Arthur Lee Biography, from the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography

Arthur Lee

Note: The following is taken from volume 2 of the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (New York, 1915; pp. 18–19), edited by Lyon Gardiner Tyler.

Lee, Arthur, was born at Stratford, Westmoreland county, Virginia, December 21, 1740, eighth and youngest son of Governor Thomas and Hannah (Ludwell) Lee, grandson of Colonel Richard and Laetitia (Corbin) Lee, and of Colonel Philip Ludwell, of Green Spring, Virginia, and great-grandson of Richard and Ann Lee, and of Philip Ludwell, governor of North Carolina, 1689–91. He was educated at Eton and the University of Edinburgh. After journeying through Holland and Germany he returned and practiced medicine in Williamsburg. The efforts to enforce the Stamp Act determined him to study law in order to assist the colonies in obtaining redress. He studied law in the Temple, London, 1768–70, and practiced in London, 1770–76, meantime studying the Colonial questions and discussing the Townshend acts and other aggressive measures proposed by parliament. He won fame as a writer, signing himself “Monitor” and “Junius Americanus,” and was the author of “An Appeal to the English Nation.” He was a leading member of the “Supporters of the Bill of Rights,” organized for the discussion of the measures of the British ministry and the restoration to the American colonies of the right to regulate taxes through their own representatives. He gained the friendship of Burke, Priestly, Dunning, Baire and Sir William Jones, and was admitted to a fellowship in the Royal Society. He was appointed by the general court of Massachusetts in 1770 as representative for that colony in London, as associate with Benjamin Franklin. He was appointed by Congress with Franklin, Jay and Dickinson, to open correspondence with friends of America in Europe, and was made secret agent of the committee in London, and opened negotiations with the French government which led to his residence in Paris in 1776. In 1776 Congress appointed him a joint commissioner with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane to secure a treaty of alliance with France, and in 1777 he was intrusted with special missions to Spain and Prussia, and in October, 1778, was continued as sole commissioner to Spain, also acting in the same capacity to the court of Prussia, but residing in Paris. His frequent quarrels with Franklin and Deane led to his recall in 1779. He was a representative in the general assembly of Virginia, 1781; a delegate to the Continental Congress, 1781–84; Indian commissioner in Western New York and Pennsylvania, 1784, and a member of the board of treasury, 1784–89. He was opposed to the adoption of the Federal constitution. He retired to his estate, “Lansdowne,” at Urbanna, Middlesex county, Virginia, in 1789, where he devoted himself to his books and correspondence. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Harvard College in 1781. He died unmarried, at Urbanna, Virginia, December 12, 1792.

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