Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: A Biography, by Mary Elizabeth Virginia, Chapter 3

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: A Biography

Chapter 3
The Family

For a Lee in eighteenth century Virginia, life was at once privileged and proscribed. Thomas and Hannah Lee’s progeny were fortunate, indeed, for the Lee wealth was legendary and the children all shared its attendant privileges. A luxurious home, servants, quality education, a voluminous library, rich foods and assurances of inherited wealth were the birthright of every Lee child. Containing elegant furnishings, draperies, and even carpets from England, the new home, Stratford, built in the 1730s and 1740s to replace the burned manor house at Machodoc was large and commodious containing several roams for the children and a central “great hall,” with a view overlooking formal gardens to the east and west, and the Potomac to the north. The library destroyed in the burning of the old manor house was quickly being replaced, providing the children with plentiful reading materials. Large riding stables, slave quarters, numerous dependencies, a store, and even a school room completed the grounds of the plantation.

But life for a Lee child was not carefree. With privilege came duty and responsibility. For the Lee’s were inheritors of an finely developed family tradition of public service. While not solely possessing the peculiar Virginia noblesse oblige, the Lee’s sense of civic duty and virtue was nonetheless deeply etched in them. All of the Lee sons motivated by their own consciences devoted substantial portions of their lives to serving the public good.

Of Hannah Lee, R. H. Lee II said she was inordinately fond of her two eldest children, Philip Ludwell and Hannah, but indifferent to her later progeny, forcing them to be fed in a great measure, by their own enterprise and exertions, without which, they might often have wanted the necessaries of life.” Apparently the iron-willed, aristocratic Hannah, called by one of Thomas Lee’s contemporaries a “haughtily overbearing Virginian,” devoted most of her attention her two eldest children.1

Destined to inherit the largest share of his father’s property, including Stratford plantation, Philip Ludwell lived the advantaged life of an eldest son. While exhibiting less scholarly aptitude than many of his siblings, Philip Ludwell, a beneficiary of the practice common to many Virginian’s of sending sons to England for education, spent most of his own childhood there, enrolled in Eton, then the most prestigious and most expensive of the English academies. After Eton, he attended the Inns of Court, ostensibly to study law. The only means of qualifying as a barrister, the Inns of Court were crucially important for opening channels into the social elite. In fact, study was of decidedly secondary irportance. Thcugh twelve terms of attendance was required for admission to the bar as a barrister, in actuality attendance could mean simply registering for meals. At times, even, children were admitted to the Inns several years prior to their matriculation. Benjamin Franklin’s son William, for instance, was matriculated several years before traveling with his family to England.2 His studies abbreviated due to his father’s death in 1750, Philip Ludwell as principal heir and executor returned immediately to Virginia, assuming the mantle of his inherited position as head of the Stratford Lees.

Named for her mother, Thomas’ second child, Hannah Lee was inculcated with the family tradition of appreciation for strong-spirited women. Her life was eventful and, at times, scandalous. For like her great aunt, Sarah Harrison, who at her wedding ceremony refused to pledge obedience to her groom, Hannah likewise refused to accept her husband’s authority.3 Married in 1748 to Gawin Corbin, she moved to Peckatone, a large plantation twenty miles from Stratford. Little is known of her relationship with her husband, with whom she lived until his death twelve years later. But newly widowed at age thirty-two Hannah discovered that according to the terms of her husband’s will, she and their daughter would inherit equal shares of his legacy. However if she were ever to remarry, Hannah would loose virtually everything. Duly dismayed by this caveat, she nonetheless contrived an evasion of Corbin’s circumscription of her remarriage. Having taken up responsibility for Peckatone, she managed the plantation profitably, and rather than forfeiting her inheritance, she did, indeed, literally conform to the legal intent of her husband’s will—by not remarrying. Instead, shortly after her husband’s death, she began living with her husband’s physician, Dr. Lingan Hall, with whom she subsequently had two more children out of wedlock. Always a controversial personality, having flaunted Virginia conventions by remaining in active contra of Peckatone and living unmarried with a man, in 1760, Hannah also converted to the Baptist sect. Unquestionably her notoriety is eclipsed by her brothers’ fame. But Hannah Corbin was a remarkably progressive woman, defiant of local mores and living as she desired in pre-Revolutionary Virginia. Furthermore it is a telling testimonial she was not ostracized by her family, on the contrary, she remained on good terms with her brothers who accepted her unusual lifestyle.4

According to the custom of their era, Hannah and Philip were educated initially at Stratford. Stressing the importance of learning, but with only a rudimentary system of public education in existence, the colony’s planters regularly hired private teachers to instruct their children. For virtually all girls, and many boys, private tutoring was the only education they received. Themselves well educated, tutors’ were frequently respected by plantation masters who took pains to choose qualified men. The Princeton educated New Jersey Presbyterian, Philip Fithian—whose journal provides a singularly detailed description of life in the Northern Neck—spent two years at Robert Carter’s Nomini Hall plantation, where his judgement and professionalism were valued by Carter.5

Even when tutors were indentured servants, as, for instance, was the case of John Harrower, an intelligent well-educated man who arrived in the upper Rappahannock in 1774, teachers were respected.6 If the teacher was worthy, as were both Harrower and Fithian, his reputation usually spread among neighboring plantations. Consequently, children of these families frequently attended a central plantation school, paying extra fees to the teacher. To house the tutor and occasionally the students too, small buildings were sometimes erected. The Stratford children were apparently educated at such a school under the aegis of a Scottish clergyman about whom little is known except his name—Mr. Craig. All of the Stratford children received their early education from Mr Craig.7

Though most children were educated at home, there were other options, including the nearby College of William and Mary. Established in 1693, the College, in addition to its department for higher education, also maintained a grammar school and an Indian school. It was not, however, well regarded. In the first half of the century many Virginians agreed with Hugh Jones, writing in 1734, that the College had not been “brought to that Method of Education and Advantage, as it might be.”8

Many planters avoided sending their sons to be educated there. Neither the quality of the teachers nor the curriculum was deemed acceptable and as the century progressed planters manifested concern over the profligate or irresponsible behavior that seemed to flourish at the College. Once away from home and families, many children sought entertainments in the ordinaries and race tracks of their colonial capital—Williamsburg. Planters, like Richard Henry Lee, consequently sought other options. When dispatching his two oldest sons to the care of their uncle in London, Lee, for instance, wrote of his distress over their parting but added that “so little attention is paid either to the learning, or the morals of boys that I never could bring myself to think of William & Mary.”9 Even the College was aware of its deficiencies. Hopeful of resuscitating its reputation, the masters in 1752 adopted several injunctions curbing student misbehavior. Scholars were no longer to be allowed to own race horses or gamble on races. Neither would Cock fighting, gaming, dice, cards, billiards nor students’ attendance at ordinaries be tolerated.10 These may simply have been cosmetic changes, but, in any event, planters were slowly convinced of their efficacy.

After 1750, owing partially to internal reforms in its curriculum and prudent hiring of new faculty, the College began enjoying greater popularity. Becoming the first Professor of Law and Police after the college was reorganized in 1779, George Wythe, for instance, attracted students from Virginia’s most influential families. Considered one of the greatest legal minds in Virginia, Wythe, after studying at London’s Inner temple, had earned a sterling reputation through his Williamsburg law practice. His home was transformed into an apprenticing ground for young lawyers, including Thomas Jefferson. Beginning in 1762, Jefferson spent five productive years reading law under Wythe’s tutelage and his admiration for his venerable teacher continued throughout his life. During his tenure as governor and as a member of the Board of William and Mary College, Jefferson orchestrated Wythe’s election to the position of law professor. The College’s hiring of the well-regarded Wythe caused even Richard Henry Lee to abandon his reservations about sending his son to the College, suggesting to Arthur Lee in 1780, that his son Ludwell “may benefit himself by retiring to Williamsburg and finishing his law studies under Mr. Wythe, which professorship,” he added “he discharges the duty of with wonderful ability both as to theory and practise.” Apparently Arthur concurred, for Ludwell did indeed travel to Williamsburg to study with Wythe.11

Sending their children abroad was another alternative frequently chosen by planters. But they were often discouraged by what they believed were deficiencies in the English system of education, notably, an exaggerated emphasis on the acquisition of classical knowledge. This classical regimen was criticized by some who favored a more pragmatic education for boys who were destined to become plantation managers. The Reverend James Maury, who administered a small but prestigious boarding school—Thomas Jefferson and Dabney Carr were two of his students—provided the most eloquent statement in favor of pragmatism in his 1762 “Dissertation on Education.” A skill in Language [classical Roman and Greek] Maury considered “absolutely necessary to some,” while it was “highly satisfactory & embellishing as well as advantageous to all,” who could attain it. Nevertheless, recognizing that young planters would likely end their formal education at nineteen or twenty, thereafter marrying and running their estates, Maury declared that classics was necessarily secondary in importance to the study of English Grammar, law, reading, writing, arithmetic, History, Geography, Chronology and the “more practical Parts of Mathematics, Rhetorick, Eloquence and other species of polite learning.” Furthermore, in Maury’s view, boys needed time for “Pleasures & innocent Amusements.”12

If education seemed somehow inadequate for the preparation of planters’ sons, their fathers’ also feared English manners as part of the baggage with which their children returned. Expressing the concerns of many on this score Landon Carter complained of the “stiff priggishness” of those coming home with an English education. And William Lee, returning to Virginia after the Revolution, insisted that his daughters be sent to him, against the advice of their English guardians. In his judgement, they required a Virginia education, since English manners were so different that he “never knew an instance of a Young Lady Educated in England who could live happily here.”13 Even more disconcerting than children returning imbued with English ideas and customs was the fear that they would never come back at all, choosing instead to remain in England.

