Henry Lee (1787-1837)
After Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee departed Stratford, his son Henry Lee IV became owner. Matilda and Henry’s 1790 deed of trust had protected the younger Henry’s inheritance, and beginning in 1808 he was of an age to take control of his property. Following studies at Washington Academy in Lexington (now Washington and Lee University) and the College of William and Mary, Henry IV represented Westmoreland County in the Virginia legislature and entered military service against Great Britain during the War of 1812. After the war, Henry declined President Madison’s offer of the position of assistant inspector general of the southern division and lost an 1816 attempt for a congressional seat. Like his father, Henry was a bit of a dandy, making a “splash” as something of a beau in society circles of the new national capital, as well as New York City. In New York, he courted Serena Livingston, but was not wealthy enough to be considered a suitable match for one of the state’s richest young women.
Following his father’s footsteps in another fashion, he joined his fortunes with substantial Westmoreland County wealth, in this case through marriage in March 1817 to Anne Robinson McCarty (1798-1840) of Pope’s Creek Plantation. Consisting of nearly 2,000 acres bordering the Potomac just northwest of Stratford, the McCarty holdings gained through the marriage, joined to Henry IV’s 3,000-acre Stratford property, brought the young Lee to a landed position rivaling that of his grandfather Philip Ludwell and great-grandfather Thomas. The union with Ann McCarty also brought Henry Lee IV wealth beyond the land itself, including slaves and ready cash for repairs to Stratford, which appears to have been in a “sad state of repair” by the second decade of the nineteenth century. After the marriage, Henry Lee reluctantly became guardian of his sister-in-law, posting a $60,000 bond (the Stratford tract), and began managing her estate.
Henry IV appears to have been even more careless than his father in matters of money. Yet, while “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s life disintegrated over a long period, his son experienced a cataclysmic event leading to the loss of Stratford to the Lees for all time. Only three years after his marriage to Ann McCarty, Henry IV had an affair with his nineteen-year-old ward, Elizabeth “Betsey” McCarty, Ann’s younger sister. While Anne was secluded in her chamber, grieving the death of her little daughter Margaret and taking solace in laudanum, her husband and sister had been, in his own words, “surprised into adultery” in the isolation of a house cloaked in mourning. The fate of a baby, if indeed there was one, remains a mystery, but the jolt to the lives Betsey, Ann, and Henry was no secret, and it was enormous. News of the scandal became widespread. Betsey went to live with her grandmother Rose and reinstated her former guardian, Richard Henry Stuart, who promptly sued Henry IV for mismanagement of his ward’s estate. The nickname “Black Horse Harry” was bestowed on Henry sometime during this period—a parody of the nickname “Light Horse Harry” that his father received for his successful leadership of light horse troops.
Henry’s debts mounted, including a chancery court judgment against him for monies owed Betsey McCarty for one-half of the earnings of the Pope’s Creek from November 1817 until May 1821, viz. $11,568.97. Ultimately, only the June 1822 sale of Stratford for $25,000 to William C. Somerville could resolve the matter.
Anne traveled to a health resort near Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes of overcoming her opium addition. There she became acquainted with Rachel and Andrew Jackson. Meanwhile, Henry continued to write her of his deep penitence. He moved to Fredericksburg and began to write The Campaign of 1781 in the Carolinas, which was published in 1824, and started editing a new edition of his father’s memoirs.
By this time, Lee was in desperate need of money and sought a government position. Henry finally received a minor job in the post office department in 1825 through the influence of John Calhoun and Chief Justice Marshall. Henry began a history of the War of 1812, and visited Monticello in late June 1826 to examine Jefferson’s papers and was still waiting to see Jefferson when the former president died days later on July 4. During summer and fall 1826, Henry visited New York and Canada researching the war’s northern campaigns. To gain further information on the war, Lee began corresponding with Andrew Jackson. As a supporter of Jackson for the presidency, Lee wrote pro-Jackson articles, which were turned against Jackson. Mortified, Lee wrote a letter explaining his stance to Jackson, who invited him to The Hermitage. Henry resigned his government position after Duff Green offered him funding to write a biography of Jackson and he soon became Andrew Jackson’s campaign speechwriter and publicist.
