A Virginia Gentleman on the Eve of the Revolution: Philip Ludwell Lee of Stratford
Jeanne A. Calhoun
Director of Research and Education
Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc.
Philip Ludwell Lee struts across the stage of Stratford, the Lee family home in Virginia’s Northern Neck. He transformed the simple, austere plantation of his parents into an elegant estate, stories of which even now evoke the lavish and graceful lifestyle of the elite of pre-Revolutionary Virginia. Under his ownership, the main house complex was modernized and expanded, the waterfront developed, and a stud farm was begun. Philip Ludwell took his pleasures as seriously as his commerce. While he lived, Stratford was filled with the melodic strains of the violin and the laughter of guests dancing in the Great Hall. The stable bays were full of fine horses for races and hunts. And Col. Phil, master of Stratford, presided over it all. In the colony, Philip Ludwell Lee served as judge, officer in the militia, elected official in the House of Burgesses, and member of the governing Council of Virginia. Although arrogant, selfish, and willful, Philip Ludwell was also loving, generous, and playful. Yet he has remained an enigma.
Philip Ludwell Lee’s life has been overshadowed by the accomplishments of his brothers, described by John Adams as “that band of brothers, intrepid and unchangeable, who, like the Greeks at Thermopylae, stood in the gap, in the defense of their country ….”1 Comfort-loving Philip Ludwell Lee was no rebel. But he too was an important player in the political, social, and economic world of pre-Revolutionary Virginia.
The eldest son of Thomas and Hannah Ludwell Lee, Philip Ludwell (1727-1775) was carefully prepared to be the heir to his father’s rapidly growing empire. His early lessons were supervised by a tutor, possibly the Reverend David Currie.2 Thomas Lee was determined, however, that Philip Ludwell would enjoy the privileges that he, as a younger son, had not. Probably around the age of eleven, Philip Ludwell was sent to Eton to continue his studies among the scions of the wealthiest and most aristocratic families in Britain.3 He was almost certainly entrusted to the care of John Hanbury, a London tobacco merchant who was closely involved with his father.
By 1744, at the age of seventeen, Philip Ludwell had returned to Virginia, his education at Eton complete. His head full of classical allusions and, no doubt, his own self consequence, he must have found it difficult to adjust to the rural isolation of the Virginia’s Northern Neck. Thomas Lee and his family were in residence at Stratford by this time, probably having moved from their house at Machodoc in the fall of 1741.4
Despite Thomas Lee’s obvious determination to make his heir a cultured gentleman, a strong streak of pragmatism induced him to provide Philip Ludwell with an understanding of what he himself had learned in the colonies. When Thomas Lee and William Beverley were appointed commissioners to travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and negotiate a treaty with the Six Nations, Philip Ludwell was made part of their distinguished entourage.5 On May 17, 1744, William Black, the Scottish secretary of the Commission, recorded in his diary:
This morning … in the Company with the Honble. Commissioners, and the Gentlemen of their Levees, Colonels John Tayloe Junr. and Presly Thornton, Warner Lewis, Philip Ludwell Lee, James Littlepage and Robert Brooke Esquires, I Embark’d on Board the Margaret Yacht lying off Stratford on Potomac, and about 10 minutes after was under Sail, with a small Breeze of Wind… our back Ensign Pennon flying; after the Vessel had got way, with the Trumpet we hail’d the Company (who came to the Water side to see us on Board) with Fare-you-well, who returned the Compliment, wishing us a Good Voyage and safe Return, for which, on the part of the Company, I gave them Thanks with the Discharge of our Blunderbuss.6
Not only was Thomas Lee introducing his son to the leaders of colonial society and politics, he was also training him to be a planter. In 1746, he gave nineteen-year-old Philip Ludwell the 132 acre plantation in Westmoreland County which he had been managing for his father.7 Thomas never believed that commerce and money were ungenteel and he made sure that his eldest son did not cherish any such illusions. Instead, he seems to have encouraged his son’s involvement in a wide range of activities. Philip Ludwell was made a member of the Ohio Company, a land speculation venture of which his father was not only one of the founders but also manager.8 In 1748, he was appointed one of the Justices of the Peace for Westmoreland County, the most prestigious position in the county government.
Most young men found it difficult to adjust to life in the colonies after experiencing the excitements of England and Philip Ludwell was no different. In 1749 he joined his brother Thomas Ludwell Lee and began studying law at London’s Inner Temple.9 His decision to pursue legal studies in London may have been an excuse to return to the largest city in Europe; or he and his father may have agreed that an acquaintance with the law would be helpful in his future career.