There were, of course, additional reasons for keeping children at home. Fearing the hardships inherent in passage abroad—disease was particularly frightening. parents were often reluctant to send their children. “Yet more would be sent over,” wrote Hugh Jones in the first quarter of the century,“were they not afraid of the Small-Pox.” Although, by the middle of the century innoculaticn was becoming more prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic—Richard Henry’s two sons, for instance, were prudently innoculated before leaving Virginia—other illnesses continued to menace the health and lives of young students. Contaminated water, spoiled or otherwise poor quality foods, weakness from seasickness all threatened havoc with young children’s constitutions. Youthful deaths were common. Apprehensive about their children’s safety, many—educational opportunities aside—determined to keep their children with them in the colonies.14

The extended absences of their children were another source of parental distress. For children sent to schools abroad were necessarily absent for several years, often not returning until adults and occasionally not returning at all—a disquieting thought for all parents. Though appreciative of her son’s achievements in England, Mrs Frances Baylor wrote to her “dearest Johnny” that “5 years absence without a single glance it almost distracts me” asking him to “Pray finish your education, my dear as soon as possible for we all cannot bear any longer without seeing you.”15 Parents also shared a common fear that without supervision, boys’ morals would dissipate. Moving his entire family to Yorkshire to be with his sons while they were educated in Wakefield, planter William Beverley had employed an unusual remedy to his problem.16 Few, however, could arrange for such a costly, time consuming solution.

While planters were demonstrably concerned about the perils involved in sending their children abroad, their boys, notwithstanding, as the century progessed increasingly traveled to England. Even with rising anti-British sentiments in the colony during the twenty-five years preceding the Revolution, the highest numbers of young sons recorded went to England, a few even accompanied by their sisters. since many journeyed to study with private clergy, thus not appearing in public records, an accurate count of American students living abroad is unlikely. For those attending schools, however, a crude tally is possible. Over thirty colonials, including Philip Ludwell, attended Eton, the American favorite and one of the most expensive English schools.17 Acknowledging Arthur as the most intellectually gifted of the brothers and acting on his father’s instructions that Arthur should learn to get his “living honestly,” Philip Ludwell sent his young ward to Eton in 1751. There, Arthur remained until he was sufficiently qualified for university.

English education was not limited exclusively to a family’s eldest son. Indeed, many planters sent two or more of their children abroad, often simultaneously. More fortunate than most, four sons of Thomas Lee—Philip Ludwell, Thomas, Richard Henry and Arthur—attended British schools. Only Francis Lightfoot and William apparently stayed in Virginia. Philip Ludwell and Arthur both attended Eton and the Inns at Court. Although he grew up at Stratford, William also went abroad as a young man to learn the mercantile trade, while Richard Henry and Thomas Ludwell studied in Yorkshire.

Especially popular among Virginia planters were the several Yorkshire academies. Occasionally this was due to the proximity of Virginians who were available to supervise youngsters. Edward and John, sons of Richard Ambler, living in Yorktown but born in Yorkshire, for instance, were placed under the care of their aunt and uncle. Since children often went abroad at tender ages, proper supervision was vital. Familial ties, however, were ancillary considerations, not the primary factor in choosing Yorkshire. For planters who believed that education was a desirable, albeit, expensive privilege, Yorkshire boasted of several institutions offering quality education. While planters criticized the classically dominated education received at many English schools, Yorkshire academies had thoroughly modernized their curricula. Advertisements for Leeds Academy, near Wakefield, appearing in the Virginia Gazette of 1769, attest to the varied and pragmatic course of study accessible to planters’ sons. While classics, to be sure, were emphasized, students were further instructed in modern languages, English, penmanship, arithmetic, mathematics, accounting, geography, philosophy and astronomy—all eminently useful far aspiring plantation managers. Likewise, for an extra fee students could receive instruction in drawing, music and dancing, all considered vital by planters. Parents, furthermore, were assured by Leed’s authorities of their strict monitoring of the morals, health, and behavior of their sons.18

Although such education was expensive, Virginia father’s were unbegrudging of the investment, exhibiting a typical planter dedication to knowledge. Education was considered a serious undertaking and sons were frequently reminded of the gravity of their duties. Imploring his sons to advantage themselves fully, Richard Antler hoped they were diligent in their studies. Foremost, he bade them to become assets to their country. Reflecting other planter’s values, Ambler wrote generously about the costliness of their educational experiences reminding his sons that they were receiving “such an Education as may set you above the common level & drudgery of Life.” Since they were expending a substantial portion of their allowance on books, particularly history, the study of which he viewed as vital, Richard Ambler smiled upon a request by his sons for more money. But though they valued formal, substantive education, fathers also recognized their childrens informa; opportunities for extra-curricular education. While entreating his children to study, Ambler encouraged his boy, to socialize and to travel whenever possible if it were not too expensive. Edward Ambler and Thomas Lee, subsequently took a walking trip trough Scotland and northern England in 1751.19

Of the several Yorkshire academies, Wakefield Grammar School, founded by Queen Elizabeth during her reign, was particularly notable. Under a series of adept eighteenth century headmasters, Wakefield attracted several foreign students, including probably Richard Henry and Thomas Lee, as well as Edward and Jahn Ambler.20

Attending Wakefield at least until he was nineteen, Richard Henry probably traveled and socialized with his fellow Virginia students. What he may actually have done, however, with the exception of one romantic interlude, is supposition for there is virtually no record of his student career. One important incident in which Richard Henry became romantically linked with a English woman is recorded in a letter by her father. Writing to Edward Ambler about his friend Richard Henry, Edward Porteus implores Ambler to induce “Dickie Lee” to remain in England for the sake of his daughter. As head of the family after the recent demise of his father, Colonel Phillip had abruptly halted the courtship between the young couple, claiming Richard Henry’s fortune required substantial improvement and that marriage at that time was impossible. Highly distraught, Miss Porteus fervently requested Ambler to convey a message for Richard Henry, who was apparently planning to return to Virginia because of his father’s death. Miss Porteus’ pleas were to no avail, for with Richard Henry’s departure, the matter apparently ended and according to Colonel Philip’s wishes the pair did not marry.21

Returning to the Northern Neck in 1751, after his abbreviated courtship of Miss Porteus, and apparently forgoing a continental tour, for six years Richard Henry Lee lived at Stratford with his bachelor brother Philip Ludwell.22 While he was heir to substantial lands bequeathed to him by his father, Richard Henry chose not to live on them. For the 4,200 acres he inherited lay in remote Prince William County, far removed from Virginia’s modest centers of population, and for Richard Henry, intolerably distant from the James River area and Williamsburg. Nor did he ever reside elsewhere, building his own manor house, Chantilly, on land leased from his brother Philip. The house itself stood only three miles from Stratford. Though the two brothers enjoyed a close fraternal relationship, Richard Henry’s decision to remain near Stratford was based not on Philip’s desire to keep his brother in proximity, but on the remoteness of his western lands and his concomitant disinterest in agricultural life. For Richard Henry viewed his lands solely as a means of income, to that end parceling them out to tenants. The normal planters’ preoccupation with tobacco agriculture was wholly lacking in him.23

For Richard Henry, there were several additional advantages to remaining near Stratford, foremost of which was his access to the new household library that was rapidly replacing the books lost in the fire at Machodoc. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he evinced no interest in any secondary occupations. He read extensively in the law to familiarize himself with its tenets but displayed no interest in preparing for the bar. Entrepreneurial activities attracted him only when there was the promise of quick returns. Nowhere in his writing does he indicate any interest in his lands, except in their potential for yielding rents. Therefore, his decision to remain near Stratford was eminently predictable given his temperamental proclivity for political life. And indeed, the six years he spent there helped prepare him for his career as a professional politician.

