Manuscript Collection at Stratford Hall
The duPont Library’s collection contains over 1,100 documents and manuscripts related to the Lee family. Stratford Hall’s manuscript collection is cataloged on the Founding Fathers Library Consortium
website. To research the manuscript collection on site, please contact the Director of Library Collections. Currently, the manuscript collection is being added to The Lee Family Digital Archive, an on-line repository of Lee documents and reference materials. The Lee Family Archive, formerly housed at Washington & Lee University, has been transferred to the duPont Library, where the archive editor will constantly be adding new information.
Selected documents and manuscripts from Stratford Hall’s collections are sometimes made accessible on-line. These documents are for personal and classroom use only. If you wish to use any of these documents, or excerpts from them, for publication purposes, please contact the Director of Research & Library Collections to request a Permission to Publish form.
Latest Acquisitions – Collection Highlights
One of our latest acquisitions is a letter from Richard Henry Lee to Brigadier General George Weedon, purchased from Swann Galleries in New York. This letter was one of over a hundred letters written to Gen. Weedon during the American Revolution, part of a collection that was purchased by Allyn Kellogg Ford in the 1920s. Ford’s collection was eventually donated by his widow to the Minnesota Historical Society, which recently de-accessioned many manuscripts not related to Minnesota history.
In this letter written 10 May 1781, Richard Henry Lee updated Gen. Weedon on the Northern Neck’s lack of defense against the British forces plundering the Potomac shoreline. Lee had been injured the previous month by his horse falling with him during a skirmish between the local militia and British sailors at Stratford Landing, situated only a mile upriver from his home Chantilly. The militia successfully prevented the landing party from coming ashore, killing at least one British seaman and wounding several others. Richard Henry wrote Weedon about the increasingly bitter character of the war: “What they [the British] cannot carry off they destroy.” Lee asked for Weedon’s assistance since the local militia had “no military experience, no artillery, little ammunitions, and no cavalry…” and, while the British were focusing their efforts on destroying everything on both shores of the Potomac River, the American forces were being directed southward. Evidently, British ships anchored off St. Clement’s Island were too close for Richard Henry Lee; the following day he moved his family downriver to Epping Forest in nearby Lancaster County.
Chantilly May the 10th 1781
Permit me now to thank you for your favor by Mr. Price and for the newspapers inclosed. It is to be hoped that the pride of Great Britain will with her power be reduced e’er long within the bounds of moderation; and this will certainly be the case if the Dutch will exert themselves as they ought, and the Spaniards cease to knock their heads in vain against the rocks of Gibralter. In the mean time, it seems as if we should be left to struggle against the pride, the power, and the rancor of the British court. It is now a war of inveterate malice on her part against us, so that what they cannot carry off they destroy. Your letter of the 4th instant to Colo. J. A. Washington was by him transmitted to me on Monday night last at 12 oclock—I did not then know that the Express had been below, and therefore I immediately dispatched a messenger to Colo. Gaskins with a copy of your letter, and a request that he would cause lookouts to be placed on the most advantageous parts of the Bayshore for descrying vessels far down Chesapeake, and to give me the quickest notice of the coming up of the hostile fleet to the end that an Express might carry it on to you. We have held a council of field officers and captains upon the subject of your letter to Colo. Washington, and our opinion respecting the defence of the lower part of the Northern Neck you will see in the letter to the Governor which is left open for your perusal and that the business might pass thro your hands to government, as we conceive that your superior command should not be interrupted by that of a younger general officer whom we solicit to be placed in these 5 lower counties. Our situation is singular, differing from that of any other part of the State—we are as it were empounded by the Bay on one side, Potomac & Rappahannock on two other sides, and only a narrow egress of a few miles, in some places I believe not more than 5 miles wide, from whence to the lowest part of the N. Neck, is 60 or 70 miles, containing very many slaves, much Tobacco public & private, with abundant stocks of all kinds. Thus affording to the enemy the double temptation of greatly profiting themselves and ruining a considerable tract of country whilst we are in a manner cut off from the aid of our fellow citizens by water enclosures possessed by the enemies vessels, and only accessible to our friends by a very narrow entrance. Every reason therefore calls for a special attention to such a situation. Whilst your mind may be engrossed by the greater objects up Potomac and about the Falls of Rappahannock, the immediate eye and presence of a skillful general officer to organize our militia with a small regular corps for them to resort to and form with if the enemy should come would at least stay the hand of ravage until you could bring upon their backs a superior force from above—but in our disjointed unskillful present state, and indeed almost unfurnished with ammunition, we may be swept from Fredericksburg to Fleets Bay, 80 or 90 miles, with infinite ease and great profit to the enemy. Your letter ought to have animated us all, yet I found yesterday in a neighboring county that all was quiet and unmoved as if peace with the whole world placed them in the greatest security—In truth Sir we want an active knowing officer upon the spot with power consistent to the compelling a due attention to those things which are requisite for our own salvation. Cannot Gen. Spotswood be placed here so long as the present storm threatens, during which alone it is that our idea extends to the having a regular corps to countenance the militia. Can you spare us any cartridges if we were to send up to Fredericksburg for them—We have a person making for us as fast as possible, but we have not a sufficiency of materials for him. We have appointed a place of rendezvous and a commissary to make conditional contracts for provision, and persons are employed in making cartridge boxes & canteens—We have done every thing in our power in this country, and I wish the same activity prevailed in the other counties. We have no military experience, no artillery, little ammunitions, and no cavalry at present. We are endeavoring for the latter, and hope soon to be about 50 light horse in this county. We hear that our friend Greene goes rapidly on in S. Carolina, hath any certain good news from that or any other quarter reached you? If Gen. Greene pushes the enemy well in the South, it may disburthen us of this destructive band that are doing this country so much injury. They seem to destroy for the sake of destruction, and to mean that hostility shall for ever remain between the blood of this country & that of G. Britain. How far is Gen. Wayne off, and is he with our N. Neck militia to be pushed southward whilst the opinion is that the enemy is coming to this northern river. You say that the Marquis [Lafayette] has directed to “to prepare for the worst.��� I think indeed that you may prepare to see the worst catastrophy take place in the northern parts of Virginia, if all the strength is sent into the south whilst the enemy are quitting that & coming here. But this will surely be rectified by the wisdom of the Marquis and his assistant general officers.
My compliments if you please to your family both civil & military—
I am dear general sincerely yours
Richard Henry Lee
P.S. When you have read, be pleased to seal & send the governors letter forward—if you approve, no doubt you will add your weight to our desires.
Richd Henry Lee
May 10 1781
Transcribing some of the Lee family letters has been a challenge. Some handwriting, such as that of Robert E. Lee, is very legible…except when he tries to make an overlong letter fit his stationery and begins writing across his previous script. However, other Lees, such as Stratford’s builder Thomas Lee, wrote letters that are not as easy to transcribe.