Commentator Thea Marshall finds a redeemed villain in one of the most famous Northern Neck families.
I am a fan of Thea Marshall's engaging local history commentary. I have a friendly suggestion, however. Material on the Lee family really does need to be written from the primary sources, which are far more revealing and interesting than the standard secondary accounts. The recent discovery of thousands of new documents makes this all the more imperative. Her commentary today on Black Horse Harry Lee could have been amplified and made more accurate by consulting Lee Family papers at the University of Virginia, Library of Congress, Stratford Hall and the Virginia Historical Society.
In her talk she stated that no record of a child of ELizabeth McCarty and Black Horse Harry was ever recorded; however,he speaks openly of it in letters to his brother Charles Carter Lee; indeed, he brags of the seduction and embezzelement to friends (Custis and Lee family papers, Library of Congress)and the family discusses the birth/death of the child in detail in numerous letters in the Mary Custis Lee papers at the Virginia Historical Society. The embezellement, which ultimately caused Harry to lose Stratford, is detailed in the Stuart Family Papers at UVa. Anne McCarty Lee did not overcome her addiction to opium--she was still plagued by that in the 1830s as Robert and Smith Lee relate. Harry was named consul to Algers by Andrew Jackson, but, anxious to avoid paying his debts, he sailed for the post before being confirmed by the Senate. The Senate proceded to disapprove his confirmation unanimously and he was forced into exile. He never regained his stature and an attempt to recoup his dignity by writing a life of Napoleon was not particularly well received. He died in Paris, leaving his wife a pauper.
The most interesting consequence of all this was the effect is had on his half brother Robert, who was a teenager, staying at Stratford, at the time the murdered infant was found. Convinced that he would never have a social place in Virginia, and believing no one would marry him, he determined to go to West Point, against his mother's advice. It was a decision he would later regret. "How I wish I had taken my Poor Mothers advice & never entered the Army," he wrote only a year after graduation. (RE Lee to Mary Anna Randolph Custis, Old Point Comfort, May 13, 1831, Mary Custis Lee Papers.)Black Horse Harry's deeds also almost lost Robert his great love, for it took her father nearly a year to approve a marriage with one of the scandalous Lees.
For anyone who loves history as much as Ms. Marshall clearly does, reading the Lee Papers is fascinating. I highly recommend them to her.
Elizabeth Brown Pryor
author of Reading the Man, a Portrait of Robert E. Lee through His Private Letters
Thank you so much for the updated information..and thank you for caring about our history...
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