During his bachelorhood he was already preparing assiduously for his prospective career in government, to this end, utilizing Stratford’s extensive library and purchasing relevant books for himself. According to the genealogist, E. J. Lee, at his death, Richard Henry’s private inventory included about five hundred separate books.24 Though no inventory for Chantilly has been found to confirm the quantity of books, clearly, Richard Henry did acquire volumes throughout his life, naming some of them in his will—a ten volume Encyclopedia, Millot’s elements of general history in five volumes and an unnamed series of law books, for instance.25 Arthur, and others, frequently sent him volumes on a diversity of subjects including medicine, science, agriculture, arts, court records, and political pamphlets.26 One extant fragment from his notebook confirms his systematic reading of political treatises, in which he took copious notes and summarizing authors’ works presumably for later reference. Locke, for instance was apparently thoroughly digested.27 By the time he was first elected to public office at the age of twenty-three Richard Henry had devoted several years to preparation for a life that would be spent exclusively in the service of government.

Throughout the six years he remained at Stratford, Richard Henry prepared for his future career. Meanwhile he no doubt enjoyed the active social life to which he was privileged through membership in the Lee family. In a society that prided itself on lavish entertainments, the Lees since the seventeenth century had been fared for their parties, beginning with the “Banqueting Hall” designed by John Lee and his neighbors in 1670, and culminating in a lavish ball given by “Squire” Richard Lee of Lee Hall, first cousin of Richard Henry. The ball became legendary in the Northern Neck, designed, as it was, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Lee Hall. From Monday until Friday in January 1774, over seventy guests, feasted, danced, played cards and celebrated.28 Under Philip’s tenure, Stratfard’s entertainments were also extravagant, notable especially for the fine musicians he employed. Among Richard Henry’s social contacts were other wealthy planters, including the two sans of Robert “King” Carter—Landon of Sabine Hall and Robert of Nomini Hall— who entertained frequently and with gusto. With one of the highest concentrations of wealth among the Northern Neck planters, the opportunities for high living were plentiful and Richard Henry savored every social advantage that was his birthright. It was into this world of balls, extended weddings and ceremonies, horse racing, sporting and gaming of every sort, that Richard Henry returned after his years in Yorkshire—a well-educated, eligible and cultured nineteen-year old Virginian.

Though certainly enjoying the privileges attendant upc his position in Virginia society, he, unlike many planter sons of his generation, never exhibited signs of overindulgence leading to dissipation and exhaustion of his fortunes. While neighbor Landon Carter, for instance, argued and worried with his son Ralph Wormeley over his frequent gambling debts, even threatening to leave him out of his will, Richard Henry, and indeed all of his siblings, seemed unaffected by the proclivity of younger sons to Dora: dissipation, leading one historian to see a “Puritan ethic” at work in Richard Henry’s personality. Though certainly nr Puritan in any religious sense, Richard Henry was certainly prudent and reliable. Rather than gaming and dissipation, he displayed a confirmed dedication to public service—an exaggerated case of Virginia noblesse oblige.29

The two bachelor brothers, Philip Ludwell and Richard Henry lived together at Stratford for six years. Though they maintained a cordial fraternal relationship, indirectly, but nonetheless powerfully, Richard Henry was t be influenced throughout life by the—to him—distasteful example of Philip Ludwell’s character, for he became, to Richard Henry, an omnipresent symbol of overbearing privilege. Richard Henry and Philip’s relationship was unusual, for, while the other members of the Lee’s of Stratford shared close familial relationships, Philip Ludwell was something of an outsider. As head of the family, and co-executor of his father’s will with Thomas Lee, Colonel Philip Ludwell had made himself unpopular in his family. Apparently inheriting the haughtiness and egocentrisms of his father and mother in his position as head of the Stratford Lee’s, Philip Ludwell could be overbearing, pompous, and condescending. A rare and graphic depiction of the Colonel was provided by Daniel Fisher, an English merchant living in Williamsburg. Newly arriving in Williamsburg after his father’s death, Philip Ludwell sought to purchase a commodious and well-situated house, already leased by Fisher. Making veiled threats, Philip Ludwell demanded its surrender. Initially unaware of his identity, Philip’s arrogance seemed perverse, he had, according to Fisher, “a haughtiness peculiar to himself (as being in the superlative degree to any I had ever beheld, even in this Country)”30

Virtually inheriting his father’s position as Councillor in 1757,31 Philip Ludwell, served in that lucrative capacity until his death. Otherwise, his political activities, compared to Richard Henry’s were minimal. Obviously content to improve the splendor of his ancestral home, he spent most of his time at Stratford, where he devoted his considerable energies to improving the manor house and the plantation. Under his tenure, he initiated several remodelling projects at Stratford—on the central floor only the Great Hall remained untouched—adding costly furnishings, including imported carpets, tapestries, linens and other expensive household goods to the plantation. In these regards he brought the plantation to its pinnacle as a cultural center.32 Hiring legions of musicians, transforming the two chimneys into pavilions joined by a promenade, he regularly serenaded guests at frequent balls and elaborate entertainments. Lavishly hospitable, Philip Ludwell was aided by the fortunes and help of his wife, the former Elizabeth Steptoe, heiress to the adjacent Honony Hall, whom he married in 1763 at the age of thirty-six.

In an era when many heirs to Virginia fortunes allowed their debts and dissipations to waste their properties, Philip Ludwell brought continuing prosperity to Stratford. Also during his tenure, he expanded and improved Stratford’s stables and bred racehorses, importing in 1765, Dotterel, ar English stallion. After attesting to Dotterel’s pedigree, Philip Ludwell advertised a stud service at Stratford. All of these actions were characteristic of his continual and enterprising improvements.33

At his father’s death, Philip Ludwell not only inherited the family fortune, but guardianship of his youngest siblings, whom he hardly knew since he had lived many years previously in England. The eldest, at sixteen was Francis Lightfoot, Alice was fourteen, William eleven, and the youngest, Arthur was only ten. Fearing lengthy litigation, Thomas Lee stated in his will that he hoped to have expressed the terms “so plainly that a Lawyer will not find room to make Constructions prejudicial to my Family.”34

Unfortunately, it was not lawyers, but Philip Ludwell, who delayed settlement of the will. To the dismay of his siblings, he literally interpreted a stipulation that the will was not to be settled until all of “debts and Legacies be settled and Paid,” thus, postponing final settlement even until his own death in 1775.35

Understandably, relations between Philip and his younger siblings were subsequently strained. As adults at their father’s death, Thomas and Richard Henry were partially insulated from their brother’s behavior. The younger siblings, however, in frustration were soon petitioning for new guardianship. Though by 1758 the willed lands had been allocated, moneys and other personal properties had not. Therefore, Arthur and William, having only been left money in their father’s bequest were particularly embittered by their brother’s cavalier reticence. Partially as a result of difficulties with Colonel Phil, Arthur developed strong emotional and financial ties to his brother, Richard Henry, again with profound consequences for Richard Henry’s public political career as well as for his private life.

The will’s co-executor, Thomas Lee, remained in England at his father’s death, where, after attending Wakefield with his brother Richard Henry, he traveled to London to pursue a legal education, not returning to Virginia until 1756. Consequently, he was only belatedly involved in the settlement of his father’s will. After his return, unlike Richard Henry, he retired to his lands in Stafford County where he was subsequently elected Burgess in 1758 and became, according to John Adams, “the most popular man in Virginia, and the delight of the eyes of every Virginian.”36 Though his fame was eclipsed by his brothers’, all of whom save Philip held colonial or international positions, Thomas Lee’s contributions to Virginia politics were extensive and he, like his brothers, became an ardent supporter of colonial rights. Victimized by a rheumatic fever, he died in April 1778, immediately following his election as one of five judges of the General Court, ending a career that also included service at the Conventions of 1775 and on the Committee of Safety.37

The lives and political activities of his other brothers were also interwoven with Richard Henry’s career. One year younger than he, Francis Lightfoot, unlike his brother, chose to live on his inherited land in the newly formed Loudon County, in the most western county of present day Virginia. In remote Loudon, he was elected in 1758 to the House of Burgesses, earning him the nickname, “Loudon,” which he was affectionately called by his family even after moving back again farther east.38 Remaining isolated in Loudon, he nevertheless continued to be active in politics, making frequent trips to Westmoreland and Williamsburg. Marrying Rebecca Tayloe in 1769, Francis Lightfoot moved to her home in Richmond County where the couple had been given one thousand acres by Rebecca’s father, colonel John Tayloe, as an incentive for them to live nearby his Mt. Airy home. Their plantation, Manokin, was built was on land that was part of Tayloe’s own Mt. Airy plantation, close to both Stratford and Chantilly, nourishing a warm fraternal bond between Francis Lightfoot and Richard Henry, a relationship extended to Richard Henry’s children.

