Thomas Lee (1690-1750) was a founder of the Ohio Company, a member of the governing Council of the colony, and, at his death, was President of the Council and acting Governor of Virginia (the Royal Governor not residing in the colony at the time). In 1717, he purchased the property known as “The Clifts,” which he renamed Stratford for his grandfather’s home in London. Around 1737-1738, Thomas began construction on the large brick Great House that survives today. At the Stratford Landing on the Potomac River, he built a wharf and gristmill.
A successful tobacco planter and land speculator, he owned more than 16,000 acres in Virginia and Maryland. The labor force was made up of slaves, indentured servants, and transported convicts.
Thomas Lee and his wife, Hannah, raised a remarkable family of six sons and two daughters. Their eldest son, Philip Ludwell Lee (1727-1775), inherited Stratford. Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee were the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Ludwell Lee helped write Virginia’s resolves for independence and was one of the first judges elected to Virginia’s supreme court. William and Arthur Lee were both diplomats working to secure the European support during the Revolution. Hannah Lee Corbin was a proponent of women’s rights. Her sister, Alice Lee, married Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia, who served as chief physician and director general of the Continental Army hospitals.
Philip Ludwell Lee was a planter and member of the Council of Virginia. A lover of horses, he imported the English race horse, Dotterel, and expanded the stables. He also continued to develop the Landing.
Soon after the death of Philip Ludwell Lee, Stratford Hall Plantation became the home of his eldest daughter, the “divine Matilda” who married her cousin, Revolutionary War hero, “Light Horse Harry” Lee. She died in 1790, leaving her husband a life interest in the Plantation. In 1793, “Light Horse Harry” Lee married Ann Hill Carter of Shirley Plantation. Their son Robert E. Lee, the future General of the Confederate Army, was born at Stratford in 1807.
“Light Horse Harry” Lee experienced financial hardships, and, after serving nearly two years in debtor’s prison, moved his family from Stratford to Alexandria in the winter of 1810-11. His and Matilda’s son, Henry Lee IV , became owner of the property, but, due to lawsuits generated by a domestic scandal, had to sell Stratford in 1822 to a friend, William Clarke Somerville of Maryland. Somerville died in 1828, leaving the Stratford estate in litigation. Stratford was sold, at sheriff’s auction, to Henry D. and Elizabeth “Betsey” Storke. Mrs. Storke, widowed at a young age, lived at Stratford until her death in 1879. She left the property to her great-nephews, Charles and Dr. Richard Henry Stuart.
In 1929, the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association was incorporated as a non-profit organization and purchased Stratford from the son of Dr. Richard Henry Stuart. Stratford Hall Plantation now consists of 1,900 acres. It is governed by a Board of Directors representing 50 states and Great Britain. Operating funds come from admissions and sales, contributions, and endowment.
Your contributions – as visitor, “Friend of Stratford,” or donor – will all help to preserve and interpret this unique national treasure for generations to come.
For further reading on the Lees of Virginia, explore our Selected Bibliographies.