• The Lees of Virginia
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  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.


 

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The Myth That Lee’s Mother Was “Buried Alive”

 

The absurd story that General Robert E. Lee’s mother was buried alive is again in the news. As printed, it is credited to Warfield Lee, of Catlettsburg, Ky., son of Samuel Lee, who is alleged to have been a brother of General Robert E. Lee. According to this yarn, as printed in the Shepherdstown (W. Va) Record, Mrs. Henry Lee was stricken in 1809 and apparently died. She was laid in state in the “great Lee mansion on Arlington Heights for four days,” and on the “sixth day” her body “was removed to the family mausoleum,” where a servant heard her cries for help and took her from the coffin. Carried to the house, “she soon recovered and lived to a ripe old age.” To add the final climax, it is stated that “fifteen months after the incident, Robert Edward Lee was born.”

There is not a single statement of fact in all this. General Lee had no brother named Samuel Lee, from whom a nephew might be descended to tell this strange tale. Mrs. Henry Lee did not die in the “great Lee mansion on Arlington Heights,” for the good and sufficient reason that her family never owned Arlington and never resided there. Arlington belonged to the Custis family and came into possession of Mrs. Robert E. Lee on the death of her father, G. W. P. Custis, in 1857. Mrs. Lee’s interest was for life: the property was willed to Custis Lee, grandson and name-sake of the former owner.  

Even if Mrs. Lee had died at Arlington in 1809, she could not have been placed in the “family mausoleum,” because there was none at Arlington. Nor could she have given birth to Robert Edward Lee fifteen months after this interment in 1809, inasmuch as Robert Edward Lee was born in January, 1807.

The story has been denied in its entirety by members of the Lee family and is ridiculous in all its parts. Mrs. Henry Lee, who was born Anne Carter, of Shirley, moved from Stratford to Alexandria in 1811 for the better education of her children, and slowly fell into a partial invalidism. She died in July, 1829, at Ravensworth and was buried there. Subsequently, her ashes were removed to Lexington, to rest close to those of her great son. 

 

 

 

Source: Richmond News Leader, 1927, vertical files, Valentine Museum, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 October 17

 

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