Francis Lightfoot Lee

Francis Lightfoot LeeFrank Lee, as he was known to those close to him, was regarded by his brothers as the keenest of them in all political judgement. He was quiet, reticent, and had no taste for public life, but the responsibilities that came from bearing the Lee name during the turbulent times of the American Revolution eventually propelled him into service.

In 1769, Frank, then in his thirties, married a girl of 16, Rebecca Tayloe, one of the eight daughters of John Tayloe of Mount Airy. It was a marriage of love, and the letters they exchanged while Frank served in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg reveal how much the separation cost them. He served reluctantly at first, preferring to spend time with his new wife and the building of their home, Menokin. But as the Revolution neared, Frank cast his lot with the Virginia patriots. He became a close associate of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, though he preferred library discussions and back-room strategy to the limelight of public debate. Frank’s contributions to the formation of the American Republic, though subtle and often overlooked, were nonetheless critical. His staid countenance offered stability to the sometimes fractious debate among the delegates and, importantly, he modulated the fiery and sometimes divisive speech of his brother, Richard Henry. “He was,” as his youngest brother Arthur attested, “calmness and philosophy itself.”

In September 1776, Frank went to Philadelphia as a delegate to the second Continental Congress. There he joined forces with his brother, Richard Henry, and by all accounts they were well received and respected. “The Virginians,” John Adams later recounted, “were the most spirited and consistent of any.” In the late summer of 1776, Frank and his brother Richard Henry, along with fifty-four other Delegates, signed the Declaration of Independence.

Frank then returned to Virginia to continue his political career. He served, it seemed, from a sense of duty and conviction rather than one of ambition. It was not until 1785 than Frank was able to forsake politics forever and return to Rebecca and his Menokin estate, where the devoted couple raised the daughters of his infirm brother, William. Frank spent his remaining days reading, farming, and enjoying the quiet country life. In January of 1797, Rebecca and Frank Lee died only ten days apart. The couple is buried side by side in the Tayloe family graveyard at Mount Airy. One of Frank’s nieces described her uncle as the “Sweetest of all the Lee race…Thy temper’s as soft as the doves…”