Lee the Farmer
Joseph C. Robert

[Notes]

1 A copy of the G. W. P. Custis will is available in Karl Decker and Angus McSween, Historic Arlington (Washington, 1892), 80–81.

2 As to changing Custis Lee’s name the will read, “On the death of my daughter, Mary Ann Randolph Lee, all the property left to her during the term of her natural life I give and bequeath to my eldest grandson, George Washington Custis Lee, to him and his heirs forever, he, my said eldest grandson, taking my name and arms.” Lee felt that this requirement might not be considered binding. See R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, Lee Collection (MSS., Duke University Library, hereafter cited as Duke MSS.). Pertinent parts of this collection were transcribed and re-checked by Dr. G. A. Nueremberger of Duke University Library. Contradictory problems of the will are further discussed below. For a quotation from the eventual court interpretation of the will, see Robert E. Lee [Jr.], Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (2nd edition, New York, 1924), 236, hereafter cited as R. E. Lee, Jr., Lee.

3 Though Custis in his will employed the name “Romancock,” the King William County farm was usually written “Romancoke.”

4 For Arlington, see R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, May 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

5 Id. to id., San Antonio, Texas, November 24, 1860, ibid.

6 It should be noted that in Stafford County Land Tax Books, 1857–1861 (MSS., Virginia State Library, Richmond), a 135-acre farm, “White Oak,” is listed in the name of “Mary Ann Lee.”

7 County Land Tax Books (MSS., Virginia State Library). The “Description of Property,” included in the table for the sake of clarity, follows expressions used in the tax sheets with these exceptions—the key numbers and letters referring to the respective items: (1) the words (a) “Proper” and (b) “Division” have been added; (2) the tax list describes this as “On old Leesburg[?] Road”; (4) in the tax list these divisions (a) and (b) are given on two lines, thus

Armpoint On Pamky
          
          
          
      ”      (marsh).

All the returns for 1857 are in the name of Custis himself. After 1857 the Alexandria entries are in the name of Mary Ann R. Lee, Robert E. Lee’s wife; the Fairfax entries, “Lee Robt E & wife, Custis” with slight variations; New Kent, King William, Westmoreland, and Northampton entries, in the name of the Custis estate. In the Alexandria County Land Tax Books the descriptions for the years 1847–1850 indicate 1600 acres. From 1851 to 1856 the listing is 1500 acres. For 1857 the Custis entry totals 1600 acres, divided 1100 for “Arlington” and 500 for “Custis’ Mill & mill track & mill.” The 1858 entry gives only 1500 acres, divided 1100 for Arlington and 400 for Custis Mill. The 1859–1861 entries are for 1600 acres, 1100 being for Arlington and 500 for Custis Mill. The Alexandria County Land Tax Book, 1863, calls Custis Mill “Christie Mill.” Six acres of Smith’s Island in Northampton County were sold to the United States; therefore for 1859 and after, the acreage was put at 4038 and the valuation $2019. This sale was specifically noted on the 1859 Northampton tax list. Alexandria County, now Arlington County, was returned to Virginia by the United States in 1846. See M. P. Robinson, Virginia Counties (Virginia State Library Bulletin, IX, Nos. 1, 2, 3, Richmond, 1916).

8 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, Duke MSS. See, also, id. to id., Baltimore, January 17, 1858, ibid.

9 For the confusing direcctions in respect to the means for payment of the legacies, see Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography, 4 vols. (New York, 1934–1935), I, 380; R. E. Lee to Mrs. Anna M. Fitzhugh, Arlington, November 22, 1857, Duke MSS. On May 26, 1866, Lee wrote his son Robert and quoted from the decision of the Court of Appeals concerning the liability of White House and Romancoke for the legacies: “If the legacies are not paid off by the personal property, hires of slaves, rents, and sale of the real esate, charged with their payment, at the end of five years, the portion unpaid remains a charge upon the White House and Romancoke until paid. The devisees take their estate cum onere.” R. E. Lee, Jr., Lee, 236.

10 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

11 Inventory of the Estate of G. W. P. Custis, January 1, 1858, Will Book No. 7, pp. 369–71, Alexandria County Records (MSS., Alexandria, Va.). For a more complete transcription of the inventory I am indebted to Mr. T. Sutton Jett, Junior Historian, National Park Service. The inventory, which was not recorded until September 11, 1858, gives slaves, livestock, and farm equipment for the Pamunkey farms, but only slaves for Arlington. The ages of all slaves are given for White House, the ages of the adult males for Romancoke, but ages for none of the Arlington Negroes. The White House inventory classifies 65 as 12 years of age and over, while the tax returns for the same date indicate 70 in that classification. The White House Negroes varied in age from Daniel and Davy, who were 80 and 75 respectively, on down to Champ and James, the former 2 months, the latter 1 month. The 90 at White House were made up of 38 men (12 and over), 27 women (12 and over), and 25 children (under 12).

12 As the tax returns were made as of January 1 each year, the 1857 entries are in the name of Custis himself. The subsequent entries for Arlingon are in the name of “Lee Col’ Admr G W P Custis” with slight changes in the abbreviations. The 1858 and 1859 entries for White House and Romancoke are in the name of “Custus” or his estate, those for 1860 and 1861 in the name of William H. F. Lee, Robert E. Lee’s second son. Incidentally, the 1862 New Kent tax lists carry in William H. F. Lee’s name 117 slaves of all ages and both sexes valued at $35,000, and the 1862 King William tax lists, 47 slaves of all ages and both sexes, valued at $14,100. Seventy of the 117 in New Kent were classified as over 16 years of age as were 32 of the 47 in King William. Lee freed all of the Custis slaves under date of December 29, 1862, yet due to the slow travel of news William H. F. Lee was, as of January 1, 1863, charged on the King William tax book with 39 slaves of all ages and both sexes valued at $19,500. It should be noted here that any interchange of slaves among the three farms is not indicated by a comparison of names in the inventory and in the deed of manumission, cited below. However, there might have been some transference during the years such as is suggested by the tax lists, and the deed of manumission for clarity might have given each slave his original location.

13 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Anna M. Fitzhugh, Arlington, November 22, 1857, Duke MSS.

14 Id. to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, February 15, 1858, ibid.

15 Id. to id., Arlington, March 17, 1858, ibid.

16 On December 29, 1862, Lee, as executor of the Custis will, executed a deed of emancipation freeing by name of individual, or by name of parent, 197 slaves attached to the farms as follows: Arlington 59, White House 87, and Romancoke 51. The original deed with Lee’s autograph is now (1936) framed and hanging in the Confederate Museum in Richmond. According to its endorsement it was recorded in the City of Richmond Hustings Court Deed Book 79B, p. 42, at noon January 2, 1863. The deed was prepared from a list furnished by Mrs. Lee to which Lee added as many names as he could recall. He was concerned about the Negroes whom he had not remembered and desired to manumit even those who had fled with the enemy, to protect them if later they returned. Lee was genuinely disturbed by the thought of the dangers independence held for the young and irresponsible. In writing to Custis Lee concerning the possibility of getting the newly freed slaves good positions, Lee added with obvious feeling: “But what can be done with poor little Jim? It would be cruel to turn him out on the world. He could not take care of himsef.” J. William Jones, Life and Letters of Robert Edward Lee, Soldier and Man (Washington, 1906), 285–87. For a postwar letter written by Lee to one of the former Arlington slaves, see ibid., 404–405.

17 R. E. Lee to MRs. Lee, Fort Brown, Texas, December 27, 1856, quoted in Freeman, Lee, I, 371–73.

18 Except for the omission of the blank columns for attorney, physician, dentist, (toll) bridge, ferry, and newspaper taxes, the complete entry follows:

Lee, Col
White males over 16 years of age 1
Slaves over 16 years of age 4
Slaves over 12 years of age
Free Blacks
Horses Mules, &c
4 wheel plea. cariages & harness and value 175
Stages and value includeing harness
Caryalls and harness and value
2 wheel plea. carriages & harness and value
Gold watches 2
Patent lever or lepine silver watches 1
Other watches
Metallic clocks 1
Other clocks
Pianos and value 200
Plate over the value of $50 100
Amt. of Int or profits on money loaned
Amt. of monied yearly income over $400 600
          Total Amt of Tax    20 15½

19 Will Book, No. 19, pp. 361–62, Rockbridge County Records (MSS., Lexington, Va.).

20 The Alexandria County Property Tax Books previous to 1847 are not available as that area was not re-ceded to the State of Virginia until 1846. See n. 7, above. In the tax lists for that county after 1847, Lee’s name does not appear for assessment of his own property. A search of the New Kent County Property Tax Books for the 1840–1861 period failed to disclose slaves or other property listed as belonging to Lee.

21 Freeman, Lee, I, 371, n. 38.

22 (New York, 1934), 28, 38.

23 Freeman, Lee, I, 371, n. 40; IV, 399–401.

24 See R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, August 18, 1863, quoted in Jones, Life and Letters of Lee, 288–89.

25 R. E. Lee, Jr., Lee, 20–21.

26 For Lee’s comments on the problems of the Pamunkey farms before Mr. Custis’s death, see, for example, his letters to Mrs. Lee, Fort Brown, Texas, January 17, 24, 1857, Duke MSS.

27 See the tables above, “Virginia Real Estate of G. W. P. Custis, Janary 1, 1857” and “Slaves Twelve Years of Age and Over Belonging to the Custis Estate, 1857–1861”; and the table below, “Five Virginia Agriculural Schedules, Census of 1850 and 1860.”

28 R. E. Lee, Jr., Lee, 406.

29 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, February 15, 1858; id. to Mrs. Lee, Fort Brown, Texas, January 24, 1857, Duke MSS.

30 Id. to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, ibid.

31 L. C. Gray, History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860, 2 vols. (Washington, 1933), II, 848, 963; the table below, “Five Virginia Agricultural Schedules, Census of 1850 and 1860.” There were sheep on other Custis land.

32 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Anna M. Fitzhugh, Arlington, November 22, 1857; id. to G. W. C. Lee, Baltimor, January 17, 1858; id. to id., Arlington, May 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

33 Id. to Mrs. Anna M. Fitzhugh, Arlington, November 22, 1857, ibid.

34 R. E. Lee, Jr., Lee, 20.

35 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Baltimore, January 17, 1858, Duke MSS. The Custis gristmill as an industrial institution was entered in the Censs of 1850, Industry, Alexandria County, Original Returns (MSS., Virginia State Library). According to that entry the Custis mill represented an investment of $5000, was powered by water, employed two male hands who together cost $35 per month, and for the year ending June 1, 1850, ground 10,000 bushels of corn valued at $5000, producing meal valued at $6250.

36 See, especially, R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Fort Brown, Texas, April 16, 1860, Duke MSS.

37 Ibid.

38 Id. to id., Arlington, February 15, 1858; id. to Mrs. Anna M. Fitzhugh, Arlington, November 20, December 13, 1858, ibid.

39 Id. to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, February 15, 1858, ibid. As is remarked in Freeman, Lee, I, 382, n. 14, the copy there is taken from the mutilated version in Jones, Life and Letters of Lee, 89. Of the above extract from the letter Jones omits the last six sentences.

40 Alexandria County Property Tax Books, 1858 (MSS., Virginia State Library). Except for variation in the number of tithables and slaves, and a slight change in headings, this list is identical with that entered by Custis in 1857 and those submitted in Lee’s name 1859–1861. The livestock entries in the Alexandria County Property Tax Books differ slightly from the retrns made in 1860 for the Federal census of that year. The slaves at Arlington 12 years of age and over during the years from 1847, the date of the first tax reports after Alexandria County ahd been restored to Virginia, to 1861, fluctuated as follows: 1847–1852, 39; 1853–1854, 49; 1855–1857, 42; 1858–1859, 35; 1860–1861, 30.

41 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Baltimore, January 17, 1858, Duke MSS. Incidentally this same Reuben lost his life after he had been granted freedom. Lee requested Custis to investigate, remarking, “He was of such a turbulent disposition that I fear he may have caused it.” Id. to id., Headquarters Army Northern Virginia, March 31, 1863, quoted in Jones, Life and Letters of Lee, 286–87.

42 Id. to id., San Antonio, Texas, December 5, 1860, Duke MSS.

43 Ibid.

44 Id. to id., Arlington, July 2, 1859, quoted in Jones, Life and Letters of Lee, 102.

45 Freeman, Lee, I, 390–92.

46 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, July 2, 1859, quoted in Jones, Life and Letters of Lee, 102.

47 Id. to id., Arlington, March 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

48 See the table below, “Five Virginia Agricultural Schedules, Census of 1850 and 1860.” At Mr. Custis’s death, however, there were 28 mules at White House and 10 at Romancoke. Will Book No. 7, pp. 369–71, Alexandria County Records.

49 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

50 Id. to id., San Antonio, Texas, November 24, 1860, ibid. As noted above, a detailed list of the farm equipment at White House and Romancoke is given in the inventory filed after Mr. Custis’s death.

51 Id. to Mrs. Anna M. Fitzhugh, Arlington, November 20, 1858, ibid.

52 Alexandria County Land Tax Books, 1857–1861 (MSS., Virginia State Library).

53 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

54 Id. to id., Arlington, February 15, 1858, ibid. For other reference to use of calcareous manures, see id. to id., San Antonio, Texas, March 13, 1860; Fort Brown, Texas, April 6, 1860; San Antonio, Texas, November 24, 1860, ibid.

55 Gray, History of Agricultural in the Southern United States to 1860, II, 918–19.

56 Prepared from the original returns (MSS., Virginia State Library). The dollar marks, not given in the original, are inserted for the sake of clarity. Items (45) and (46) are given as (47) and (48) in the 1860 schedule.

57 Exclusive of the buildings the 1100 acres around Arlington were valued at $22.72 per acre and the 50 acres at the mill, $10.00. This lower valuation for the mill property possibly reflects a less desirable location, certainly less fertility. Alexandria County Land Tax Books, 1859–1863.

58 In connection with the agricultural program at Arlington it should be noted that part of the former Custis property is now used by the department of agriculture for experimental purposes under the name, Arlington Experiment Farm. See Edwina Austin Avery, “Arlington Experiment Farm,” The Commonwealth, September, 1935, pp. 12–15.

59 The best survey of Lee’s movements from November, 1857, to February, 1860, is Freeman, Lee, I, Chaps. XII–XIII. The writer is indebted to this scholarly account for an introduction to many phases of Lee’s life in the late 1850’s.

60 Ibid., 382, 389; IV, 501.

61 R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, March 17, 1858, Duke MSS.

62 Freeman, Lee, I, 404; Jones, Life and Letters of Lee, 97–99, 108–109; R. E. Lee to G. W. C. Lee, Arlington, May 30, 1859, Duke MSS. From February, 1860, until his return to Virginia a year later, Lee kept up an active correspondence with Custis and Rooney in regard to the management of the farms and administration of the estate. See, for example, id. to id., San Antonio, Texas, February 28, March 13, 1860; Fort Brown, Texas, April 16, 1860; San Antonio, Texas, November 24, December 5, 1860; Fort Mason, Texas, January 30, 1861, ibid.

63 Freeman, Lee, I, 404.