Philip Richard Fendall

Philip Richard Fendall (1734-1805) was born in Charles County, Maryland, to Benjamin Fendall I of “Potomac” and Eleanor Lee of “Blenheim”—the Lee tract now occupied by the PEPCO plant across the Potomac River from Stratford.  Fendall was a lawyer and merchant, acting as the principal agent on the Potomac River for James Russell, merchant of London (Russell was Fendall’s uncle).   Russell’s import-export business was one of the largest in the Chesapeake region and Fendall was responsible for procuring tobacco consignments, taking orders for London goods, and overseeing Russell’s ships while in port.  In 1756, Philip became Clerk of the Court of Charles County, a position he filled until 1776.  Philip married his first cousin Sarah Lettice Lee in 1759 and they resided at Mount Clifton on the Potomac River, but the marriage was short-lived since she died two years later after a short illness.

Revolutionary Period

Philip had signed Maryland non-importation agreement in 1769 and served on the Committee of Observation of Charles County.  As treasurer of the Charles County Committee, Philip collected subscriptions to aid the Bostonians affected by the British blockade of Boston Harbor.  In May 1775 he was chosen as one of 15 citizens to represent Charles County in general convention for Maryland, of which five were needed to bind the county in any decision.  Philip attended the Convention of Maryland between July 26 and August 4, 1775, the first day of which four British warships in the Potomac River fired cannons at his home and burned a plantation on the Virginia shore.

Philip Fendall sailed to France in 1778 when assigned by the Continental Congress to audit public accounts of American diplomatic personnel.  He was on the last ship to leave the Chesapeake before the British stopped all trade links to the colonies. In France, Fendall met up with his Stratford cousins William and Dr. Arthur Lee, diplomats attempting to secure European support for the colonies, as well as John Adams.

Managing Stratford

On his return to America, Fendall married Elizabeth Steptoe Lee of Stratford in 1780. She was the widow of his cousin Col. Philip Ludwell Lee, who had died in 1775.  Col. Phil had left a sizable estate which was in the hands of administrators, with the primary administrator being Richard Henry Lee.  Phil’s young son and heir, Philip Ludwell Lee, born after his father’s death, had died from a fall at an early age, so the Fendalls lived at Stratford with Elizabeth’s two daughters Matilda and Flora during the remainder of the American Revolution.  In 1782, they were joined by another Lee cousin, Revolutionary hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III, when he and Matilda married. The Great House at Stratford became a two-family household. The Stratford estate was finally divided in 1782 among Elizabeth and her two daughters—after the Revolution had essentially abolished the British system that placed property ownership in the hands of male heirs.  In addition to the Stratford house and outbuildings, Elizabeth received 1,000 acres of land, 41 slaves, and £1,352 current money for her widow’s dower…of which Philip Fendall assumed management.  Philip himself had 51 slaves, making Elizabeth and him one of the county’s most affluent couples.  Hogsheads of tobacco shipped from Stratford during this period were marked with Fendall’s own tobacco mark.

The Fendalls move to Alexandria

Henry Lee sold Philip Fendall a lot in Alexandria, on the corner of Washington and Oronoco Streets, where Fendall constructed the Lee-Fendall House in 1785.  The Fendalls and Elizabeth’s daughter Flora moved in soon after.   A new agreement was made that gave Matilda ownership of the Stratford home farm and house that had originally been her mother’s portion in the original estate division.  In Alexandria, Fendall became involved in the formation of the Potomac Canal Company in 1785, becoming its chairman in 1788.  The Potomac Company wanted to build a canal around the Great Falls of the Potomac to facilitate trade to and from the Ohio Valley.  Despite many pitfalls, the canal became operational in 1802, but went bankrupt two decades later.

In the early 1790s, Philip Fendall became a director of the Bank of the United States and, in 1792, helped to establish the first bank south of the Potomac.  Fendall was elected President of the Bank of Alexandria the following year and filled that position until 1796.  It was advantageous that  Henry Lee III was Governor of Virginia at the time of the bank’s startup and had deposited Virginia funds in the bank.

Philip Fendall served on the Board of Aldermen in Alexandria in 1794 and helped to organize the Alexandria Library Company.  He belonged to the Georgetown Bridge Company that built the first major bridge in the Little Falls area of the capital.

During this time, Philip Fendall remained a close friend and business partner/attorney of George Washington.  Elizabeth and Philip were frequent visitors to Mount Vernon and hosted the Washingtons at their Alexandria home.  Washington’s diary documents that Philip visited Mount Vernon 34 times between 1770 and February 1799.  The Fendalls also spent some nights there. Henry and Matilda also accompanied them on some of the visits to the Washingtons’ home. When George Washington heard of Elizabeth’s illness and that Philip was looking for asses’ milk for her, Washington provided them with one of his best imported female donkeys.

Within two years, Elizabeth began suffering from an illness from which she never recovered.  Henry and Matilda spent much of winter 1788-9 at her mother’s home.    It was there that Henry Lee wrote the farewell address to President-elect Washington from the citizens of Alexandria.  Elizabeth Fendall died in May 1789 while traveling to see Matilda at Stratford.   Later, Philip Fendall married a much younger Lee cousin, Mary “Mollie” Lee, Henry Lee’s sister, in 1791 and they had two children, Philip Richard Fendall II and Lucy Eleanor Fendall.  Fendall’s second marriage made his former son-in-law, Henry Lee, his brother-in-law.

While in Alexandria, Fendall partnered with merchant Robert Young, trading under the firm name Robert Young & Co.  The business, which dealt with shipping wheat overseas, folded by 1797.  He also joined merchant Lewis Hipkins in 1789 in the construction of an industrial park at Pimmet Run, producing stone for road beds and buildings in the new capital of Washington, DC. By 1791, Fendall contracted with L’Enfant to transport stone for building the White House.  Around the same time, Henry Lee secured a contract to furnish timber from Stratford for the construction. By 1796, the business at Pimmet Run included a gristmill, distillery, brewery and stone quarries and Fendall was advertising it for lease; by 1803 Fendall had mortgaged the property.

Philip Fendall had inherited the 107-acre Batten’s Cliffs property in Maryland from his father in 1758.  He added adjacent tracts until his holdings included almost 700 acres along the Potomac River.  He advertised the property for sale in 1784 and it was sold in three parcels in 1786.

During the 1790s, like many other prominent businessmen of that time (including his brother-in-law Henry Lee), Philip Fendall invested in real estate and construction projects—many of which failed.  In 1791 Fendall joined a group purchasing around 500 acres of land in the area of the nation’s new capital, which was sold the following year.  He also speculated in huge tracts of land in western Virginia and Kentucky, which were devalued during the depression in the mid 1790s.  Although he owned a tremendous amount of property, Fendall did not have enough money to pay his debts.

In 1800, tax records show that Fendall’s property had been drastically diminished; he only owned 3 slaves over 16 years old and 1 slave between 12 and 16 years of age.  Philip Fendall declared bankruptcy in 1803 and was sentenced to debtor’s prison in Fairfax County, Virginia.  He suffered many indignities from a constant stream of creditors hounding him for debts he owed.  Philip Fendall died in 1805 and was buried in the family cemetery at his farm near Janney’s Mill.  Although he did not spend many years at Stratford,  his life story echoes that of many a Revolutionary patriot who found themselves in dire financial straits at the end of their lives.