Bearing no progeny of their own, Rebecca and Francis Lightfoot made Richard Henry’s son Ludwell Lee, their heir. Throughout their lives, the two brothers also maintained a close political relationship, both serving in the Burgesses and eventually, in the Continental Congress. Though he “often opposed his brother in a vote,” he “never spoke in Congress,” claimed Benjamin Rush, adding, that he had an “acute and correct mind,” and “I never knew him wrong eventually upon any question.” In Congress, while Francis Lightfoot’s fame was eclipsed by his vocal and eloquent brother, he served, nevertheless, on several Congressional committees and was described by John Adams, as being “sensible and patriotic.”39

During the 1750s and into the 1760s court records attest to the troubled disposition of Thomas Lee’s will. Philip Ludwell’s stalling incensed his dependant siblings, causing them to bring suit in county court. Intractable as ever, he stuck firmly to his position that all suits against his father’s estate must be resolved and all moneys owed collected. In exasperation, Alice Lee in 1760 signed over her inheritance to her brother William, in exchange for £40 sterling per annum, which she in turn used to move to England, presumably to escape her brother Philip. William went with her and the two lived at their uncle, Philip Ludwell’s, home in London.40 Alice, resided there until 1769 when she returned with her new husband Dr. William Shippen, Jr., to live in Philadelphia.

As conditions deteriorated between Philip and his younger brothers Arthur and William, Richard Henry, eager to see a fair settlement of what his siblings were rightfully due, acted increasingly as a intermediary between then. While all five of the younger brothers and their two sisters cultivated close relationships with one another, the warmth of their letters attesting to intimate familial ties, relationships with Philip were understandably strained, the more so because Philip acknowledged the justice of their claims. Partially as a result of the difficulties over settling the will and Arthur’s consequent chronic need of financial support during his student years, an exceptionally close relationship developed between Richard Henry and Arthur who soon began to idolize Richard Henry in his role as mentor. Their relationship was clearly the most intimate and profound in Richard Henry’s adult life.

Only ten when his father died, Arthur was recognized by his family as the most intellectually gifted of the brothers. According to a provision in Thomas Lee’s will, the youngest child was to learn a profession, and to that end Philip sent him to Eton, where he remained, presumably for the normal six year course. At Eton he apparently excelled and according to family legend, was so diligent a student that one of his instructors offered to oversee his lessons, providing him with additional instruction.41 Back in Virginia in 1759, Arthur was encouraged by Richard Henry to return to England to attend medical studies at Cambridge. Departing Stratford again in late 1760, Arthur accordingly spent the next six years in Britain. Voluminous correspondence between the two brothers subsequently illuminates Arthur’s character and his reliance on his brother Richard Henry.

Influenced by the newly befriended Dr. Samuel Johnson, the leading English scholar, literary critic and lexicographer, whom he met at his cousin Lucy Ludwell’s home, Arthur was convinced of the value of attending the medical school at the University of Edinburgh, rather than at Cambridge. For at Edinburgh, in three years Arthur could obtain a high quality degree, based on theoretical studies, unlike at Cambridge, where “their method is so regularly slow that they consume some years in the attainment of it” in the process becoming prohibitively expensive. The decision was a shrewd one, for Edinburgh was rapidly becoming the premier medical center in Europe with its constellation of famous medical instructors and talented students.42

In several letters to Richard Henry Arthur detailed the medical information he was distilling from professors’ lectures, including those of William Cullen, the leading member of the British medical profession. Clearly enthralled by the theoretical medical information gained in lectures, he wished to share his newly found knowledge with Richard Henry who Arthur knew had a “great thirst after all kinds of Knowledge, particularly physical.”43 But another motivation animated Arthur’s correspondence. He hoped to alleviate some of the discomfort caused by the variety of potentially debilitating illnesses which afflicted his brother. Victimized by asthma and epilepsy, Richard Henry searched for effective treatments and regimens for meliorating the effects of these diseases for his entire life. Faithfully writing instructions to his brother, Arthur regaled Richard Henry about the latest treatments and even ventured prescribing for his brother. For his chronic asthma, Richard Henry was given a detailed explanation of the causes of the disease and told that “Gentle and frequent Vomits . . . provoke Secretions” and were therefore necessary.44 To avoid the frequent colds and respiratory illness to which chronic asthma rendered him prone, Arthur proscribed a series of dietary and clothing restrictions. In his effort to help him, Arthur even consulted the famed Dr. William Cullen, “in the opinion of the World as great a Physician as ever lived,” who stressed the efficacies of frequent cold baths.45

For controlling epilepsy, Arthur explained to Richard Henry that “the only possible Remedy is the most steady Temperance in all the Transactions of Life,” since no seat of the disease could be discovered, though it probably arose in a “diseased or ill form’d Brain.” Temperate emotions, infrequent “enjoyment of women,” only moderate exercise, limited deep study or profound thinking were only some of the numerous precautions he need take—difficult prescriptions, indeed, for Richard Henry Lee accustomed as he was to the best that Virginia society offered. Nevertheless, Arthur was adamant; Richard Henry must adopt a regimen of temperance since “nothing in Life could give so great a Shock to my Happiness as the Loss of you.46 Idolizing Richard Henry, Arthur became emotionally dependent on his brother, writing, honestly and accurately in 1763, that “indeed my whole life, has been so much indebted to his goodness & affection.”47

Long, detailed letters in which he pours out his heart to his brother, served as a catharsis for Arthur helping him weather the personal unhappiness he was experiencing in Scotland. But his discontents were so frequent they seem to have been a congenital part of his nature. He was unhappy in northern Britain, partially because of his anti-Scot sentiments that were predictable outgrowths of his fervent Radical Whig sentiments. Fueled by increasing distrust of Scottish merchants in the Chesapeake and by his dislike of Lord Bute, a Scotsman universally detested by American patriots as the alleged power behind George III, Arthur continually carped about the Scots. As usual, however, the deeper cause of Arthur’s discontent was internal. Intelligent and bright, Arthur was also impatient and petulant. Never entirely comfortable in any social setting, except perhaps in radical London society, he described to his brother the defects of Scottish society. The women were inordinately fond of reading, claimed Arthur, which served to make them “disagreeably opinionated without much improving their minds.” Their gaiety and gaudiness offended him. He disliked the Scots’ “unsociable Disposition,” lamenting that he had unfortunately arrived without recommendation for “they are a People who regard no one without it.” Merely illustrative of the dissatisfaction he frequently expressed about life, Arthur’s was simply projecting aspects of his peculiar inner turmoil.48

Unhappy in his personal affairs, Arthur, on the contrary was immensely excited and challenged by his studies. Edinburgh was a thriving town when he arrived and its medical school provided a stellar education. Its faculty, including Alexander Munro, William Cullen and Joseph Black were medical celebrities. Cullen, in particular was idolized by Lee and by other American students. But medical training was only one segment of Arthur’s Scottish education, for Edinburgh provided several other formative experiences in Arthur’s developing politica and ethical philosophies.49

Somewhat isolated because of their provincial origins, several students from Virginia, including Theodorick Bland, Jr., Richard Field, George Gilmer, James Blair, and Arthur Lee formed a medical society they called the Virginia Club. A professional organization dedicated to maintaining high standards for its members, the club also provided a social context in which the members could dine, live, and meet to discuss relevant issues.50 As spokesman for the Virginia Club, Arthur petitioned the Virginia House of Burgesses for the professional licensing of colonial physicians. As a perfectionist and a consummate professional, Arthur was incensed at the poor standards and training of many American medical personnel, cautioning Richard Henry against “those unphilosophical & unhelpful Men with you, who assume the Names of Doctors,” with whom the “more Physic their Patients swallow, the more Money they get.” This perfectionism and dedication to high moral standards was a permanent characteristic that informed Arthur’s own extended political career.51

