Henry Lee III

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Henry Lee III
Posthumous portrait by
William Edward West (c.1839)
9th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1791 December 1, 1794
Preceded by Beverley Randolph
Succeeded by Robert Brooke
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 19th district
In office
March 4, 1799 March 3, 1801
Preceded by Walter Jones
Succeeded by John Taliaferro
Delegate to the Confederation Congress
from Virginia
In office
Personal details
Born(1756-01-29)January 29, 1756
Leesylvania, near Dumfries, Prince William County, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedMarch 25, 1818(1818-03-25) (aged 62)
Cumberland Island, Georgia, U.S.
Resting place Lee Chapel
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s)Matilda Ludwell Lee
Anne Hill Carter
Children9, including:
Henry Lee IV
Sydney Smith Lee
Robert E. Lee
Parents Henry Lee II
Lucy Grymes
RelativesSee Lee family
Alma mater Princeton (1773)
Signature Henry Lee III Signature.svg
Military service
Nickname(s)"Light-Horse Harry"
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1777-1795).svg  United States
Branch/serviceGadsden flag.svg Continental Army
Seal of the United States Board of War.png United States Army
Years of service1776–1783 (Continental Army)
1798–1800 (U.S. Army)
Rank Lieutenant colonel (Continental Army)
Major general (U.S. Army)
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War
Whiskey Rebellion

Major-General Henry Lee III (January 29, 1756 – March 25, 1818) was an early American Patriot and politician. He served as the ninth Governor of Virginia and as the Virginia Representative to the United States Congress. Lee's service during the American Revolution as a cavalry officer in the Continental Army earned him the nickname by which he is best known, "Light-Horse Harry". [note 1] He was the father of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War.



Lee was born on Leesylvania Plantation in Prince William County in the Colony of Virginia. He was the son of Col. Henry Lee II (1730–1787) of "Leesylvania" and Lucy Grymes (1734–1792). His father was the first cousin of Richard Henry Lee, twelfth President of the Continental Congress. His mother was an aunt of the wife of Virginia Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr. His great-grandmother Mary Bland was also a grand-aunt of President Thomas Jefferson.

Lee was the grandson of Henry Lee I, a great-grandson of Richard Bland, and a great-great-grandson of William Randolph. [1] He was also a descendant of Theodorick Bland of Westover and Governor Richard Bennett.

Military career

Letter from Henry Lee to Colonel Shreve, Burlington, May 12, 1780 Letter of Henry Lee to Shreve 1780.jpg
Letter from Henry Lee to Colonel Shreve, Burlington, May 12, 1780

Lee graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1773, and began pursuing a legal career. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he instead became a captain in a Virginia dragoon detachment, which was attached to the 1st Continental Light Dragoons. In 1778, