Henry Lee III was born January 29, 1756 in Virginia. His father was Henry Lee II of “Leesylvania” and his mother was known as the “Lowland Beauty”.
Henry graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) with a law degree in 1773.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, Henry became a captain with the 1st Continental Light Dragoons.
By 1778, Henry had been promoted to major and given command of a light cavalry and infantry corp known as Lee’s Legion. Henry built up a great reputation as a strong leader and horseman earning himself the nickname “Light-Horse Harry”.
On September 22, 1779 the Continental Congress voted to present Henry Lee with a gold medal — a reward given to no other officer below the rank of general – for his actions during the Battle of Paulus Hook in New Jersey, on August 19, 1779.
Lee was then promoted to Lieutenant Colonel with Lee’s Legion assigned to the southern theater.
Lee and his Legion raided the British outpost of Georgetown, South Carolina with General Francis Marion in January 1781 and helped screen the American army in their Race to the Dan River the following month.
Henry Lee was present at Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, but left the Army shortly after claiming fatigue and disappointment with his treatment from fellow officers.
In early April of 1782, Henry married his second cousin Matilda Ludwell who was known as “the Divine Matilda”.
Henry and Matilda had three children before she died in 1790.
From 1786 to 1788, Henry was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in the last-named year in the Virginia convention, he favored the adoption of the United States Constitution.
From 1789 to 1791, Henry served in the General Assembly.
Henry lost his wife Matilda in 1790 to unknown causes.
Henry was elected the 9th Governor of Virginia from 1791 to 1794.
On June 18, 1793, Henry married the wealthy Anne Hill Carter at Shirley Plantation. Anne was a descendant of King Robert II of Scotland through the 2nd Earl of Crawford.
In 1794, Henry accompanied George Washington to help the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. A new county of Virginia was named after him during his governorship.
Henry Lee was appointed as a major general in the U.S. Army in 1798.
From 1799 to 1801, Henry served in the United States House of Representatives.
Henry famously eulogized George Washington to a crowd of 4,000 at President Washington’s funeral on December 26, 1799:
“first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Henry and Anne had six children:
Algernon Sidney Lee, Charles Carter Lee, Anne Kinloch Lee, Sydney Smith Lee, Robert Edward Lee, and Mildred Lee.
Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870), was the fifth child of Henry and Anne who served as Confederate general-in-chief during the American Civil War. Robert E. Lee ranks among the most famous and revered American soldiers in U.S. history, and his campaigns are still studied by military tacticians and historians around the world
The Panic of 1796–1797 had reduced Henry Lee’s fortune to the brink of bankruptcy. Henry served one year in debtor’s prison in Montross, Virginia, when his son Robert E. Lee was two years old.
On July 27, 1812, Henry Lee received grave injuries while helping to resist an attack on his friend, Alexander Contee Hanson, editor of the Baltimore newspaper, The Federal Republican. Hanson was attacked by a Democratic-Republican mob because his paper opposed the War of 1812.
Lee and Hanson and two dozen other Federalists had taken refuge in the offices of the paper. The group surrendered to Baltimore city officials the next day and were jailed. Laborer George Woolslager led a mob that forced its way into the jail, removed the Federalists, beating and torturing them over the next three hours. All were severely injured, and one Federalist, James Lingan, died.
Henry suffered extensive internal injuries as well as head and face wounds, and even his speech was affected.
Henry later sailed to the West Indies in an effort to recuperate from his injuries.
Henry Lee III died on March 25, 1818, at Dungeness, on Cumberland Island, Georgia.
Henry Lee was buried with full military honors provided by an American fleet stationed near St. Marys.
In 1913 his remains were removed to the Lee family crypt at Lee Chapel, on the campus of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
Now WE know em
- “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike . . .” founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence Richard Henry Lee, born today in 1732. Now WE know em (carl-leonard.com)
- The American Civil War’s “Gray Ghost” was born December 6, 1833 (carl-leonard.com)
- The General-in-Chief of the Union Army for most of the Civil War was born today in 1815. Now WE know em (nowweknowem.com)