A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language."
"Human virtue should be equal to human calamity." LEE. 1876
LEE'S EARLY LIFE.
II. The Lees of Virginia
The Lees of Virginia spring from an ancient and respectable family of Essex, in England.
Of some members of the family, both in the Old World and the New, a brief account will be given. The origin of an individual explains much that is striking and peculiar in his own character; and it will be found that General Lee inherited many of the traits of his ancestors, especially of some eminent personages of his name in Virginia.
The family pedigree is traced back by Lee, in the life of his father, to Launcelot Lee, of London, in France, who accompanied William the Conqueror to England. After the battle of Hastings, which subjected England to the sway of the Normans, Launcelot Lee, like others, was rewarded by lands wrested from the subdued Saxons. His estate lay in Essex, and this is all that is known concerning him. Lionel Lee is the next member of the family of whom mention is made. He lived during the reign of Richard Coeur de Lion, and, when the king went on his third crusade, in the year 1192, Lionel Lee raised a company of gentlemen, and marched with him to the Holy Land. His career there was distinguished; he displayed special gallantry at the siege of Acre, and for this he received a solid proof of King Richard's approbation. On his return he was made first Earl of Litchfield; the king presented him with the estate of "Ditchley," which became the name afterward of an estate of the Lees in Virginia; and, when he died, the armor which he had worn in the Holy Land was placed in the department of "Horse Armory" in the great Tower of London.
The name of Richard Lee is next mentioned as one of the followers of the Earl of Surrey in his expedition across the Scottish border in 1542. Two of the family about this period were "Knights Companions of the Garter," and their banners, with the Lee arms above, were suspended in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. The coat-of-arms was a shield "band sinister battled and embattled," the crest a closed visor surmounted by a squirrel holding a nut. The motto, which may be thought characteristic of one of General Lee's traits as a soldier, was, "_Non incautus futuri_"
Such are the brief notices given of the family in England. They seem to have been persons of high character, and often of distinction. When Richard Lee came to Virginia, and founded the family anew there, as Launcelot, the first Lee, had founded it in England, he brought over in his veins some of the best and most valiant blood of the great Norman race.
This Richard Lee, the _princeps_ of the family in Virginia, was, it seems, like the rest of his kindred, strongly Cavalier in his sentiments; indeed, the Lees seem always to have been Cavalier. The reader will recall the stately old representative of the family in Scott's "Woodstock"--Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley--who is seen stalking proudly through the great apartments of the palace, in his laced doublet, slashed boots, and velvet cloak, scowling darkly at the
Puritan intruders. Sir Henry was not a fanciful person, but a real individual; and the political views attributed to him were those of the Lee family, who remained faithful to the royal cause in all its hours of adversity.
It will be seen that Richard Lee, the first of the Virginia Lees, was an ardent monarchist. He came over during the reign of Charles I., but returned to England, bequeathing all his lands to his servants; he subsequently came back to Virginia, however, and lived and died there. In his will he styles himself "Richard Lee, of Strafford Langton, in the County of Essex, Esquire." It is not certainly known whether he sought refuge in Virginia after the failure of the king's cause, or was tempted to emigrate with a view to better his fortunes in the New World. Either may have been the impelling motive. Great numbers of Cavaliers "came over" after the overthrow of Charles at Naseby; but a large emigration had already taken place, and took place afterward, induced by the salubrity of the country, the ease of living, and the cheapness and fertility of the lands on the great rivers, where families impoverished or of failing fortunes in England might "make new settlements" and build on a new foundation. This would amply account for the removal of Richard Lee to Virginia, and for the ambition he seems to have been inspired with, to build and improve, without attributing to him any apprehension of probable punishment for his political course. Very many families had the first-named motives, and commenced to build great manor-houses, which were never finished, or were too costly for any one of their descendants to possess. The abolition of primogeniture, despite the opposition of Pendleton and others, overthrew all this; and the Lees, like other families, now possess few of the broad acres which their ancestors acquired.