It is doubtful that Philip Ludwell’s legal studies seriously interfered with his indulgence in the myriad delights of London. He shopped for Strasburg Rappee snuff at the Jasmine Tree in Pall Mall, read the Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, and could choose between such entertainments as David Garrick’s “Richard III” at Drury Lane or a musical evening at Ranelagh Gardens.10 He also enjoyed inspecting the thoroughbreds available in England, happily fulfilling his commission to purchase a horse for neighbor John Tayloe.11
Philip Ludwell’s mother, Hannah Ludwell Lee, died on January 25, 1750. Her children must have been shocked and saddened by her death at the relatively young age of 49. As her favorite son, Philip Ludwell may have been particularly distraught.12 It was probably he who wrote with such pride, “A MONODY as a Tribute to the Memory of a most tender Mother, the Hon. Mrs Hannah Lee, late excellent Wife of the Hon. Thomas Lee, President of his Majesty’s Council, and commander in Chief of Virginia.” Published in the May 1750 issue of the fashionable Gentleman’s Magazine, the poem is a sentimental, heavily classical tribute to her virtues as a wife and mother.13
Thomas Lee died less than a year after his wife, on November 14, 1750. Philip Ludwell – eldest son, principal heir, and an executor – was still in London. After learning of their father’s death, the new master of Stratford and his brother and heir, Thomas Ludwell, had their portraits painted by London artist Robert Edge Pine. These were shipped to Stratford to take their rightful place in the Great Hall.14 Philip Ludwell then met with several of his father’s commercial correspondents in both England and Scotland, to settle his father’s affairs and arrange for future transactions under his own name.15
Philip Ludwell Lee returned to take possession of Stratford in April 1752, at the age of 25.1617
Philip Ludwell Lee inherited all of his father’s lands in Westmoreland and Northumberland Counties; all his land on the eastern shore of Maryland and two islands; 3,600 acres on the broad run of Potomac; more than 3,000 acres at or near the falls of the Potomac; more than 100 slaves over the age of ten, including all of the slave craftsmen; a ring given Thomas by his friend Col. John Custis; and a mourning ring worth five pounds sterling.
As a member of the gentry, young Philip Ludwell was appointed a lieutenant in the county militia.18 In 1752, he was named the Lieutenant Colonel of Westmoreland County.19 The French and Indian War began in 1754. One year later, in 1755, The Royal American Regiment was raised in New York to help defend the frontier.
Philip Ludwell recruited men to fight in the French and Indian War and gathered them together at Stratford. In December 1756, Gov. Dinwiddie of Virginia wrote Capt. Thomas Campbell:
I desire you’l proceed to Alexandria, and there review the Men recruited by Mr. Dennis McCarty for the Royal Americans, and those you may think proper order down here, or to join the other Recruits rais’d by Philip Ludwell Lee, Esq’r, at Stratford, in Westmoreland County, where I desire you w’d also proceed and review those Men recruited by him, and desire Colo. Lee to send ’em for the Place w’th all prudent Expedition …. Fairfax … or his son will … advise whether proper to send the Recruits immediately here or to Colo. Lee ….20
Philip Ludwell had political ambitions. He had apparently intended to return to England in 1754 but abruptly changed his plans when the death of a neighbor created a vacancy in the House of Burgesses. Despite this, he decided to wait for the next regular election and was elected to the House in December 1755. Within less than two years, on March 22, 1757, he was appointed for life to the governing Council of Virginia, the most prestigious position in the colony. Following his appointment to the Council, Philip Ludwell was promoted and made the Lieutenant of Westmoreland County.21
Philip Ludwell Lee was determined that his residence reflect his wealth and status as a member of Virginia’s ruling elite. Family tradition maintains that Philip Ludwell was severely disappointed in the house which his parents built. Thomas and Hannah Ludwell Lee’s Great House was probably rather plain, dignified but austere. In later years, Col. Phil was said to complain bitterly about the simplicity of the design. Showing his guests a picture of the house his father had intended to build, he would moan:
See what it is to be ruled by a woman. I should have been now living in a house like this … had not my father been persuaded by his wife to put up this very inferior dwelling now over my head.22
Philip Ludwell Lee decided to improve the house he had inherited. He chose British-trained builder and architect John Ariss to direct the architectural improvements.
John Ariss was born in Westmoreland County. He advertised in The Maryland Gazette of May 22, 1751:
By the Subscriber (lately from Great Britain) Buildings of all Sorts and Dimensions are undertaken and performed in the neatest Manner … either of the Ancient or Modern Order of Gibbs’ Architect and if any Gentleman should want plans, Bills of Scantling or bill of Charges, for any Fabric, or Public Edefice, may have them by applying to the Subscriber at Major John Bushrods at Westmoreland County, Va., where may be seen a great variety and sundry Draughts of Buildings in Miniature, and some buildings near finished after the Modern Taste.23
On August 18, 1755, John Ariss purchased 311 acres adjacent to Stratford from Sampson Demoval, a planter in Fairfax County.24 Ariss had returned to Richmond County by October 1761.25 The work at Stratford which required the services of a skilled
builder probably took place during the years in which he lived on this property. Philip Ludwell modernized the Great House to reflect his own personality as well as new attitudes regarding family and privacy. Among other probable alterations, he widened the passages and turned his father’s former library adjoining his bedroom into a room which would later prove suitable for a nursery. A door from the passageway directly into his bedroom was also added. His main concern, however, seems to have been the Great Hall. It is quite probable that he decided to close the doorways leading into the adjacent bedrooms, making them private, and use the newly created space for book presses. The elaborate panelling was probably designed and supervised by Ariss.26 Philip Ludwell also turned his attention to the exterior of the house. It may have been he who ordered the replacement of the wooden stairs by more permanent, and impressive, ones of brick and stone, although this may not have been done until the 1770s.
Some of Col. Phil’s greatest efforts, however, seem to have been expended on the grounds. It appears that he built two sets of slave or perhaps servant quarters on the southwest and southeast of the house. It also seems evident that he constructed the northwest and northeast dependencies, octagonal building, possibly a matching octagonal icehouse, and the surprisingly sophisticated circular spring house.27 His innovations may have included an extensive roof platform on the Great House. Slaves and indentured servants may have continued to carry out new construction and alterations throughout the 1760s and 1770s.
