday. Uncle Edmund even refused to attend a reunion dinner of old classmates at the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University) because he never permitted himself to dine out on the Sabbath!

Uncle Theodoric Lee (1766–1849), on the other hand, espoused no causes. He was a quiet and peaceful man who brought talk of crops to the family conclaves. His family of four children seemed small among the prolific families of nine, eight, and six children. One of these four cousins was especially close to young Richard: John Lee was the same age and would later become his brother-in-law.

Aunt Anne and Uncle William Byrd Page brought nine offspring to the family gatherings, one of whom would marry Roger Jones, a distant cousin, who would be Richard’s future Adjutant General. (Many of Richard’s official Army reports would contain postscripts for his cousin, Mary Anne.) Another aunt and uncle, Mary Lee and Philip Richard Fendall, lived in Alexandria with an unusually small family of two children. Aunt Lucy Lee remained unmarried, with forty-seven nieces and nephews to console her loneliness.

Especially loved were the eldest uncle, General Light Horse Harry Lee and his wife, Anne, who were Richard’s godparents.13 Richard hero-worshipped his fascinating uncle. Many evenings the children sat enthralled as Light Horse Harry, quick and articulate, told them again how he had surprised the British post at Paulus Hook in 1779, and had captured 160 of the enemy, almost without a loss. At other times, he told them anecdotes of his long, close friendship with General Washington, whose spirit seemed to pervade Sully; everyone had anecdotes to tell about this great friend of the family. Richard’s father had been a guest at Mount Vernon six times, and his uncles and cousins had made innumerable visits, some even doing their courting there. Richard’s mother cherished a locket containing a lock of George Washington’s hair, which was given to her by Martha Washington.14

James Madison was another presidential friend, to whom young Richard wrote in 1816, “I remain with that unchanged esteem which was first imbibed from my father in my early youth, and since confirmed thro all vicissitudes by experience.”15 Richard’s father had been introduced to James Madison by his brother, Henry Lee, when all three were members of the House of Delegates in 1784. (Henry Lee and James Madison had been fellow students at the College of New Jersey.) Madison had invited Richard Bland Lee, Sr. to go on a “projected peregrination thro the eastern states” in 1791, but Richard’s father deeply regretted having “to relinquish a journey so useful and a companion so delectable.”16 (On the “peregrination” Jefferson and Madison organized the Republican Party in New York and other northeastern states.)17

The Madison-Lee friendship ripened apace when the two Virginia Congressmen married Philadelphia classmates within a few months of each other. Elizabeth Collins had gone to school in Philadelphia with Mrs. Madison when she was Dolley Payne and had been a bridesmaid at Dolleyfs marriage to her first husband, John Todd. The two women would remain close friends for more than seventy years, Elizabeth present at Dolley’s deathbed in 1849.18 When Madison retired from the presidency in 1817, he and Dolley gave their portraits to the Lees.19

The Lees were conservative: young Richard was told that from the beginning the Federalist Party had supported a strong central government and laws to promote commerce, industry, agriculture, science, and education. The Federalist Party represented the conservative class, the wealthy, and the educated. Jefferson and the Republican Party, on the other hand, favored the small farmers, the common people, and seemed to be against the rich and the aristocrats, although they were themselves from that class. Jefferson contended that the states’ rightful powers should be protected and that the Federal Government had too much power.

Jefferson urged Congress to appropriate funds for the construction of
roads into the Weest, and eventually the Cumberland Road, the national
road, began to crawl toward Missouri. Richard’s father also realized the importance of transportation and served as a director of the Little River Turnpike Company which started construction in 1802, west from Alexndria, passing within a mile of Sully.

In 1803 President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon for $#36;15,000,000. The next year, Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their fabulous journey to the Northwest, while Zebulon Pike explored the headwaters of the Missouri and traveled west from St. Louis to Pike’s Peak in the Rockies and south to the Rio Grande.


Meanwhile, a cousin, Robert Edward Lee, who was just three months older than the baby who died in April, was growing lustily at Stratford. During her pregnancy, Anne Lee had written to Richard’s mother that she dreaded having another baby.21 The great H-shaped brick mansion, Stratford, was no longer a happy place. The beautiful formal Great Hall, library, card room, and dining room no longer resounded to music and the chatter of guests. The doors opening from the four outside staircases were bolted and barricaded against creditors. Uncle Harry was now in debt; not only was he ruined, the Richard Bland Lees also suffered. Richard Bland Lee had co-signed his brother’s notes for more than $40,000.22 Short of cash, the Richard Bland Lees soon lost Sully and were forced to move away. Their one consolation was that Sully was not in the possession of strangers; it was purchased by a cousin, Francis Lightfoot Lee II, in 1811.

Richard’s family lived in Alexandria for a year.23 The quiet of Sully was replaced by urban distractions, as Alexandria enjoyed a metropolitan air with its theatre, library, town hall, market place, jail, fire company, and dancing assemblies. Alas for boys, there was an ordinance forbidding all bandy ball and kite flying in the city streets.