An anti-Jackson convention held in Richmond, Virginia, was reported in the Richmond Enquirer to detail Jackson’s alleged abuses of the law in New Orleans and in Florida. Two of Lee’s writings in response to the article were eventually printed as a campaign pamphlet: A Vindication of the Character and Public Services of Andrew Jackson, in reply to the Richmond Address, signed by Chapman Johnson and other Electioneering Enemies (Boston, 1828).
In a letter to Andrew Jackson in August 1829, Henry complained about Jackson “withholding materials,” such as his “confidential correspondence with Monroe.” Frustrated, Lee wrote to both James Monroe and John C. Calhoun requested information about Jackson’s orders during the Seminole War; Calhoun refused to provide any unless Jackson approved, and Monroe replied that Jackson had “exceeded orders,” but his actions were justified by conditions in Florida. However, Jackson provided enough information for him to complete a final draft of the biography, which was never published, but later used as source material for Kendall’s Life of Andrew Jackson (1843).
For a time, Henry joined Anne at the health resort, and later they moved into a house close to Nashville. Jackson wrote William Robinson, Ann Lee’s uncle, “Major and Mrs. Lee are living with a neighbor of mine. Mrs. Lee has not enjoyed good health at times her mind appears somewhat deranged, she cannot be persuaded to visit her kind neighbors and mix in company, her health lately is believed to be better & I hope she may regain her spirits & with it her health will be restored.”
The Lees remained close to the Jacksons during Rachel Jackson’s last illness, just before her husband’s inauguration in March 1829, after one of history’s most vicious presidential campaigns. Henry drafted the inauguration speech, traveled with Jackson to Washington for the inauguration and remained there with him for some time.
Jackson’s many attempts to appoint Henry to public office continuously met with defeat. With each appointment came the resurrection of the old scandal. Finally, Jackson surreptitiously appointed Henry to one of the least desirous and most dangerous assignments: consul to Algiers. Anne Lee stuck by her husband and, in October 1829, arrived in Algiers—considered a very dangerous area—with him. After Henry had successfully filled the post for nearly a year, the Senate found out about the appointment and voted to recall him in March 1830. Richard T. Brown, speaking for the men of Westmoreland County in defense of Lee, wrote Jackson, “We were gratified at your nomination of Major Lee to a foreign station, as a means of bringing into public service and consideration his acknowledged talents & noble qualities which, though sullied with a stain, would have been an ornament to his country…” Knowing that there was nothing left in America for them, Henry, 43, and Anne, 32, left Algiers in August 1830 and toured Italy before settling in Paris in February 1831 to try to build a new life.
In Paris, Henry wrote Observations on the Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1832) in response to Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s previous 4-volume work that disparaged Henry’s father, “Light Horse Harry” Lee. Henry then published the first of his two-volume biography of Napoleon, Life of the Emperor Napoleon (London, 1834; New York, 1835), with excellent reviews. He had nearly finished the manuscript for the second volume when died in 1837 during the flu epidemic. Henry Lee IV, heavily in debt, was buried in an unmarked grave in Montmartre. Ann later wrote to a Nashville friend about Henry’s death, “The blow fell on me with overwhelming force…There never was a better heart beat in a human bosom than his, or a more noble and generous spirit bowed down by neglect and mortification.” Andrew Jackson also wrote William B. Lewis in May 1839, “I have too great a respect for his [Lee’s] memory and high talents as a writer to permit any thing from me that could in the least derogate from either.”
After Henry died, Anne frequently wrote to her husband’s half-brother Carter Lee, asking for money. Her remaining fortune was estimated at $9000, in addition to money owed her for the sale of the Popes Creek property to Henry Vernon Somerville. Carter continually encouraged Anne to return home to America, but without success. She wrote a friend, “All my habitudes are of this country I have been here so long, and the idea of returning there [America] without him is horrible to me. I can have o satisfaction is association with those who disliked and persecuted my dear husband while living and who may probably rejoice that he is no more.” Anne Lee died three years later in Paris, at age 40, with only her dog Cora at her side. The woman, who had once been a rich heiress, wrote in her last letter to Charles Carter Lee, “When that [few francs] is gone, what is to become of me?…I have no friend on earth but you.”