Col. Phil owned a group of skilled slave house carpenters and joiners who were occasionally “hired out” to other planters.28 In 1782, the list of slaves belonging to his estate included four house carpenters and one bricklayer.29 He also had one indentured joiner in the 1770s and, presumably, others, of whom no records have yet been discovered.30
Philip Ludwell’s alterations to the gardens may have reflected an interest in natural history. His acquaintances in London included Dr. John Fothergill, a friend of the Hanburys and Fellow of the Royal Society, who had one of the finest private botanical gardens in Europe.31 In 1754, Col. Phil offered to send “any of the curiosities of this country” to one of the Masters at Eton.32 He also wrote an abstract of Virginia’s natural history at the request of a prominent London merchant.33
Col. Phil put in the serpentine wall on the east of the house. He seems to have expanded the garden on the east, possibly a result of both his own suspected interest in botany and his intent to create a more fashionable estate.34 From at least 1766 until his death in 1772, the grounds were under the care of a gardener, Thomas Carter.35 Col. Phil may have also altered the approach to the house, changing it to wind around the garden on the east, allowing glimpses of the garden, protected by a ha-ha wall, and the house. The formal entrance at that time may have been changed from the south to the north or river side.
Col. Phil had a wide range of interests. His acquaintances in England and Scotland included not only many of the leading tobacco merchants, such as the Alexanders, the Hanburys, and his relative James Russell, but also Thomas Blacklock, William Dampier, his uncle Philip Ludwell, and the aforementioned Dr. John Fothergill.
Robert and William Alexander were members of the Edinburgh literati.36 It was probably through the young Alexanders that Philip Ludwell met Thomas Blacklock (1721-1791), the “blind bard” of Edinburgh. The son of a bricklayer, Blacklock lost his eye sight at the age of six months when he had the smallpox. He was orphaned when he was nineteen. An Edinburgh physician, who was familiar with his literary talent, brought him to the city and supported him as a student of divinity at the University of Edinburgh for four years. Blacklock’s first volume of poetry was published in 1746 and reprinted in 1754 and 1756. He attracted sincere and generous sympathy and interest from those who admired his abilities. In 1754, an article published in The Gentleman’s Magazine solicited readers to provide him with a comfortable situation.37 Philip Ludwell, who seems to have enjoyed writing poetry, was one of his admiring supporters. In 1753, he wrote William Alexander and Sons:
Inclosed is my Exchange on Messrs. Hanbury for 20 for two years for Mr. Blacklock …. I beg you’ll give my best respects to Mrs. Alexander and Miss J. to Mr. Wm. & Mr. Blacklock and tell them I will write to them by the first opportunity.38
William Dampier was the wealthy and highly respected Master Apothecary of St. George Hospital, at the corner of Hyde Park in London. Philip Ludwell purchased medicines from him and urged his acquaintances to do the same, pointing out:
He is a relation of mine and one I esteem much. If you should want any medicines to send to your correspondents in these parts he will supply you as well as any man and I shall take it as a favour if you will deal with him.39
Many apothecaries were also botanists and Dampier could have served as a source of seeds and plants for Col. Phil. He was related to the Lees through the Ludwell family and served as one of the English executors for the estate of Philip Ludwell’s uncle Col. Philip Ludwell.40
Although a Virginian, Col. Ludwell had moved to London in 1760. He was an avid gardener. His circle of friends included Philip Miller, who wrote the indispensable Gardener’s Dictionary, Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society, and Dr. John Fothergill, surgeon, mentor of Dr. William Shippen, and renowned botanist.41
Perhaps through these friends and acquaintances, Col. Phil attempted to keep up with the London fashions in architecture, gardens, literature, horses, and music. His personal library included, in addition to legal and religious books, a 1755 London edition of Don Quixote and volume four of The Rambler (London 1756), a collection of Samuel Johnson’s essays.42
Philip Ludwell was proud of his horses. Soon after his return to Stratford from London in 1752, Col. Phil enlarged the stables to accommodate a total of 22 horses. This construction could have been accomplished with slave labor and had probably been completed by 1754.43 The 1761-1763 accounts of Alexander Craig, a saddler and harness maker in Williamsburg, include nine for Philip Ludwell Lee. Some of these were merely for mending collars and the purchase of brass buckles. Others were more elaborate, such as “covering steps of a chariot,” “Polepieces to a chariot,” and “2 head pieces & parts, [illegible] & billets, 7 buckles, 2 Screw rings & plates to Bridles & c.”44 An inventory made after his death lists twenty horses in his stables, ranging in value from one hundred pounds to one pound ten shillings. If he chose not to ride, he could travel in a small chaise, landau, or chariot. He even kept “1 clamp supposed for cutting horses Ears” and “1 p[ai]r horse fleems” in his bed chamber.45
Philip Ludwell had recruited an English coachman, Thomas Bentley, to serve him for four years. Bentley evidently found the position disagreeable and absconded before his term expired. He was a valuable enough employee that his irritated master went to the expense of not only advertising for his capture, but also offering a reward.46 Col. Phil’s estate included two slaves, Titus and Caesar, who served as postilions.
