William Lee Biography, from the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography

William Lee

Note: The following is taken from volume 2 of the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (New York, 1915; pp. 22–23), edited by Lyon Gardiner Tyler.

Lee, William, seventh son of Thomas and Hannah (Ludwell) Lee, was born at “Stratford,” Westmoreland county, Virginia, August 13, 1759, and was educated, it is believed, at home by private tutors. In February, 1766, he was a signer of the Westmoreland county resolutions against the Stamp Act, and shortly after went to England, where he engaged in business. He took an active interest in the politics of the day, and was instrumental in inducing the merchants of London to remonstrate to parliament against the revenue taxes on America, which contributed to bring about a repeal of all the taxes except that on tea. He was probably the first American to express his opinions in favor of the separation of the American colonies. In May, 1775, he was elected an alderman of London, and in 1776 held the office of sheriff. The same year he went with his brother to Paris, and about April 21, 1777, he received notice of his appointment by the Continental Congress as commercial agent to the United States in France; in September, 1777, he was appointed to represent the government at Berlin and Vienna, and later on he accepted the position of representative at the Hague. In 1778, by permission of the Holland government, he met Jean de Neufville, an Amsterdam merchant, at Aix-la-Chapelle, to complete the negotiation of a loan for the American colonies. The two commissioners drew up a commercial treaty, and it was signed by de Neufville and Van Berckel, burgomaster of Amsterdam, and entrusted to Henry Laurens to be carried to America for the approval of Congress. By the capture of Laurens, when on his way from America to the Hague to obtain the loan, the paper fell into the hands of the British ministry and was made the pretext for declaring war against Holland. In the difficulties between Arthur Lee and the other two American commissioners to Paris, Franklin and Deane, William Lee took part and, in 1779, with his brother, was ordered by Congress to return home; but no action was taken after their arrival. He married his cousin, Hannah Philippa Ludwell, who brought him the “Green Spring” estate (former residence of Sir William Berkeley). He died June 27, 1795, and was buried in the churchyard at Jamestown. He left one son, William Ludwell Lee, who died without issue; and two daughters—Portia, who married William Hodgson, of White Haven, England, and Cornelia, who married John Hopkins, Esq., of Richmond, Virginia.

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