A pivotal event occurred when Arthur was nearing completion of his degree. Spearheading the opposition to the licensing of two students, one “of a plentiful fortune” who had not met the degree requirements for the University medical school, Arthur bared his penchant for political apposition. The medical faculty, after Arthur and twenty-nine other students threatened resignation, finally reached an acceptable compromise with its student body. Fearing that their own degrees were depreciated through the conferral of unearned degrees, Arthur’s group had convinced the school to accept the rich, but unqualified student only if he provided proof of valid study at Oxford. The conferral of another degree, to an English apothecary and member of the Royal Society of London, would be admitted by the student body when proof of his qualifications were found acceptable. Although fearing reprisals and lamenting the postponement of his own degree conferral, Arthur was elated at his moral victory, writing proudly to Richard Henry that this was perhaps the first case in which students had formally remonstrated against their professors. Though he was temporarily suspended as a result of his leadership, Arthur was pleased to be “known to them as one, who would not willing suffer the honour of a Physician to be prostituted.”52

As Arthur was discovering his proclivity for politics, his actions were influenced by the financial struggles he endured as a result of his brother Philip’s failure to settle his inheritance and his cousin Henry Lee’s refusal to settle some debts. For aid in resolving his ongoing financial crisis Arthur turned to Richard Henry. Incensed by his economic dependency and what he perceived as unjust assaults by others acting for their own selfish interests, Arthur grew increasingly bitter. Believing that he lived frugally—his expense were only £419 for three years—he self-righteously proclaimed his belief in his own moral rectitude. Lessons he learned in dealing with his early financial difficulties profoundly affected his response to later political events. Richard Henry, whose shipments of tobacco helped support Arthur through his years in Edinburgh, was quickly drawn into this realm of bitterness and anger.53

Arthur’s financial tribulations had not begun in Edinburgh. Though begrudgingly sending Arthur to Eton, Philip, who still owed him his £1,000 inheritance, repeatedly reminded the boy of the necessity of frugality. With explicit instructions to his guardians, a distant cousin, Philip wrote that Arthur should have the minimal clothes required by a boy his age—one suit for winter and another for summer. Special subjects not taught at Eton, dancing, music and fencing, even though they were considered essential skills for a cultured Virginia gentleman, Arthur was to pay for out of his limited pocket money. Later, during his tenure at Edinburgh, Arthur was chronically short of funds and regularly asked Richard Henry to intervene on his behalf with his brother Philip, since even the modest expenses he incurred “fell so heavy” on his “small Stock.” Fearing that his letters to Richard Henry in which he asked for his help had been lost, Arthur often duplicated his requests. Philip’s occasional remittances were never more than partial payment of the cost of his education. After receiving £120 from Philip, Arthur voiced his hopes that Philip’s “future goodness, will save me the very unpleasant task, of soliciting payments from him.” But Philip’s sporadic payments necessitated Arthur’s reliance on Richard Henry’s generosity. Regardless of the fact that he, too, was frequently strapped for income, Richard Henry, nevertheless regularly sent Arthur profits he had earned in England from his tobacco shipments. Thus, Arthur was both emotionally and financially dependent on his “Dear Brother” Richard Henry Lee.54

For several years William and Arthur, with Richard Henry’s mediation, tried convincing Philip to settle their legacies—both the principal and the substantial accrued interest. Invariably discovering excuses to delay settlement, Philip Ludwell Lee infuriated his brothers, both of whom left to settle in England in 1769. After returning to Williamsburg where for two years he was a medical practitioner, Arthur returned to London, this time to study law. Like Arthur, William, according to the terms of his father’s will, was to be prepared to earn his own living “honestly.” Probably educated exclusively at Stratford as a boy, William as a young adult spent a few years in London with his sister Alice, living with his mother’s brother Philip Ludwell. After returning to Stratford, he served as Philip Ludwell Lee’s business aide, but apparently was dissatisfied with his position and returned to London in 1768 to pursue a mercantile career.

Aided by family connections, William quickly became a success, entering a partnership in a mercantile firm with Dennis DeBerdt in 1769 or 1770 after having increased his fortunes through marriage with his cousin, Virginia’s Hannah Phillipa Ludwell of Greenspring. Intending to travel to India, probably to launch a business, he abandoned his plans when Philip Ludwell died leaving Hannah a wealthy heiress.55 Harvard. Like his brother Arthur, William served as a principal source of information for his brothers in Virginia as political events unfolded in England. Cultivating several friendships in London as an aid to advancement, William’s political career in time became nearly as important as his mercantile pursuits. As the Revolution approached he became both Alderman and Sheriff for the City of London, before confirming his American allegiance by returning after independence to Greenspring.56

As Philip stalled settling the will, relations between the brothers deteriorated. The usually moderate-tempered Francis Lightfoot even urged Arthur and William to consider suing their brother and the brothers in turn asked Richard Henry to mediate for them, thus apprising Philip Ludwell of their plan. On enquiring of Robert Nicholas regarding the possibility of his pleading the case, Arthur was told in discouraging terms that the process could take from as long as five to seven years and would be very difficult if Philip would not agree to settle.57 Meanwhile, Arthur’s frustrations deepened his bitterness.

Requiring the good will of Virginia planters for his fledgling mercantile concerns, William too was partially at the mercy of Philip knowing that if angered he could easily jeopardize William’s reputation among Virginia planters. But even with that danger, the frustrated William willingly pursued legal redress. Perturbed by the threatened litigation, Philip countered that if William persisted with his plans, Philip would sever further contacts with him. In the early 1770s, fraternal relations were at a new low point, particularly as the brothers learned of the substantial sums Philip was spending to improve Stratford. As it happened, no court case materialized but Philip, fearing litigation, asked Richard Henry to inform Arthur that he would pay all interest if the brothers would refrain from suing. Still, relations remained strained and when Philip died suddenly in 1775, there seemed little remorse among his brothers, except for the “public loss” of their Council member.58

Arthur’s experiences in northern Britain including his disaffection from Scottish society and manners, his involvement in the Virginia Club, attempts to regulate the practice of medicine, and most notably, his continuous frustrations over his brother Philip’s refusal to settle his father’s will, profoundly influenced the young man. In letters and public writings, Arthur’s alienation and sense of victimization, elevated to a repugnance towards all tyranny, are vigorously illustrated. Poor relations with Philip reinforced his loathing of usurpations of personal rights by private self-interest and were easily projected onto the unfolding struggle betwoen England and the colonies. Throughout, bitterness towards Philip and his loathing of avarice were liberally shared with his brother.

By drawing Richard Henry into the battle with their brother Philip, Arthur’s anger affected Richard Henry. The close relationship the two shared, continued until Arthur’s death and influenced Richard Henry’s political and personal life. As commissioner to France, when Arthur’s relentless criticisms and striving for moral and ethical perfection led him to criticize his fellow commissioners and colleagues in Congress, the resulting Lee-Deane affair, as it was called, with Richard Henry acting as Arthur’s principal supporter, nearly incapacitated Congress by causing a division in its ranks. It was not that the elder brother was unduly or foolishly influenced by the younger; rather, Arthur’s perceptions merely reinforced Richard Henry’s own well-cultivated personal distaste for avarice and self-interest, and deepened his fears, shared by most of his Virginia colleagues, about British encroachments on the rights of Americans. The decade of the 1750s was crucial for the maturation of these two young men, a process in which both became almost fanatical in their loathing of injustice and self-righteously convinced of their moral rectitude.

While his own inheritance, 4,200 acres of land in western King William County, was unaffected by Philip’s intractable position on the will, nonetheless, Richard Henry, like his younger brothers, also felt victimized by the lingering eighteenth-century preference for leaving the vast bulk of a personal estate to the eldest son. Though primogeniture had never been officially practiced in Virginia—no laws whereby all property was inherited intact by the eldest son were strictly enforced—still, the pronounced tendency was far the vast bulk of a father’s estate to be left to his eldest son.59 Primogeniture was practiced, in spirit, if not in law. And Richard Lee’s children had first hand evidence of the perversion of this practice. As inheritor of the vast majority of his father’s properties, Philip lived regally at Stratford plantations. Not constrained to earn his living “honestly,” like William and Arthur, Richard Henry, living in close proximity to his extraordinarily wealthy brother Philip, nevertheless, was acutely aware of his lesser wealth for even his home plantation of Chantilly was merely leased from his brother. His several progeny, plus his penchant toward gracious living, required constant foraging for income. This factor alone profoundly affected his actions throughout his political career leading him at times to abandon caution in his quest for money.