In 1766, Col. Phil purchased the ultimate luxury, an English race horse. He proudly advertised in The Virginia Gazette:
Will cover mares at Philip Ludwell Lee’s at Stratford … for SIX POUNDS the season, or THIRTY SIX SHILLINGS the leap. HE was got by Changeling, his dam by a son of Wynn’s Arabian, his grandam by a son of the Lonsdale Arabian, his great grandam by the Black Arabian, his great great grandam by a son of the Bay Barb, and out of the Barbon mare …. Changeling was as famous a horse as any in the world, in every respect. The above pedigree may be seen at Stratford … he beat the best horse in England four mile heats, with twelve stone on him, a small time before he came away for Virginia. He is near 15 hands and a half high, a healthy, strong boned horse, and is of the sort most esteemed in Britain for a stallion …. Where the horse stands, there are excellent pastures and meadows for mares.47
In 1763, Philip Ludwell had married his young ward Elizabeth Steptoe, who seems to have enjoyed parties and dances as much as her husband. He and his wife attended such local affairs as the “ordinary keeper’s hop at Westmoreland Court” and Landon Carter’s three day festival in January 1771, dined at Sabine Hall and joined in games at Robert Carter’s Nomini Hall.48 They had two daughters who lived to maturity, Matilda (1764-1790) and Flora (1770-1795).
According to tradition, the Lees were ingenious at devising entertainments for their visitors. Guests were serenaded as they promenaded along the roof platform connecting the two chimney clusters or enjoyed the cool riverside breezes while floating in a comfortably appointed barge. Instead of a bell to summon the company to dinner, Philip Ludwell’s band would entice them with music played in the Great Hall. Musicians also accompanied the master of Stratford on excursions. Charles Carter Lee, the family chronicler, reminisced:
Col. Phil …. was fond of visiting & receiving his friends, & took such sudden frieks to visit them, that his wife always kept a trunk ready packed with such clothes as he required to carry with him on such excursions so that it could be put in his coachee … as soon as it was ready; when taking with him some of the performers on the wind instruments of his band, they would soon announce his approach to the residents of Sabine Hall, Mount Airy, Menokin or Lee Hall, or even more distant friends.49
Philip Ludwell believed fencing, music, and dancing were “very necessary & Innocent accomplishments.”50 He owned two pairs of fencing foils, possibly enjoying an occasional bout in the Great Hall.51 Music was one of his passions. He was a skilled musician and enjoyed learning the newest compositions. In the 1750s, he was joined in his playing by his indentured servant Charles Love. Love, who had formerly been an instrumentalist with the touring Hallam Company, was also proficient in dancing and fencing. Col. Phil, undoubtedly a stern critic, admired his performance on the violin and wind instruments. Love ran away from Stratford in 1757, stealing a “very good Bassoon” at the same time.52 Harry, one of the enslaved house carpenters, was also a fiddler who played at dances.53
Philip Ludwell was a good friend of the “excellent but capricious” violinist Charles Leonard.54 The German-born Leonard came to live either at or near Stratford, joining in impromptu concerts and teaching the children.55
By the age of ten Matilda Lee was already participating in dancing classes, a regularly scheduled event which took place about every three weeks at the homes of the great planters, including Stratford. The lessons were arranged as balls for the children and were also parties for the adults who accompanied them. Philip Vickers Fithian, the tutor at Nomini Hall, described a typical class:
There were present of Grown persons Mr & Mrs Carter, Mrs Lee, & Miss Jenny Corbin; young Misses about Eleven: & Seven young Fellows, including myself; -After Breakfast, we all retired into the Dancing-Room, & after the Scholars had their Lesson singly round …. There were several Minuets danced with great ease and propriety; after which the whole company Joined in country-dances, and it was indeed beautiful to admiration, to see such a number of young persons, set off by dress to the best Advantage, moving easily, to the sound of well performed Music, and with perfect regularity …. The Dance continued til two, we dined at half after three – soon after Dinner we repaired to the Dancing-Room again …. When the candles were lighted we all repaired, for the last time, into the dancing Room; first each couple danced a Minuet; then all joined as before in the country Dances, these continued till half after Seven when … we played Button …. Early in the Evening came colonel Philip Lee, in a travelling Chariot from Williamsburg – Half after eight we were rung in to Supper; The room looked luminous and splendid; four very large candles burning on the table where we supp’d, three others in different parts of the Room; a gay, sociable Assembly …. So soon as we rose from supper, the Company form’d into a semicircle round the fire, & Mr Lee, by the voice of the Company, was chosen Pope, and Mr Carter, Mr Christian, Mrs Carter, Mrs Lee, and the rest of the company were appointed Friars, in the Play call’d “break the Popes neck” …..56
Col. Phil also enjoyed hunting. The inventory of his possessions included “1 Rifle new made by Turvey” and “1 new Turvey,” as well as a fowling piece and a gun.57 The rifle and unspecified firearm were probably made by gunsmith William Turvey (II) of London. Most Virginia planters purchased locally-made rifles, but Col. Phil had sent to London to acquire one of the best rifles available at the time. Much more accurate than those made in the colonies, this rifle was used for recreational game hunting and target matches. Turvey rifles were elegant, artistic pieces, and an obvious status symbol in the colonies.58
Philip Ludwell was not, however, merely interested in the amenities of graceful living. He was, above all, an entrepreneur. His father had already built a grist mill, probably soon after he purchased the two half acres of land at each end of the old mill dam near his landing on the Potomac River in 1743.59 This would have ground corn and wheat for both Stratford and those smaller neighboring plantations which could not afford to have their own mills.