The following year, 1812, they moved to Strawberry Vale in Fairfax County, where they lived until 1815. Richard’s father had become increasingly worried about providing for his family. In this age of great enterprise, Lee felt destitute. Although he had traveled to Kentucky and looked at land near Lexington, the idea of moving west and farming the new lands did not appeal to him; perhaps his brother Harry’s speculations in real estate deterred him. Office work was as abhorrent as manual labor. At a time when men in the deep south were building large fortunes based on cotton and slave labor, Lee felt helpless, dependent on the state or even the military for a livelihood. Desperate and somewhat embittered, he was forced to write a letter to an old friend: James Madison, Esq., President of the United States. His disillusioned voice pervades the letter which was marked “private.”

Having suffered some heavy injuries of fortune from the failures of others—and having imprudently spent the most active period of my life in unprofitable public employment—I feel at present in some degree the necessity of seeking some appointment from my country, which while I faithfully perform my duty will aid me in the comfortable support of my family. I should prefer a civil employment either here or abroad. The while my country is in danger I shall not object to a military one.24

The letter produced the hoped-for result, and Richard Bland Lee, Sr.[,] was appointed one of the three Commissioners to superintend the restoration of the Capitol, White House, and other public buildings burned by the British in August 1814, and Commissioner to Adjudicate Claims arising out of the loss or destruction of personal property during the War of 1812.25 (Thirty-six years later his son Richard was to serve on a similar commission following the Mexican War in California.) Then in 1819, President Monroe appointed him judge of the Orphans Court in the District of Columbia, which position he held until his death in 1827.

Meanwhile, Uncle Light Horse Harry’s affairs had grown worse. Pursued by his creditors, he had borrowed from all his friends and could borrow no more. The creditors could no longer be eluded, and in 1809 Light Horse Harry was thrown into debtors’ prison where he languished while his friends and relatives tried to settle his affairs. it seemed incredible that this wonderful uncle, hero of the American Revolution, former congressman and governor of Virginia could be in jail. Finally the creditors were satisfied, and Light Horse Harry returned briefly to Stratford before moving his family to Alexandria in 1810.

The family’s sigh of relief was premature. Great tragedy overwhelmed the family in July 1812 when fifty-six-year-old Light Horse Harry dashed off with General James McCubbin Lingan to help his friend, Alexander C. Hanson, defend the press of the antiwar Federal Republican against a mob in Baltimore. He and others protecting the press were jailed “to keep them safe.” On the following night, the rioters were admitted to the prison, and a frightful scene of brutality and carnage took place. The mob killed General Lingan and severely beat up the others. The frenzied brutes were still not satisfied, and so they piled up the bodies of eight of the men, whom they thought were dead, and mutilated them, pouring hot candle grease into their eyes and slashing and stabbing them with penknives. One fiend attempted to cut off Light Horse Harry’s nose. Later, barely alive, crippled and disfigured, the once proud general was carried by friends to York, Pennsylvania, where he was hospitalized until strong enough to return home as an invalid.

As his health did not improve, Light Horse Harry, now bankrupt and broken in body, sailed for the West Indies in the vain hope that the mild climate would prove a panacea. His wife, Anne, and the five children whom he left behind in Alexandria, never saw him again, as he died on his way home in 1818. To Richard, it seemed as though a light had gone out, a shining torch had been eclipsed.



1. R. B. Lee’s letter to Adjutant General R. Jones, dated November 4, 1834, National Archives.

2. The Lees of Virginia, published by the Society of the Lees of Virginia, Arlington, Va., 1967. Montague, Ludwell Lee, Richard Lee the Emigrant. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, 1954, Va. Vol. 62, p. 1.

3. Richard Bland Lee was elected Juen 17, 1780. “Original Records of the Phi Beta Kappa Society,” William and Mary College Quarterly Magazine, Richmond, Vol. IV, April 1896.

4. Adams, John. The Works of John Adams, Boston, 1850, Vol. II, p. 361. According to The Vital Records of Lynn, Mass., Vol. 211902, Samuel Collins, a gunsmith, married Rebecca Hussey, widow of Jos. Howland in Duxbury 1696. Their son Zacheas married Elizabeth Sawyer in Newbury in 1722. Their son, Stephen, was the only one to leave the Salem Meeting, moving to New Jersey and then to Philadelphia in 1759, where he married Mary Parrish in 1761.

5. Lewis, Alonzo and Newhall, James R. History of Lynn, Lynn, 1890, pp. 520–521.

6. Will of Stephen Collins. Will no. 98, 1794. Register of Wills, Philadelphia, Pa. Hinshaw, William Wade, Encyclopedia American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. 11, shows that Stephen Collins was buried on October 13, 1794, and was 61 at the time of his death. Elizabeth was read out of meeting on September 26, 1794. Elizabeth’s mother, Mary, was the daughter of John Parrish.

7. Sully, situated on the southeast corner of the Dulles International Airport at Chantilly, has been restored by the Fairfax County Park Authority. For history of the plantation see “Sully, Biography of a House” by Robert Gamble, published by the Sully Foundation, and Eleanor Lee Templeman’s Arlington Heritage, 1959, p. 42. The quotation about the furnishings of Sully is from a letter from Thomas Lee Shippen to his father, October 24, 1797, Library of Congress.