Regarding the pernicious effects of primogeniture, however, he stood, upon his principles. Acutely conscious of the difficulties of younger sons when fathers followed the custom, in his own will, drafted in 1793, Richard Henry made explicit provisions for the roughly equal distribution of his lands to his three sons—Thomas, Ludwell, and Cassius. To his youngest child, Francis Lightfoot, he left no land but all of his law books.60 For, Francis Lightfoot, at his uncle Arthur’s death six months earlier, had already been named his principal heir, inheriting all of Arthur’s “lands and Negroes, houses, Stocks and furniture,” except in Middlesex and all his lands in Kentucky and lots in Richnond. These were bequeathed fee simple. To avoid any problems for his children, he included a provision that if his eldest son, Thomas should make any claims against the will, his land would be forfeited. Richard Henry was obviously determined to avoid ill feeling among his own children.61 He was made painfully aware of the need for fairness, exhibiting that tendency towards his children throughout his life. After financing his two eldest sons’ education abroad for several years, Richard Henry, for instance, told Arthur that he could keep Ludwell with him or send him home according to his judgement but that he should remember that Richard Henry had a large family and wished to do equal justice to all his children, and therefore could not “allow very great partiality in expense on any one or two.”62

In 1757 Richard Henry abandoned bachelor life at Stratford to marry Anne Aylett, sister of Mary Aylett who had earlier married his brother Francis Lightfoot. The couple had four children in the next eight years—Thomas, Ludwell, Mary, and Hannah—before Anne Aylett died on the night of 12 December 1768, the victim of pneumonia. In a letter to his friend Landon Carter on 8 Dec. 1768, Richard Henry’s worry is palpable. At that time he was “worn out with fatigue and anxiety” for he knew not what may be the issue of this night.” For, his wife and sons were desperately ill and while his sons recovered his wife died four days later. Francis Lightfoot described witnessing Richard Henry’s grief as the “most affecting scene of a most tender hearted Husband parting for ever, from a loving & beloved wife.”63

Previous to 1763, probably at the time of his marriage, Richard Henry leased land from his brother in order to build the home he named for the famous French chateau, Chantilly. Erected three miles from Stratford, Chantilly overlooked the Potomac commanding a spectacular vista of the perpendicular Hollis Cliffs. Sometime prior to 1763, the plantation was completed and functioning, for, Richard Henry, in that year, obtained a permanent lease from Philip Ludwell for five hundred acres which included “all houses, Buildings, yards, gardens, Orchards, Woods, Water, Water courses &c.” Infinitely more modest than Stratford, Chantilly reflected the lesser wealth of Richard Henry. Notwithstanding, according to his nephew, it was “commodious” if not “elegant.” A three story home, with dining room, library, parlor and chamber and a central hall furnished as a sitting room on the first floor, there were bedrooms on the second floor, and storage areas on the third. Chantilly was a comfortably wealthy home, close to the center of culture in the Northern Neck and near to his brothers Francis Lightfoot and Philip as well as to his sister Hannah.64

Still grieving over his wife’s death in May 1769, Richard Henry, had thought “but little of anything except” his “own unhappiness.” Fortunately, for him and his four young children, he soon found a found a new “most tender attentive and fond mother” for his “dear little girls,” marrying in June or July of 1769, the widow Anne Pinckard. Five more children were added to the Lee family through that union—Anne, Henrietta, Sarah, Cassius and Francis Lightfoot.

Faring well in both matches, he was content in his homelife, referring with affection to his wife “Mrs. Chantilly,” and to time spent at home as “agreeably employed in family cares and domestic concerns”—a “pleasant life.” In 1778, he found it difficult to leave for the Virginia capital after a time spent at Chantilly, writing, “I have not yet been able to quit the entertainment of my prattling fireside,” continuing “I shall pay a visit to Williamsburg,” after “I have heard every little story and settled all points.” In his will was inserted a final testimony to marital felicity for he wished to lay to the left of Anne Aylett, “as near to my late ever dear wife as ’tis possible,” so that to his right his “present dear Mrs. Lee may be laid . . . so that my body may be laid between those of my dear wives.”65

Despite geographical separation the sons and daughters of Thomas Lee, with the possible exclusion of Philip Ludwell, were emotionally intimate. An exceptionally close knit family, the Lee’s maintained a reticulation of familial allegiances between cousins extending to New York, Philadelphia, Maryland and throughout Virginia, linking their warm familial bonds to their nieces and nephew. Their personal letters attest to their intimacy.

Several letters written by Richard Henry to his sister Alice Lee Shippen’s children in Philadelphia illuminate an eminently human side of his personality. For, while the majority of his letters, written during the Revolutionary years, are impersonal ones notable for their political or economic information, those that are written to his nieces and nephews and to his brother-in-law William Shippen provide welcome insights into his personal character. When enquiring of Shippen’s little granddaughter, Peggy Livingston, for instance, he jokingly boasted that he had “a little Frank Lightfoot full as mettlesome as she (Peggy) can be & who will not refuse a challenge from any fair one, whether begotten, or born, upon the North river,” cautioning that “the little damsel must be very modest and very reserved when Frank is present.” This jestful matchmaking Richard Henry continued, adding two years later, “the fine sparkling black eyes of little Frank will glisten wonderfully at the beautiful blue eyes of his fair cousin Peggy Livingston.” His affections for his Peggy are palpable, writing proudly to Thomas Lee Shippen, that he has seen Peggy who is “very chatty, & loves her Uncle mightily.” To his niece, Nancy, Peggy’s mother, he wrote, “my attentions are always paid to the ladies request—To please them is indeed my highest delight,” adding, “it is always a singular pleasure to me to oblige you in particular.” Nancy had requested of her uncle, the President of Congress, that he find some silver thread to send to her while he lived in New York. Emerging from his correspondence is a man who though often frustrated by his chosen professional world was comforted and nurtured within his domestic sphere, revelling there in humor and contentment.66

As a father, Richard Henry doted on his children, all of whom received meticulous care. With his own two eldest sons nearing school age, he naturally turned to his brother, for advice and help in overseeing their education. Though Arthur tried to discourage Richard Henry, claiming that he had seen so little good and so much mischief from sending boys to England, thirteen year Thomas and eleven year old Ludwell were nonetheless embarked on the Liberty sometime in the summer of 1772. They were charged to the care of their uncles William and Arthur in London. Having determined that with five children and “another, it may be two, in the stocks,” B 30 sterling was the most he could afford to spend annually on their education, Richard Henry acting on Arthur’s advice decided they would attend St. Bees in Lancashire. William was implored to find “some Gentleman” to oversee their progress and their morals.

The boys remained at St. Bees until the Revolution, when due to his infamy in English circles their father feared for their safety. Richard Henry Lee II in writing his grandfather’s biography related the anecdote as told to him by Ludwell Lee. When a neighboring gentleman asked whose son was he, the master told him the son of Richard Henry Lee, to which the gentleman replied, “we shall yet see your father’s head upon Tower Hill.” Ludwell replied that he would have it when he could get it. With his notoriety spreading, Richard Henry, apprehensive about his sons’ safety, removed then from England in 1776. From France, where he was acting as commissioner, Arthur wrote to Henry assuring him that he had sent for Thomas and Ludwell. Writing to Thomas and Ludwell in May 1777, Richard Henry voiced his relief that they had arrived safely in Paris.67

Originally intending that Thomas enter the Church and Ludwell the bar, as war became a reality, Richard Henry’s expectations for his sons changed, for he wanted them properly educated better to serve their country. By 1777, awaiting their arrival in France, Arthur and William were instructed that Thomas should be apprenticed as Arthur’s clerk, later to be employed in a counting house in order to learn business, and should concentrate on learning French, while Ludwell should “be instructed in Military matters” and the “principles of Natural law.” At his father’s behest Ludwell attended a military academy in Paris, later studying law with Arthur. But Richard Henry’s instructions were not binding for he several times requested the advice of his brothers, believing them, due to frequent contact with the boys, better able to judge their abilities and temperaments. Fortunately there was nothing profligate in his sons’ behavior. Stressing the need for serious application to studies and to frugality, Richard Henry was not disappointed in them. Writing after their arrival in Paris, William assured Richard Henry that his “admonitions to industry and frugality” had not been of disservice for their expenses in England “were as reasonable as you could wish.”68

His income drawn from two principal sources, rents on his western lands and tobacco from his Chantilly plantation—and neither sufficiently abundant—Richard Henry was chronically short of funds. As a Lee, accustomed to high living, his expenses could be enormous, particularly given his inability to secure lucrative political posts or colonial sinecures. As a Burgess, his traveling expenses could be substantial. Writing to his brother William, he lamented the high cost of service claiming in 1769 that attendance was so expensive and “the power of doing good so rarely occurring,” that he was determined to quit and in 1770 that if “I am to continue in the public service, it must be in the Council.”69 Later, as a Congressman, his costs were only partially offset by his fees, particularly during his one year tenure as president of that body, when he indulged in conspicuous displays of Virginia hospitality hosting several dinner parties every week. Apparently, William did his best, calling on a series of acquaintances in London to aid his brother.70

