Reconstructing the Lee family’s American Revolution, one letter at a time

Greetings all! My name is Brian Johnson and I am a native Michigander spending this summer in balmy (to put it mildly) Virginia. I will be starting my third year as a history student at Gettysburg College this fall, and in the meantime am enjoying a fantastic internship here at Stratford Hall.

Stratford possesses a rich history, and the Lee family’s involvement in the American Revolution is no exception. Many of readers of this blog might know that the Revolutionary generation – Francis Lightfoot, Richard Henry, Thomas Ludwell, William, and Arthur Lee – played instrumental roles in America’s struggle for independence. In a new book, Stratford’s Executive Director Paul Reber hopes to show that our Revolution would not have been the same without the contributions of this audacious group of brothers.

In order to assist Dr. Reber in this endeavor, my summer is all about letters. I am organizing and examining correspondence sent to or written by this prolific group of Lees. At first, this meant creating a spreadsheet of all of the information that had already been collected on specific letters and organizing it in chronological order. Now that I’ve completed that first aspect of the project, I am taking notes on photocopied correspondence held in the New York Public Library and adding them to the ever-growing contents of the spreadsheet. Hopefully the final aspect of my project finds me hunting for more letters at Virginia repositories like the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.

The second part of my internship has allowed me to shadow the duties of Dr. Reber as Executive Director. I love history but am also very interested in the work it takes to run an historical site. Traveling to Richmond to view a new promotional video for Stratford Hall, attending a recent meeting of the Northern Neck Tourism Commission, and occasionally just following Dr. Reber around here at Stratford has given me a feel for what his work entails on a daily basis. Each meeting and trip has also provided a welcome respite from the swirling, smudged, small, and idiosyncratic handwriting from a quarter-millennium ago. Of course, the Lee brothers had to contend not only with the summer heat but also with writing implements limited to a quill dipped in ink. As a native Northerner, I am barely weathering the first of these challenges!