Tobacco seems to have been the main crop at Stratford, although wheat, corn, and a small amount of cotton, probably for plantation use, were also grown.60. The grains would have been for the use of the plantation as well as for sale to the local community and visiting shipmasters in search of supplies. Cattle and sheep grazed in the fields. Oxen pulled wagons and carts and hogs provided succulent pork for both the plantation’s use and for sale. Stratford had a labor force of approximately 83 slaves who tended the mill, crops, animals, and domestic complex.61
Col. Phil was not loath to try new ideas, although he was sometimes forced to retreat in the face of opposition by his slaves, who did not like to alter the slow, steady rhythms of their work. Landon Carter recorded in his diary:
I talked to Colonel [Francis Lightfoot] Lee …. Lee was perfectly satisfied of the disservice introduced by Carts and plows and really the impossibility of their doing any service … he declares he knows no one so backward where they have not a Cart or plow so that the lazyness introduced by it must needs be evident. And then told me a story of his brother Phill. He had one Pritchard for his Overseer who without Carts or plows always made large fine Crops of Corn and Tobacco. Colo. Phill imagining that more might be made with Carts and plows with no small expence provided them in abundance but Pritchard upon one year’s tryal being satisfied that his people had laid aside their diligence in working resolved that unless his Master [took] his Carts and plows away resolved not to live with him and never since has that plantation afforded a good Crop. The Colo. has now taken to his hoes again and is satisfied he is in a good way for a Crop. 62
Col. Phil had a steward who lived at Stratford. In addition to supervising the home plantation, the steward also had responsibility over the overseers and usually did at least some account work. William Lee served as his brother’s clerk-steward and “principal manager of his whole Estate” from 1755-1758.6364
In April 1759, Col. Phil’s political connections resulted in the establishment of a tobacco inspection warehouse at the Stratford Landing. He was paid a rent for every hogshead of tobacco, each typically weighing one thousand pounds, that was brought to the warehouse at Stratford.65 As large sea-going vessels called at the warehouse to collect hogsheads of tobacco, an extensive wharf was also built at the landing.66
Philip Ludwell’s own commercial activities benefitted from the patronage of those bringing their tobacco to the warehouse. Many of the wealthiest planters purchased the tobacco crops of the smaller farmers and shipped it with their own on consignment to British factors. Col. Phil, for example, assisted his brother William Lee, a tobacco factor in London, in obtaining profitable consignments. Rather than pay for the tobacco in currency, many of these planter kept stores stocked with imported goods and extended credit to their clients. There were two stores at Stratford, one at the landing and the other probably within the sphere of the main house complex. The store at the landing seems to have been a source of supplies, such as foodstuffs and sails, for ships calling for cargo at the tobacco warehouse. The other store was stocked with items suitable for the local market, including fabric, brandy, shoes, and beef. Several of Philip Ludwell’s servants, employees, and tenants had accounts and allowances of flour and pork were recorded in the ledger.67
By 1763 Philip Ludwell was seriously considering ship building as a potentially profitable enterprise. Robert Cary and Company, London merchants, firmly declined to be involved, pointing out, “it is always a losing Article, and as such We desire to be no ways Embark’d ….” 68 Col. Phil disregarded their advice and engaged Joshua Merrie, a shipwright, to work at Stratford.69 Merrie had left by 1772 and Spencer Carter was recruited to take his place. David Galloway, a Northumberland County merchant, wrote Carter:
I am desired by Colonel Lee of Westmoreland to inform you, that he wants a good Ship Carpenter to carry on the building of a Sea Vessel which he has now upon the Stocks; & from the Character which he has of your care[,] diligence & capacity … he is inclinable to employ you. if you find it will suit you to undertake this affair, you had better ride up to Stratford as soon as possible, that you may see the Work wanted & know his proposals. As he thinks of building several other Vessels, if you & him agree, he proposes to furnish you with a Plantation & good Houses to live in ….
Spencer Carter did not reply to Galloway’s first or second letter. The merchant persevered:
I have wrote you twice [that] Colo. Philip Lee wanted to employ you for finishing a Vessel which he has now upon the Stocks, & desired you would immediately go up to Stratford in order to make an agreement. this may be very well worth your trouble, for he has a great deal of more Work to do ....
