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Current region Virginia, United States

Place of origin United States
Notable members Robert E. Lee, Henry Lee III, etc.

1750), Virginia colonist and cofounder of the Ohio Company.]] The Lee family of the United States is a historically significant Virginia political family, whose many prominent members are known for their accomplishments in politics and the military. The long-held theory for over 200 years was that they descend from the Lees of Shropshire, England. However, twentieth-century scholarship discredits this claim. Discoveries in the last quarter century and more recent DNA studies may lead to a correct extension of this family into English history. The family became prominent in colonial America when Richard Lee I ("The Immigrant") immigrated to Virginia in 1639 and made his fortune in tobacco.

Members of the family include Thomas Lee (16901750), a founder of the Ohio Company and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses; Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734–1797) and Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794), signers of the United States Declaration of Independence; Thomas Sim Lee (1745–1819), Governor of Maryland and, most famous, General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) Confederate States of America commander in the United States Civil War. President Zachary Taylor and Chief Justice Edward Douglass White were also descendants of Richard Lee I. Confederate President Jefferson Davis married Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of Zachary Taylor.

Most recently, family members have marked over two hundred years of political service in the United States, as Blair Lee III, a descendant of Richard Henry Lee, served as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland from 1971-1979 and Acting Governor of Maryland from 1977–1979. Charles Carter Lee, a descendant of Henry Lee III and a Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles County, was named the U.S. team's Chef de Mission by the United States Olympic Committee for the Beijing Olympics.



, (1732-1794), was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and served as the sixth President of the United States in Congress assembled under the Articles of Confederation.]]

Despite the traditional genealogical assertion of descent from the Lees of Shropshire, solid evidence points elsewhere. A meticulously documented study by William Thorndale, a genealogist both accredited and certified, was published in 1988 by the peer-reviewed journal National Genealogical Society Quarterly,[1] showing that Richard Lee I was actually the son of John Lee, a clothier, and his wife Jane Hancock; that Richard had been born not at Coton Hall in Shropshire, but in Worcester (some distance down the River Severn); and that several of their immediate relatives had been apprenticed as vintners.

The traditional claim, as penned by John Fiske in 1897, an era in which little rigor was applied to genealogical compilations,[2] asserts:

"In the seventeenth century, when the migrations to America were beginning, it was customary for members of noble families to enter these guilds as apprentices in the crafts of the draper, the tailor, the vintner, or the mason, etc. Many important consequences have flowed from this. Let it suffice here to note that this fact of the rural aristocracy keeping in touch with the tradesmen and artisans has been one of the safeguards of English liberty; it has been one source of the power of the Commons, one check upon the undue aspirations of the Crown."

The claimed connection to the Lees of Shropshire is typical of nineteenth-century genealogies in which families were often said to descend from easily traceable, landed families of the same surname. The Shropshire Lees held a substantial estate near Alveley for hundreds of years. Coton Hall itself dates back to 1348. A popular assertion contends that their name may have been originally "de la Lee." Alternatively, a "Delee" was listed in the Battle Abbey Roll as having accompanied William the Conqueror; genealogically, however, the fact that a name is similar carries no evidentiary weight.


Colonial Virginia

In the U.S., the family began when Richard Lee I emigrated to Virginia and made his fortune in tobacco. The Lees first gained wider significance with Thomas Lee (1690–1750). He became a member of the House of Burgesses and later went on to found the Ohio Company.

Revolutionary War era

Thomas Lee[3] (1690–1750) married Hannah Harrison[4] Ludwell: their children, like the descendants of Thomas Lee's brother Henry Lee I, included a number of prominent Revolutionary War and pre-Revolution political figures.

Thomas and Hannah Lee's two eldest children were Philip Ludwell Lee (1726–1775) and Hannah Lee (1728–1782).

Thomas Ludwell Lee (1730-1778) was a member of the Virginia Delegates and a major editor of George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), a precursor to the United States Declaration of Independence, which was signed by his brothers Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794) and Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797).

, "Light Horse Harry," also served as Governor of Virginia, and was the father of Robert E. Lee. (portrait by William Edward West)]]

Richard Henry Lee was a delegate to Continental Congress from Virginia and president of that body, 1774, later serving as President of the United States in Congress assembled under the Articles of Confederation, and United States Senator from Virginia (1789–1792) under the new United States Constitution.

Younger siblings included Alice Lee (1736-1818), who married American Chief Physician William Shippen, Jr.[5] and diplomats William Lee (b. 1739, d. 1795) and Arthur Lee (b. 1740, d. 1792).

Henry Lee's grandson, Henry Lee III (1756 - 1818), known as "Light Horse Harry," was a Princeton graduate who served with great distinction under General George Washington in the American Revolutionary War, and was the only officer below the rank of General to receive the "Gold Medal," awarded for his leadership at the Battle of Paulus Hook in New Jersey, on August 19, 1779. He was Governor of Virginia from 1791-1794. Among his six children was Robert Edward Lee, later the famed Confederate general during the American Civil War.

Henry Lee III's brothers were the noted Richard Bland Lee, a two-term U.S. Congressman from Virginia, and Charles Lee (1758–1815), Attorney General of the United States from 1795–1801.

Thomas Sim Lee, a second cousin of Henry Lee III, was elected Governor of Maryland in 1779 and 1792 and declined a third term in 1798. He played an important part in the birth of Maryland as state and in the birth of the United States of America as a nation.

Civil War Era

]] Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), was the son of Henry Lee III, and probably the most famous member of the Lee family. He served as Confederate general in the United States Civil War.

He was married to Mary Anna Randolph Custis[1], who was a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington and also was Lee's third cousin once removed through Richard Lee II, fourth cousin through William Randolph, and third cousin through Robert Carter I.

R. E. Lee's children included George Washington Custis Lee and William H. Fitzhugh Lee. Other Lee relations who were General Officers during the Civil War were Fitzhugh Lee (Confederate Army),Samuel Phillips Lee (US Navy); Richard Lucian Page (Confederate Army and Navy); Edwin Gray Lee (Confederate Army) and Richard L. T. Beale {Confederate army}. Indirect relations of R.E.Lee who were C.S General Officers were William N. Pendleton and Virginia Military Institute graduate William H. F. Payne[6]. Two other Civil War Generals who were related to Lee was George B. Crittenden {CS} and Thomas Leonidas Crittenden {US} whose mother Sarah O. Lee was a great-great-granddaugther of Richard Lee I "the Founder". {A son of Thomas Crittenden was John Jordan Crittenden III killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876}. A distant Lee relation was US Admiral Willis A. Lee of Kentucky.

(1857-1944), known as "Blair Lee," was a United States Senator from Maryland and a great-grandson of Richard Henry Lee.]]

Later Generations

Francis Preston Blair Lee (1857-1944) was a Democratic member of the United States Senate, representing the State of Maryland from 1914-1917. He was also the great-grandson of American patriot Richard Henry Lee, and grandfather of Blair Lee III, Lieutenant Governor of Maryland from 1971-1979 and Acting Governor of Maryland from 1977–1979.

Judge Charles Carter Lee, a direct descendant of Henry Lee III (Lighthorse Harry), was selected to represent the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games as the United States Olympic Committee's Chef de Mission. Judge Lee, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge since 1989, was also involved with the 1984 Summer Olympics as he headed a delegation sent to China after the Soviet Union announced a plan to boycott the Olympics in Los Angeles. These talks concluded with China's formal agreement in writing to participate in the 1984 Olympics.


  1. William Thorndale, "The Parents of Colonel Richard Lee of Virginia," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 76 (December 1988): 253-68
  2. John Fiske, Old Virginia and Her Neighbors, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1897)
  3. HISTORY STRATFORD Thomas Lee 1690-1750
  4. Her first cousin twice removed was Benjamin Harrison V
  5. Shippen's father, Continental Congressman William Shippen, was a cousin of Peggy Shippen wife of Benedict Arnold
  6. A possible relation was Colonel William R. Lee of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry who was descended from Henry Lee who died 1675 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Possibly Henry Lee was descended either from Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley or possibly related to Colonel Richard Lee of Virginia [.p.3]-but no proof either way

See also

Further reading

  • Nagel, Paul C., The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family, Oxford University Press, reprinted 1992, ISBN 0-19-507478-5.
  • Lee, Edmund Jennings (editor), Lee of Virginia, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, Maryland. reprinted 1983, ISBN 0-8063-0604-1

External links


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