Lee Family of Virginia

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Lee Family of Virginia

LEE FAMILY OF VIRGINIA. "From the landing of the first Lee in 1640 to the rise of the Confederacy in 1861, there were few crises that did not find Lees in the foremost ranks" (Hendrick, Lees of Virginia). The founder of the family in America was an Englishman named Richard (c. 1613–1664), who had arrived in Virginia by 1640. He became a large-scale tobacco planter and landowner and held numerous public offices. By his wife Ann Constable, he fathered at least ten children. Their son Richard (II) (1647–1714) married Letitia Corbin (or Lettice Corbyn); they had five sons and a daughter. The eldest, Richard (III), became a London merchant, but his three children returned to Virginia. Philip went to Maryland and left many descendants there. Francis died a bachelor. The daughter married William H. Fitzhugh of Ravenwood, and her descendants married back into the Lee family (hence Fitzhugh Lee [1835–1905], nephew of Robert E. Lee.)

But the branches of the Lee family most famous in history are those established by Thomas and Henry, the fourth and fifth sons. The genealogical table shows, in abbreviated form, the relationships of the various Lees who figured in the Revolution. "Light-Horse Harry" Lee's marriage to his cousin Matilda Lee, heiress of Stratford, connected the two branches of the family. Ironically, once the Leesylvania branch inherited the home of the Stratford branch, the former proceeded to lose it through the poor business sense of "Light-Horse Harry"; his failure to manage the estate properly, plus his unfortunate land speculations, led to abandonment of Stratford in 1811—a few years after Robert E. Lee was born there—and its sale in 1828 for a paltry eleven thousand dollars.

The two branches of the Lee family also were connected through the Ludwells of Green Spring. A family of German origin that settled in England, the Ludwells had been established for three generations in America before the third Philip Ludwell died in 1767 and the male line became extinct. The first Philip in America was governor of the Carolinas (1691–1693); he later settled in Virginia and married the widow of Governor Sir William Berkeley (d. 1677). Their son Philip (II) inherited the plantation where the battle of Green Spring was fought between Lafayette and Cornwallis in July 1781. Philip (III) married a Grimes and so did his sister Lucy. The third child of Philip (II), Hannah Ludwell, married Thomas Lee of Stratford.

Now things begin to get more complicated because the Lucy just mentioned had a daughter named Lucy Grymes, who married Henry Lee (II) of Leesylvania. Hence the mothers of the two branches were aunt and niece. Another link through the Ludwells was even more involved: William Lee of the Stratford branch married the daughter and co-heiress of Philip Ludwell III, Hannah Phillippa Ludwell (his mother's niece) and inherited Green Spring. On top of all this, the immigrant founder Richard Lee had served as Governor Berkeley's secretary

William Lee of Stratford worked out the family pedigree in 1771, and Robert E. Lee used this material for his biographical sketch of "Light-Horse Harry" in his edition of the latter's Memoirs (1870). The accompanying diagram is based on William Lee's genealogical information with corrections from Dictionary of American Biography and Douglas S. Freeman's R. E. Lee (4 vols., 1937–1940). The Lees were connected through the Carter family and the Randolph family with many other distinguished Americans.

SEE ALSO Green (or Greene's) Spring, South Carolina.


Hendrick, Burton J. The Lees of Virginia: A Biography of a Family. Boston: Little, Brown, 1935.

Lee, Edward Jennings. Lee of Virginia, 1642–1892. Philadelphia: n.p., 1895.

Nagel, Paul C. The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family. New York: Oxford, 1990.

                     revised by Frank E. Grizzard Jr.