It was only after Philip Ludwell Lee himself wrote in January 1773 that Carter agreed to come to Stratford.70 He was provided with not only a nearby plantation on which to live, but probably at least a small slave force to supply the bulk of the labor. At the time of Philip Ludwell’s death in 1775, there was on the stocks in his shipyard, “A New Brig, Burthen about 115 Tons … ready for launch. Her upper Timbers are altogether of Black Walnut, Cedar, Locust, and Mulberry.”71 In 1782, the two most valuable slaves belonging to his estate were the ship carpenters, 30 year old Osman and 28 year old Edmund.72
Col. Phil was also involved in shipping, although to an, as yet, undetermined extent. It appears that he had an interest in a ship, possibly the Lee, with the Hanburys, and quite probably was involved with others in various partnerships, including one with Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie.73
The records of the South Potomac Naval Office, which end in 1770, have only one entry for a vessel belonging solely to Philip Ludwell Lee. In September 1764 he owned the ship Mary of Virginia, a square-rigged six sailed vessel of 90 tons with a crew of ten men. This was a French prize captured by the British during the French and Indian War and registered in Bristol, England, on September 28, 1757. The Mary was bound for Barbados with a cargo of 9,300 staves, 11,255 feet of plank, 1,111 bushels of Indian corn, 208 dozens of hoops, 32 barrels of flour, 9 barrels of herring, 100,000 shingles, 1,130 heading pieces, 8,598 feet of scantling, 135 pounds of myrtle wax, 57 empty hogsheads, 40 empty barrels, and 38 “Anchor Stocks”.74 There may have been a saw mill to make wooden products such as the staves and headings for the West Indian market and for shipment to Britain as ballast when there was insufficient tobacco to fill the cargo. A saw mill would have also been convenient for both plantation use and Col. Phil’s shipbuilding enterprise. If one did exist, it almost certainly would have been located near the waterfront complex. The devastating hurricane of September 1769 destroyed the tobacco inspection
warehouse and possibly other buildings at the Stratford Landing. To Col. Phil’s disgust, the legislature took advantage of this opportunity to discontinue the warehouse on October 1, 1770. In an obvious attempt to placate him, a new tobacco inspection warehouse was to be established, as of October 1, 1770, on his land at Persimon Point on Currioman Bay in Westmoreland County.75 It seems quite likely that the Stratford Landing Store was either destroyed or severely damaged at the same time and, as it was dependent upon the custom brought by the warehouse, was probably not continued.
Philip Ludwell’s commercial endeavors did not stop with the development of his property. He was also involved with the extensive iron works operated first by John Ballantine and, later, John Semple and James Lawson in Prince William County. Seeking to diversify his investments, Philip Ludwell must have seized upon the iron works as a profitable venture. When John Ballantine sold the iron works to John Semple in a series of agreements beginning in 1762, part of the purchase price was the agreement to make an annual payment of 500 sterling to Col. Phil for some twenty-one years.76 Semple quickly fell behind in his payments and, by 1773, he owed approximately 3,000 sterling.77 Philip Ludwell held a mortgage on all of Semple’s land in the counties of Prince William, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Berkeley.78 Himself pressed for money to pay his brothers and the Hanburys, Col. Phil took possession of Occoquan and proposed to sell it. By this time, Occoquan consisted of a furnace, two forges, two saw mills, two flour mills, and some 20 to 30 acres of woods which provided fuel for the endless fires. John Semple died and Philip Ludwell successfully filed a lawsuit against his estate in the Prince William Chancery Court.7980
Col. Phil undoubtedly received iron and possibly planks and wooden products in payment from Semple and, later, his heir and executor James Lawson. The 1776 inventory of Philip Ludwell lists “a Large Quantity of Barr Iron” in the wet store. The accounts of the administrators of his estate record payments from James Lawson in 1777 and 1778. In 1779 and 1780, the estate accounts include sales of barr iron.81 Intriguingly, bog iron was used in the foundations of the octagon, the stone slave quarters, the foundation of the semi-circular portico on the north side of the Great House, and the 1795-1796 “Light Horse Harry” Lee addition to the stables. The use of iron in building foundations was very unusual in Westmoreland County in the eighteenth century.82 That it was done at Stratford is almost certainly a result of the Lee family’s involvement in Semple’s iron works.
Throughout his life, Philip Ludwell had a volatile relationship with his siblings. In his will, their father had bequeathed legacies to all of his children. His youngest children were to receive their inheritances at the age of 21. Their guardians were instructed:
to educate my children in such manner as they think fitt Religiously and virtuously and if necessary to bind them to any profession or Trade, soe that they may Learn to get their Living honestly.83
Philip Ludwell was the acting executor of his father’s will. Four younger siblings still living at Stratford had been entrusted to his care – Francis Lightfoot (1734-1797), Alice (1736-1817), William (1739-1795), and Arthur (1740-1792). Philip Ludwell kept William at Stratford and taught him all he had learned of plantation management and the tobacco trade. He sent the more intellectual Arthur first to Eton and then to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. Philip Ludwell was careful that his youngest brother not be encouraged to develop a ruinously expensive lifestyle, writing his English guardian James Russell:
I desire my brother may have a suit of plain cloaths made as soon as he gets to you of such as is fit for a boy of his age and other things for his dress proper to wear with it. I chuse he should only have one plain winter suit and one plain summer suit in a year and the other parts of his dress suitable to them. He will have occasion for little or no pocket money as he is to get his living by his head and has not an estate to support him as a Gent[lema]n without a profession, so the more he minds his studys the less time he will have to spend money.84
Although Philip Ludwell inherited the bulk of his father’s property, Stratford and the other lands were only entailed on him. Under this provision, if he had no male children, the entailed property would be inherited by his eldest brother, Thomas Ludwell, or his male issue. If Thomas Ludwell had no male children, then the lands were to become the property of the third eldest son, Richard Henry, or his male heirs.
Thomas Lee had also ordered that his estate was to remain intact until all of his debts and legacies were paid. As his youngest child, Arthur, would not reach the age of 21 until 1761, his estate was not to be divided until that year. What became the most serious problem encountered by both Philip Ludwell and the other heirs was the provision requiring the payment of all debts before the estate was divided. Thomas had explained that all but some small debts could be found in his books, and seemed to believe that this provision would cause no problems. Unfortunately, it did.