But an equal, if not greater, continuing cause of his economic difficulties were the requirements of his large family. Indeed, it was these obligations that convinced Richard Henry to search for lucrative appointments. Alluding to his children as responsible for his distress has led at least one historian to misinterpret his complaints.71 For, Richard Henry was burdened not by the children themselves, but by the financial requirements of a large family. He was, in fact, invariably cheered by the presence of his children and his financial anxieties simply mirrored those of any father strapped to provide for his rapidly expanding family.72

Financial concerns and failure to procure appointments led Richard Henry, in that sense, to bemoan his lack of fortune. To William he confided, “that having never hitherto been favored by fortune, I incline to doubt her future benevolence.”73 Bitterness over his strained finances and economic pressures that were concomitants of a high standard of living and many children, led Richard Henry to explore other chances to “get rich quick,” including even, a curious scheme for mining diamonds. “I will be glad to hear how your Diamond scheme succeeded,” wrote Arthur in 1761, adding that should things pan out, and Richard Henry managed to find any valuable stones, he could have them cut either in Edinburgh or London where Arthur knew of fine engravers.74 While Virginia had no diamonds, searching for them was harmless. Occasionally, however, he involved himself in undertakings that were damaging to his reputation, notably his early application for a stamp collectorship, resulting in the most serious attack up to that juncture on his character and reputation. Writing to his brother William in 1772, Richard Henry also then discussed plans for selling slaves, claiming, “As the Planters are nearly out of debt and Negroes are become valuable here, I should be extremely glad to be employed on reasonable terms.” This anomalous proposition came after he had made the earliest and most fervent anti-slavery speech to have been heard in the House of Burgesses.75

His economic needs continued driving him to seek additional income sources. He unsuccessfully, and repeatedly courted elusive political appointments, for instance, asking for the intervention of his brothers in England. Arthur, for at least two years between 1761–1763, actively, if unsuccessfully campaigned to procure Richard Henry the customs collectorship for the Janes River. At another time he wrote to James Steptoe, clerk of the Bedford County Court, requesting that he be appointed to a clerkship if one should become vacant. William, in 1772 was asked to “fix the profit of some place with me,” the post of deputy Secretary appearing most attractive in that year. And until the war, Richard Henry did not jettison all hopes that he would be appointed to the Council, arguing that having two brothers (he and Philip Ludwell) simultaneously serving would in no way be injurious to the public good. These aspirations were to be disappointed for he never achieved the coveted position, nor any other lucrative position for that matter and he was destined to seek aut and serve in political positions that only further endangered his ever precarious financial balance.76

His motivations, nevertheless, were at least partially altruistic. His concern for the future of his children is evident. On several occasions, he willingly spent generous sums to ensure their welfare, earmarking substantial funds for their education and their futures. Though recognizing that education at William and Mary would be considerably less expensive than sending his sons Thomas and Ludwell to England, for instance, he still chose to forego that option because he viewed William and Mary as inadequate for their needs. Likewise, he detailed a plan for his daughters that would utilize a speculative English banking venture, requesting that William inquire into its legitimacy. To safeguard the future prospects of his “poor little helpless girls” he proposed depositing £100 sterling in separate accounts, with interest to be compounded annually at ten percent, to be available for each of his daughters at their maturity.77 Regardless of his commitments to politics and public service, there should be no questions about either the delights he discovered from his offspring or the seriousness with which he viewed their preparations for responsible lives. Indeed if politics allowed full play fcr one aspect of his personality, family relationship afforded full ambit to another.


Richard Henry Lee, Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee . . . (Philadelphia: M. C. Carey and I. Lea, 1825), I:244; Paul Nagel, The Lees of Virginia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 40.

2 Benjamin Franklin to Jane Mecom, The Letters of Benjamin Franklin to Jane Mecom, ed. Carl Van Doren (Princeton: American Philosophical Society, 1950), 70; Sachse, American in Britain, 64.

3 Nagel, Lees of Virginia, 40.

4 Louise Belote Dawe and Sandra Gioia Treadway, “Hanna Lee Corbin: The Forgotten Lee,” Virginia Cavalcade, 29 (1979): 70–77.

5 Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, ed. Hunter Dickinson Farish (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968.)

6 John Harrower, The Journal of John Harrower, ed., Edward Miles Riley (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963).

7 R. H. Lee, Memoir, 7; R. H. Lee, II, Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D. . . . (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969) 12.; Armes, Stratford, 92.

8 Hugh Jones, The Present State of Virginia (London: J. Clarke, 1924), 27.

9 Richard Henry Lee to William Lee. 12 July 1772. VHS.

10 “Journal of the Meetings of the President and Masters of William and Mary College,” WMQ 2 (1893): 54–56.

11 Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia ed., William Peden (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.), 150–151; Imogene E. Brown, American Aristides: A Biography of George Wythe (London: Associated University Press, 1981) 499–201; R. H. Lee to A. Lee. 31 Aug. 1780 mss UVA; 24 Apr. 1780 mss Houghton Library, Harvard; R. H. Lee to G. Wythe. 28 Feb. 1781. mss UVA.

12 Rev. James Maury, “A Dissertation on Education in the form of a Letter from James Maury to Robert Jackson, July 17, 1762,” Papers of the Albemarle Counts Historical Society 2 (1941–42): 36–60.

13 William Lee to Samuel Thorp, in “Notes on Greenspring,” VMHB 38 (1930), 46; Carter, Diary, 23 Mar. 1770.

14 Jones, Present State 45–46; Martha Jacquelin to Edward Ambler. 28 Apr. 1748. in Lucille Griffiths ed. “English Education for Virginia Youths: Some Eighteenth Century Ambler Family Letters,” VMHB 76 (1968): 14.

15 Mrs. Frances Baylor to John Baylor. 25 May 1770. VMHB, 21 (1913): 90.

16 Diary of William Beverley, VMHB 37 (1928): 161–169.

17 William Sachse, The Colonial American in Britain (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1956), 47–52.

18 Virginia Gazette. 2 Nov. 1769 (Purdie & Dixon)

19 Richard Ambler to John & Edward Ambler. 28 Apr. 1728 Ambler to Amblers. Aug. 1748; Ambler to Amblers. 20 May 1749 Thomas Ludwell Lee to Edward Ambler, 3 Jan. 1751. Griffith, “English Education,” 13–15.

20 There is some controversy regarding the actual school attended by these boys. Rather than Wakefield, it may have been Leeds Academy, a few miles from Wakefield. One author claimed that Richard Henry attended both schools. Probably, as was asserted by his grandson, Richard Henry attended Wakefield. Whichever the case, clearly Richard Henry spent several years abroad satisfying his education in Yorkshire. Griffith, “English Education,” 11–12; Sachse, Colonial American, 52; R. H. Lee II, Memoir, I:8.

21 E. Porteus to E. Amber. 19 Oct. 1951. in Griffith, “English Education,” 21.

22 No Evidence supports earlier biographers contentions that Richard Henry wnet on a Continental tour after his father’s death, rather it appears that he returned directly to Stratford at the age of nineteen. R. H. Lee II, Memoir, I:8; Oliver P. Chitwood, Richard Henry Lee: Statesman of the Revolution (Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1967), 8; Cazenove G. Lee, Lee Chronicle (New York: New York University Press, 1957), 122.

23 Several authors have suggested that their relationship was so close that Philip could not bear to have Richard Henry leave the area. See for example, Hendrick, Lees, 91; E. J. Lee, Lee, 173.

24 E. J. Lee, Lee, 206.

25 Will, 18 June 1793, Richard Henry Lee. in E. J. Lee, Lees, 202.

26 Arthur Lee to Francis Lightfoot Lee? 23 Mar 1769. mss Houghton Library, Harvard; A. Lee to R. H.Lee Oct. 1769. mss APS; A. Lee to R. H. Lee 22 Dec. 1763 mss UVA; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 12 July 1770 mss. UVA.

27 R. H. Lee notebook. 176?. mss UVA.

28 See pp. 64–65; Philip Fithian, Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Doninion, 1773–1774 (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1990.), 56–58; Nagel, Lees, 51.

29 Robert Wormeley Carter, “The Daybook of Robert Wormeley Carter of Sabine Hall, 1766,” VMHB 68 (1960): 301–316; Landon Carter, The flimsy of Landon Carter of Sabine Hall 1752–1770 ed. Jack Greene (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia,1965), 640–641; 677; 755–756; 1122; Edmund S. Morgan, “The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution,” WMQ 24 (1967): 3–43.