8. This china can be seen at Sully. It was donated by Mrs. William Fitzhugh rust, a descendant of Richard Bland Lee’s.

9. Letter written by Stephen Collins is owned by the Library of Congress.

10. Cornelia’s father, William Lee, was the brother of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee. The sisters lived with the latter until the death of Francis and his wife. See Lee, Cazenove Gardner, Lee Chronicle, New York, 1957, for an account of William Lee’s life. See Templeman, Eleanor Lee and Montague, Ludwell Lee, “Sully,” Virginia Cavalcade, Richmond, Autumn 1970, p. 32.

11. Lee, Elizabeth Collins, Letter to Cornelia Lee, March 17, 1802. Owned by Mrs. John Yost, Easton, Md. (Yost collection).

12. Shippen Letter, op. cit.

13. Godparents are listed in the old family Bible owned by the late Richard Bland Lee Fleming of Sheffield, Al. Richard Bland Lee, Jr., was born July 20, 1797, and was christened September 22, 1797.

14. This lock of hair is at Sully Plantation, on loan from Eleanor Lee Templeman of Arlington, Va.

15. Lee, R. B. Letter to James Madison, April 27, 1816, Alderman Library, University of Virginia.

16. Lee, Richard Bland, Letter to James Madison, April 17,1791, Alderman Library, University of Virginia.

17. Templeman, Eleanor Lee and Montague, Ludwell Lee, “Sully,” Virginia Cavalcade, Richmond, autumn 1970.

18. A letter written by Elizabeth Collins Lee to her son Richard, August 8, 1846, in the Richard Bland Lee Fleming collection, said, “I was detained 10 days by the illness of Mrs. Madison’s niece nay only child I may say—unwilling to leave my old friend under such affliction as threatened her.” Another letter in the same collection written to Julia Lee, December 7, 1849, says that she will write in a later letter about “the death of my Dear friend Mrs. Madison and the present prospects of her niece Anna Payne who stays much with me.”

19. These portraits are at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Va.

20. Birth and death of infant son in Philadelphia, April 1807, noted in Richard Bland Lee Bible.

Department of Records of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Mary Collins died November 3, 1808, at the age of 70.

21. Letter quoted in Boyd, Thomas, Light Horse Harry Lee, New York, 1931.

22. The inventory of Richard Bland Lee’s estate, given to the Sully Foundation by Eleanor Lee Templeman, contains a $40,000 note of Light Horse Harry’s.

23. The Lees lived in a rented house at 404. Duke Street.

24. Lee, R. B. Letter to James Madison, January 16, 1812. Alderman Library. University of Virginia.

Alexandria, Jan. 16, 1812

Dear Sir,

Having suffered some heavy injuries of fortune from the failure of others—and having imprudently spent the most active period of my life in unprofitable public employment—I feel at present in some degree of necessity of seeking some appointment from my country, which while I faithfully perform my duty will aid me in the comfortable support of my family. 1 should prefer a civil employment either at home or abroad. The while my country is in danger I shall nor object to a military one. And to my pretensions to the post I can boast of no personal service except some tours of duty in the Militia while yet a youth. At the age of 24 I was honored by the state with the appointment of Mjr. in the Londoun Militia. Soon after having been elected a member of Congress—and the Legislature have reorganized the Militia system,—I did not incline to seek an appointment again,—and have since continued wholly in the civil matters of life. As the government from the long peace which we have enjoyed will necessarily be obliged to make appointments from those inexperienced in military operations;—if you can find no other person more properly qualified—of which no doubt you will find many—I will serve as a Colonel of a Regiment—and without vanity I think I can say, that I feel confident of being able to raise it in the district in which I have long resided with as much success as any other individual. In all these matters I am sure you will be guided by a sole view to the public interest—and if I be passed by I shall not feel any chagrin or disappointment. The offer you will regard at least as an evidence of my attachment to my country and zeal to render it all the service in my power. If in any other way you shall think I can be useful and shall be honored with your countenance, I can only promise fidelity and strict attention to my duty—and will endeavor to do ample Justice to your confidence.

You will please to excuse me for addressing this letter immediately to yourself—and not thro’ the usual channel. I do not wish to appear in the throng of public applicants. And for the long acquaintance I have had with you and the sincere esteem which I have ever entertained for your character—I trust you will impute the mode I have adopted to the proper cause.

I do not expect an answer—but only to ask you to bear in mind the subject. Wishing you personally every happiness—and that under your auspices the nation may successfully maintain its rights, liberty and prosperity I remain most truly yr. obt. sert.


N.B. From recently I have been obliged to reside in this place. I never intended to retire from Virginia and having lately purchased a residence for my family I shall return to the country in the spring. So that you must not consider me a citizen of the District of Columbia.

25. Lee, R. B. Letter to James Madison, April 27, 1816. University of Virginia.

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