Thomas Lee had shared extensive business interests with John and Capel Hanbury, influential London factors. Their transactions concerned not only the tobacco trade, but also the Ohio Company, in which they too owned shares. The exact nature of Thomas Lee’s debt to the Hanburys is, as yet, unknown, but by 1758, eight years after his death, it had reached the tremendous sum of 1,000 sterling. Philip Ludwell acknowledged the debt in court on May 1, 1758, and agreed to pay their Virginia agent the amount on demand. He failed to do so. In 1761, an action of debt was entered against him in the General Court of Virginia in Williamsburg. Philip Ludwell lost the case. Stubborn and, perhaps, believing himself more powerful in England than he actually was, Philip Ludwell refused to accept the judgement and appealed to the Privy Council in London, a most expensive process. On July 8, 1772, his appeal was dismissed and he was ordered to pay the sum, plus damages assessed by the Court in Williamsburg, to the Hanburys.85 In 1773, a disgruntled Philip Ludwell, pleading poverty and an inability to send his brother William all of his tobacco, wrote plaintively:
Balfour Hanburys agent here says he will take my Tob[acc]o & I wait his answer ab[ou]t the price w[hi]ch if any thing tolerable I must let him have it as he will execute my negroes & ca, as he has it ready & all I can say & read will not pay his whole demand ….86
Another lawsuit against Philip Ludwell ran concurrently with that of the Hanburys. But this was one brought against him by his own brothers and sisters. The unsettled state of their father’s estate was a source of great dissatisfaction to the other heirs – Thomas Ludwell, Richard Henry, Francis Lightfoot, Alice, William, and Arthur. In 1754, they initiated a suit in chancery against their elder brother. The four who were still under age were represented by Henry Lee, the guardian they had chosen in place of Philip Ludwell.87
The Virginia gentry were a closely related group and the problems of the Lee family must have been a delightful source of gossip. In 1754 Edmund Jenings, a friend and relative of the Lees then living in England, tactfully wrote Philip Ludwell:
I am told you Design for this part of ye world, & cannot hear it without pleasure, as I daresay you would Hardly take such a Resolution unless you had Settled your Virginia [affairs] To ye Mutual Satisfaction of … all [your] Brothers ….88
Philip Ludwell did make payments to his brothers, but as they grew older and more independent, the amounts became increasingly unsatisfactory. In 1761, Arthur wrote Richard Henry from Edinburgh, “the want of Money will not distress me, since Col. Phil’s gift as yet remains entire.”89 By 1769, Arthur’s tone had changed drastically. Seething and frustrated that Col. Phil was more willing to send advice than money, Arthur wrote Williamsburg attorney Robert Nicolas. Nicolas answered rather disapprovingly, “I take it for granted that you have already tried every lenient Application or you would not speak of legal Measures, considering your Object is your own Brother.90
Col. Phil’s youngest siblings jealously fought him throughout his life, demanding their inheritances and, possibly, his respect. William and Arthur were never comfortable with the authority of their elder brother, and envied his wealth. Philip Ludwell was caught in the transition between two worlds – that of the traditional landed gentry of England, with the accepted traditions of primogeniture and entail, and the more socially mobile, egalitarian one of his brothers. To him, it was only just that, as the elder son, he inherit the bulk of his father’s estate. As the head of the family and owner of the family seat, his was the burden of maintaining the status of the family. His younger brothers, with the help of an appropriate education and family influence, were to make their own way. Col. Phil’s incomprehension of his brothers’ fears, desires, and insecurities only exacerbated the ill-will with which they often regarded him.
Arthur once commented wryly, “Good God what trouble does the not having been born to a fortune, give me – how much has the reverse fatigued the possessor of Stratford!”91 William more bluntly admonished Philip Ludwell, “certainly to be twelve years out of the small pittance which my Father left me, without even common Interest for it … you have been indulging in affluence, & I procuring my bread with the sweat of my brow …. “92
Feeling betrayed, misunderstood, and much put-upon, Col. Phil defensively blustered back:
is it not very strange that you & Arthur who only have demands ag[ains]t the Estate & you by living on y[ou]r Estate & minding it properly might live like a prince … & Arthur by staying here & following his profession properly might have done the same whereas he is to be supported by the sweat of my brow & you too in my old age while he & you are rioting in ease & luxury in y[ou]r youth, is this honor justice or mercy or Brotherly love or any thing else that is amiable in the Eyes of God or Man ….93
Recriminations flew back and forth across the Atlantic, but little else. Part of Philip Ludwell’s problem, in addition to the Hanbury lawsuit, may have been the entail of his landed inheritance from his father. Land was in bounteous supply; money was not. Entailed property appraised at more than 200 could not be sold without a special act of the legislature, which then had to be approved by the government in London. In 1763, a certificate was entered into the Westmoreland County Court by Thomas Ludwell Lee, heir at law to his elder brother, affirming that he had received notice “about the docking the Entail of certain Lands therein mentioned.”94 No other records have yet been found regarding the release of Philip Ludwell’s inherited lands from entail; apparently it was never approved.95
Political differences may have exacerbated the ill-will brought about by the family’s financial travails. In the turbulence experienced by Virginians in the 1770s, Philip Ludwell was in a more awkward position than his rebellious brothers. As a member of the governing Council of Virginia, he was a royal appointee and servant of the Crown. Col. Phil undoubtedly remembered the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 against George II, which was ruthlessly and unmercifully crushed. The rebellion’s aristocratic leaders had been convicted of treason and suffered the ultimate penalty. They were drawn, quartered, and beheaded. While a law student in London in the late 1740s, Philip Ludwell must have shuddered at the gruesome sight of the rebels’ skulls on pikes at the Temple Bar.