30 Diary of Daniel Fisher, in Louise Pecquet du Bellet, Some Prominent Virginia Families (Baltimore: Genealogical Press co. 1976), 1:775-777.

31 William G. and Mary N. Stanard, The Colonial Virginia Register (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965), 49.

32 Wyrick, “Stratford,” 77–78.

33 Fairfax Harrison, “The Equine FFV’s,” VMHB 35 (1927): 369; Virginia Gazette, 6 June 1760 (Purdie &38; Dixon).

34 Will, 1749, Thomas Lee, in E. J. Lee, Lee, 132.

35 Will, 1749, Thomas Lee, in E. J. Lee, Lee, 132.

36 John Adams to Richard Bland Lee. 11 Aug. 1819, Work: of John Adams, ed. C. F. Adams (Freeport NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), 10:382.

37 Richard Henry Lee to Arthur Lee. 12 May 1778. VHS; Hugh Blair Grigsby, The Virginia Convention of 1776 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1969), 131; Stanard & Stanard, Register, 147.

Stanard & Stanard, Register, 147.

39 Benjamin Rush, The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), 152; John Adams. Diary. 15 Sept. 1775, Letters of Delegates to Congress Paul H. Smith ed. (Washington: Library of Congress, 1977), 2: 12.

40 Quoted in Ethel Armes, Stratford Hall, 101.

41 Richard Henry Lee II, Life of Arthur Lee (Freeport NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), 12.

42 Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee. 14 Mar. 1761. UVA.

43 A. Lee to R. H. Lee, 14. Mar. 1761. mss UVA.

44 A. Lee to R. H. Lee, 2, 4, 6 Apr. 1761. mss UVA.

45 A. Lee to R .H. Lee, 31 May 1761. mss UVA.

46 A. Lee to R. H. Lee, 31 May 1761. mss UVA.

47 A. Lee to R. H. Lee, 22 Dec. 1763. mss UVA.

48 A. Lee to Francis Lightfoot Lee. 3 Nov. 1763. mss Houghton Library, Harvard; Louis W. Potts, Arthur Lee: A Virtuous Revolutionary (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), 22; Arthur Lee to Richard Henry. 21 Oct. 1761. mss UVA; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 14 Mar. 1761. UVA.

49 Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1894), 2:299–334; Whitefield J. Bell, Jr., John Morgan: Continental Doctor (Philadelphia: University Pennsylvania Press, 1965), 54–75.

50 Cortlandt Canby, “The Commonplace Book of Doctor George Gilmer,” VMHB 56 (1948): 379–407; Theodorick Bland, Jr., to Theodorick Bland, Sr., 8 Mar 1761 in Campbell ed., The Bland Papers (Petersburg, Va., 1840–43),1:18–20; Lyon G. Tyler, “The Medical Men of Virginia,” WMQ 19 (1911): 155–56; Rush, Autobiography, 44–46; Potts, Arthur Lee, 20–26; Bell, Morgan, 69–71.

51 A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 2, 4, 6 Apr. 1761. mss UVA; Potts, Arthur Lee, 25–26; Wyndham B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Eighteenth Century (Richmond: Garrett & Massie, 1931): 91; 226; 399–402.

52 Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee. before September, 1764. mss UVA.

53 A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 22 Dec. 1763. mss UVA; Potts, Arthur Lee, 7–37.

54 Nagel, Lees, 71; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 14 Mar. 1761, mss UVA; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 31 May 1761. mss UVA; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 22 Dec. 1763, 20 Mar. 1765. mss UVA.

55 A. Lee to R. L. Lee. 23 Mar. 1769. mss Houghton Library, Harvard.

56 Nagel, Lees, 86; E. J. Lee, Lees, 235–254; Worthington Chauncey Ford, Letters of William Lee (New York: Burt Franklin, 1986), 1–65.

57 29 Dec. 1769, Robert Nicholas to Arthur Lee. mss UVA.

58 Nagel, Lees, 72–75; R. H. Lee to A. Lee. 5 Apr. 1770 mss UVA; R. H. Lee to A. Lee. 24 Feb. 1775 mss UVA.

59 C. Ray Keim, “Primogeniture and Entail in Colonial Virginia,” WMQ 25 (1968): 545–586.

60 Richard Henry Lee. Will. 18 June 1793. in E. J. Lee, Lee, 201–204.

61 Arthur Lee. Will 24 Dec. 1792. in E. J. Lee, Lee, 284–85.

62 R. H. Lee to A. Lee. 6 Sept. 1778; 16 Sept. 1778. mss UVA.

63 R. H. Lee to Landon Carter. 8 Dec. 1768. mss VHS; Francis Lightfoot Lee to Arthur Lee? March 1769 mss Huntington Library, Br. Box 4, 5.

64 Lease transcribed in Armes, Stratford, 104; Thomas Lee Shippen to William Shippen, in Chitwood, Lee, 233; E. J. Lee, Lee, 205.

65 Francis Lightfoot Lee to William Lee. March 1769; F. L. Lee to W. Lee. 22 May 1769, mss Hungtington Library, Br 52 Box 4, 5; R. H. Lee to A. Lee 19 May 1769 mss UVA; E. J. Lee, Lee, 207–208; R. H. Lee to Thomas Lee Shippen. 15 Apr. 1793 in Ballagh, Letters, II:555; R. H. Lee to T. L. Shippen. 17 Apr. 1787 Ballagh, II:417; R. H. Lee to William Whipple. 29 Nov 1778 in Ballagh, Letters, I:453; Will. R. H. Lee. 18 Jun. 1793, in E. J. Lee, Lee, 202.

66 R. H. Lee to William Shippen, Jr. 7 Jan 1783. in Ballagh, Letters, 2:277; R. H. Lee to T. L. Shippen. 17 Jan. 1785. mss ALS Shippen Collection in Ballagh, II:322; R. H. Lee to T. L. Shippen, 4 Dec. 1785. mss ALS Shippen Collection in Ballagh, II:406; R. H. Lee to Nancy Shippen Livingston, 10 Oct. 1787 mss. Yale University Library.

A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 10 Sept. 1770 mss UVA; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 17 July 1772 mss UVA; R. H. Lee to James Steptoe. 4 July 1772. Ballagh, Letters, I:68; R. H. Lee to William Lee. 12 July 1772, Ballagh, Letters, I:69; R. L. Lee II. Memoir, I:179; A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 25 Dec. 1776. in R. H. Lee II, Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D. . . . (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), II:110; R. H. Lee to Thomas and Ludwell Lee. 10 May 1777. mss UVA.

68 R. H. Lee to William Lee 30 June 1777, mss Huntington Library Br 52 Box 4, 5; R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 12 July 1772. Ballagh, Letters, I:69; R. H Lee to A. Lee. 30 June 1777. mss UVA; R. H. Lee to A. Lee. 20 Apr. 1777. mss UVA; R. H. Lee to A. Lee. 11 Feb. 1779. Ballagh, Letters II:30; R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 12 July 1772 Ballagh,Letters, 3;69; William Lee to R. H. Lee. 1 Sep. 1777. Ford, Letters of William Lee, I: 239–245.

69 R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 17 Dec 1769; R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 9 July 1770. Ballagh, Letters, I:52.

70 John Quincy Adams, Diary. Robert J. Taylor ed. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1981), II: 290–301;W. Lee to R. H. Lee. 10 Dec. 1770 in Sachse, Colonial Americans, 149.

71 Nagel, Lees, 77–80.

72 R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 12 July 1772. Ballagh, Letters, I:69–74; R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 23 Oct. 1772. mss. VHS.

73 R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 23 Oct 1772. Ballagh, Letters, I:78.

74 A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 2 Apr. 1761. mss UVA.

75 R. H. Lee to W. Lee 12 July 1772. Ballagh, Letters, I:76.

76 A. Lee to R. H. Lee. 19 Aug. 1761 mss UVA; Dec. 1763 mss UVA; R. H. Lee to James Steptoe. 4 July 1772. mss VHS; R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 12 July 1772 Ballagh, Letters, I:69; R. H. Lee to James Abercrombie. 27 Aug. 1762. Ballagh, Letters I:1–2; R. H. Lee to Thomas Cummings. 27 Aug. 1762. Ballagh Letters, 5:2–4; R. H. Lee to ? 1762. Ballagh, Letters, I:4; R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 7 July 1770, Ballagh, Letters, 1;69.

77 R. H. Lee to W. Lee. 12 July 1772. Ballagh, Letters, I:70–71.

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