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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 re-installment 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.
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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. 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.
This gentleman, afterward famous as Light-Horse Harry Lee, married a second time, and from this union sprung the subject of this memoir. This celebrated soldier, who so largely occupied the public eye in the Revolution, is worthy of notice, both as an eminent member of the Lee family, and as the father of General Robert E. Lee, presidents, statesmen, and soldiers—and, after graduating at Princeton College, entered the army, in , as captain of cavalry, an arm of the service afterward adopted by his more celebrated descendant, in the United States army. In he marched with his Legion to join Greene in the Carolinas, carrying with him the high esteem of Washington, who had witnessed his skilful and daring operations in the Jerseys.
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His career in the arduous campaigns of the South against Cornwallis, and the efficient commander of his cavalry arm. The distinguished soldier under whose eye the Virginian operated did full justice to his courage and capacity. I believe, wrote Greene, that few officers, either in Europe or America, are held in so high a position of admiration as you are. Everybody knows I have the highest opinion of you as an officer, and you know I love you as a friend.
No man, in the progress of the campaign, had equal merit with yourself. His Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department is a valuable military history and a very interesting book. The movements of Greene in face of Cornwallis are described with a precision which renders the narrative valuable to military students, and a picturesqueness which rivets the attention of the general reader.
The fairness and courtesy of the writer toward his opponents is an attractive characteristic of the work,  which is written with a simplicity and directness of style highly agreeable to readers of judgment. After the war General Henry Lee served a term in Congress; was then elected governor of Virginia; returned in to Congress; and, in his oration upon the death of Washington, employed the well-known phrase, First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.
He died in Georgia, in the year , having made a journey thither for the benefit of his health. General Henry Lee was married twice; first, as we have said, to his cousin Matilda, through whom he came into possession of the old family estate of Stratford; and a second time, June 18, , to Miss Anne Hill Carter, a daughter of Charles Carter, Esq. He does not state that the famous Legion numbered only men, and that Tarleton commanded a much larger force of the best cavalry of the British army.
Lee in As the birthplace of a great man, it would demand attention; but it has other claims still, as a venerable memorial of the past and its eminent personages, one of the few remaining monuments of a state of society that has disappeared or is disappearing. The original Stratford House is supposed, as we have said, to have been built by Richard Lee, the first of the family in the New World.
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Whoever may have been its founder, it was destroyed in the time of Thomas Lee, an eminent representative of the name, early in the eighteenth century. The governor, the merchants of the colony, and even Queen Anne in person, united in this subscription; the house speedily rose again, at a cost of about eighty thousand dollars; and this is the edifice still standing in Westmoreland. The sum expended in its construction must not be estimated in the light of today. At that time the greater part of the heavy work in house-building was performed by servants of the manor; it is fair, indeed, to say that the larger part of the work thus cost nothing in money; and thus the eighty thousand dollars represented only the English brick, the carvings, furniture, and decorations.
The construction of such an edifice had at that day a distinct object. These great old manor houses, lost in the depths of the country, were intended to become the headquarters of the family in all time. In their large apartments the eldest son was to uphold the name. Generation after generation was to pass, and some one of the old name still live there; and though all this has passed away now, and may appear a worn-out superstition, and, though some persons may stigmatize it as contributing to the sentiment of aristocracy, the strongest opponents of that old system may pardon in us the expression of some regret that this love of the hearthstone and old family memories should have disappeared.
The great man whose character is sought to be delineated in this volume never lost to the last this home and family sentiment. He knew the kinships of every one, and loved the old country houses of the old Virginia families—plain and honest people, attached, like himself, to the Virginia soil.
We pass to a brief description of the old house in which Lee was born. Stratford, the old home of the Lees, but today the property of others, stands on a picturesque bluff on the southern bank of the Potomac, and is a house of very considerable size.
It is built in the form of the letter H. The walls are several feet in thickness; in the centre is a saloon thirty feet in size; and surmounting each wing is a pavilion with balustrades, above which rise clusters of chimneys. The front door is reached by a broad flight of steps, and the grounds are handsome, and variegated by the bright foliage of oaks, cedars, and maple trees.
Here and there in the extensive lawn rises a slender and ghostly old Lombardy poplar—a tree once a great favorite in Virginia, but now seen only here and there, the relic of a past generation. Within, the Stratford House is as antique as without, and, with its halls, corridors, wainscoting, and ancient mouldings, takes the visitor back to the era of powder and silk stockings.
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Here had flourished three generations of Lees, dispensing a profuse and open-handed hospitality. In each generation someone of the family had distinguished himself, and attracted the best company to Stratford; the old walls had rung with merriment; the great door was wide open; everybody was welcome; and one could see there a good illustration of a long-passed manner of living, which had at least the merit of being hearty, open-handed, and picturesque.
General Harry Lee, the careless soldier, partook of the family tendency to hospitality; he kept open house, entertained all comers, and hence, doubtless, sprung the pecuniary embarrassments embittering an old age which his eminent public services should have rendered serene and happy.
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Our notice of Stratford may appear unduly long to some readers, but it is not without a distinct reference to the subject of this volume. Lee was born. The eyes of the child fell first upon the old apartments, the great grounds, the homely scenes around the old country house—upon the tall Lombardy poplars and the oaks, through which passed the wind bearing to his ears the murmur of the Potomac. The bright eyes of young Robert Lee must have seen much around him to interest him and shape his first views.
Critics charged him with family pride sometimes; if he possessed that virtue or failing, the fact was not strange. Stratford opened before his childish eyes a memorial of the old splendor of the Lees. He saw around him old portraits, old plate, and old furniture, telling plainly of the ancient origin and high position of his family. Old parchments contained histories of the deeds of his race; old genealogical trees traced their line far back into the past; old servants, grown gray in the house, waited upon the child; and, in a corner of one of the great apartments, an old soldier, gray, too, and shattered in health, once the friend of Washington and Greene, was writing the history of the battles in which he had drawn his sword for his native land.
Amid these scenes and surroundings passed the first years of Robert E.
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They must have made their impression upon his character at a period when the mind takes every new influence, and grows in accordance with it; and, to the last, the man remained simple, hearty, proud, courteous—the country Virginian in all the texture of his character. He always rejoiced to visit the country; loved horses; was an excellent rider; was fond of plain country talk, jests, humorous anecdote, and chit-chat—was the plain country gentleman, in a word, preferring grass and trees and streams to all the cities and crowds in the world.
In the last year of his life he said to a lady: "My visits to Florida and the White Sulphur have not benefited me much; but it did me good to go to the White House, and see the mules walking round, and the corn growing. Lee, to the last, was a marvel of sound physical development; his frame was as solid as oak, and stood the strain of exhausting marches, loss of sleep, hunger, thirst, heat, and cold, without failing him.
The authority for that here adopted is the entry in the family Bible, in the handwriting of his mother. That is all; but the words indicate much—that the good man was always good. It will be seen that, when he went to West Point, he never received a demerit. The good boy was the good young officer, and became, in due time, the good commander-in-chief.