Col. Phil maintained a discreet silence regarding political matters in public and no private revelation of his opinions has, as yet, been discovered. At the time of his death in 1775, he may have still been a Loyalist, but this was also true of many who later fervently supported the American Revolution. Philip Ludwell does not seem to have been particularly interested in politics. He did relish the power and prestige of his position in the colony. But he preferred music, dancing, hunting, and horses to political controversy.
Philip Ludwell Lee died unexpectedly after a brief illness on February 21, 1775, at the age of 48. He was probably buried at Stratford, joining at least one of his children, an infant girl who died soon after birth, in a graveyard or burial vault which he had placed to the east of his Great House.96 His heir, also named Philip Ludwell Lee, was born on the same day as his funeral.97
John Tayloe of near-by Mt. Airy plantation was a life-long friend of Col. Phil. He wrote George Washington:
I am sorry to tell you, that yesterday, our Country lost a good Counsellor, & able Judge, my self a good friend, with the death of Philip Ludwell Lee Esq.98
Despite the tensions between Philip Ludwell and his brothers and sisters, he was sincerely missed. They also seem to have believed that, when it became necessary, he would support the cause of liberty. His brother William, one of Col. Phil’s sternest and most unforgiving critics, wrote his nephew:
The Death of your Uncle [Philip Ludwell Lee] w[oul]d have been always unhappy but particularly so at this time when America stands in need of steady friends to prevent her from being enslaved.99
Philip Ludwell Lee’s life represents a brief period in the history of Virginia. It was a time when Virginia gentlemen referred to England as “home” and primogeniture reinforced the power of the landed gentry. Col. Phil’s brothers were a part of the Revolutionary whirlwind, destroying the ties that held England and her colonies together. Perhaps it was sadly appropriate that he died on the eve of the revolution his brothers helped to create. Philip Ludwell Lee might have found it difficult indeed to adjust to life in “a world turned upside down”.
Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine
December 1996, Vol. XLVI No.1
Published Annually by
The Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society
Montross, Westmoreland County, Virginia
3. Philip Ludwell Lee to Rev. Dr. John Sumner, Stratford 28 August 1753, Philip Ludwell Lee Letterbook, James Monroe Memorial Museum and Library. I have chosen the age of 11 as a plausible one. Students were accepted at Eton as young as 8, but were not allowed to stay past 18. Personal communication, Penelope Hatfield, October 1988.
4. Thomas Lee to [Daniel Dulaney?], Stratford 15 February 1742, Dulaney Papers, Maryland Historical Society. Calhoun, Jeanne A., “Thomas Lee, 1690-1750: Founder of a Virginia Dynasty,” Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, volume 16, number 1, December 1991, p.4699.
31. Fox, Richard H., Dr. John Fothergill and His Friends, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London, 1919, p.264. Stearson, Raymond P., Science in the British Colonies of America, University of Illinois Press, 1970, p.518.
47. Ibid., Purdie and Dixon, 6 June 1766. Although Col. Phil may have exaggerated a bit in his claims for Dotterel, it is unlikely that he knew the truth about his cherished horse. As a race horse in England, Dotterel had not been successful. He was technically half bred and was not even included in the first edition of the Stud Book published in 1791, presumably because neither he nor his siblings were highly regarded. Philip Ludwell may have knowingly inflated his claims for Dotterel, but in view of his willingness to pay for the best, and the close connections between England and Virginia, this seems improbable. Indeed, Col. Phil, one of the foremost figures in Virginia, was probably laughed at by his unidentified English correspondent for being persuaded to pay an exorbitant price for an unexceptional horse.
52. Maryland Gazette, 29 September 1757. Barden, John R., “Innocent and Necessary: Music and Dancing in the Life of Robert Carter of Nomony Hall, 1728-1804,” M.A. thesis, Department of History, College of William and Mary, 1983, pp.48-49.
73. Philip Ludwell Lee to John and Capel Hanbury, Stratford 1 August 1753, Philip Ludwell Lee Letterbook. Ibid., 30 November 1754. CO 5/1445, Virginia Naval Officer Accounts, 29 September 1735-25 March 1753, p.62, BPRO-Kew.
74. CO 5/1449, p.61, Virginia Naval Office Lists 2 March 1762-5 January 1766, BPRO-Kew. A ship consigned to Philip Ludwell would not have included a reference to him in its customs records; nor necessarily would those owned by a group of partners.
82. Neiman, Fraser, “An Archaeological Survey of Stratford Plantation,” on file, duPont Library, 1976, pp.42; 52. Neiman states, “a survey of Westmoreland County shows that the use of bog iron did not enter the general technological repertoire until the first quarter of the 19th century.
85. Hanbury’s Exors. vs. Lee’s Administrators et als. 1809. This lawsuit was relentlessly pursued by the Hanbury heirs, who, as late as 1819, desperately needed the money. B 3, Bankruptcy Commission Files, #2239, British Public Record Office-Chancery Lane.