To return, however, to Richard Lee. He had already visited Virginia in some official capacity under the royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, and had been so much pleased with the soil and climate of the country, that he, as we have said, emigrated finally, and cast his lot in the new land. He brought a number of followers and servants, and, coming over to Westmoreland County, in the Northern Neck of Virginia, "took up" extensive tracts of land there, and set about building manor-houses upon them.
Among these, it is stated, was the original "Stratford" House, afterward destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, however, and became the birthplace of Richard Henry Lee, and afterward of General Robert E. Lee. We shall speak of it more in detail after finishing, in a few words, our notice of Richard Lee, its founder, and the founder of the Lee family in Virginia. He is described as a person of great force of character and many virtues--as "a man of good stature, comely visage, enterprising genius, sound head, vigorous spirit, and generous nature." This may be suspected to partake of the nature of epitaph; but, of his courage and energy, the proof remains in the action taken by him in connection with Charles II. Inheriting, it would seem, in full measure, the royalist and Cavalier sentiments of his family, he united with Sir William Berkeley, the royal governor, in the irregular proclamation of Charles II. in Virginia, a year or two before his reinstallment on the English throne. He had already, it is reported on the authority of well-supported tradition, made a voyage across the Atlantic to Breda, where Charles II. was then in exile, and offered to erect his standard in Virginia, and proclaim him king there. This proposition the young monarch declined, shrinking, with excellent good sense, from a renewal, under less favorable circumstances, of the struggle which terminated at Worcester. Lee was, therefore, compelled to return without having succeeded in his enterprise; but he had made, it seems, a very strong impression in favor of Virginia upon the somewhat frivolous young monarch. When he came to his throne again, Charles II. graciously wore a coronation-robe of Virginia silk, and Virginia, who had proved so faithful to him in the hour of his need, was authorized, by royal decree, to rank thenceforward, in the British empire, with England, Scotland, and Ireland, and bear upon her shield the motto, "_En dat Virginia quartam._"
Richard Lee returned, after his unsuccessful mission, to the Northern Neck, and addressed himself thenceforward to the management of his private fortunes and the affairs of the colony. He had now become possessed of very extensive estates between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and elsewhere. Besides Stratford, he owned plantations called "Mocke Neck," "Mathotick," "Paper-Maker's Neck," "War Captain's Neck," "Bishop's Neck," and "Paradise," with four thousand acres besides, on the Potomac, lands in Maryland, three islands in Chesapeake Bay, an interest in several trading-vessels, and innumerable indented and other servants. He became a member of the King's Council, and lived in great elegance and comfort. That he was a man of high character, and of notable piety for an age of free living and worldly tendencies, his will shows. In that document he bequeaths his soul "to that good and gracious God that gave it me, and to my blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ, assuredly trusting, in and by His meritorious death and passion, to receive salvation."
The attention of the reader has been particularly called to the character and career of Richard Lee, not only because he was the founder of the family in Virginia, but because the traits of the individual reappear very prominently in the great soldier whose life is the subject of this volume. The coolness, courage, energy, and aptitude for great affairs, which marked Richard Lee in the seventeenth century, were unmistakably present in the character of Robert E. Lee in the nineteenth century.
We shall conclude our notice of the family by calling attention to that great group of celebrated men who illustrated the name in the days of the Revolution, and exhibited the family characteristics as clearly. These were Richard Henry Lee, of Chantilly, the famous orator and statesman, who moved in the American Congress the
Declaration of Independence; Francis Lightfoot Lee, a scholar of elegant attainments and high literary accomplishments, who signed, with his more renowned brother, the Declaration; William Lee, who became Sheriff of London, and ably seconded the cause of the colonies; and Arthur Lee, diplomatist and representative of America abroad, where he displayed, as his diplomatic correspondence indicates, untiring energy and devotion to the interests of the colonies. The last of these brothers was Philip Ludwell Lee, whose daughter Matilda married her second cousin, General Henry Lee. This gentleman, afterward famous as
"Light-Horse Harry" Lee, married a second time, and from this union sprung the subject of this memoir.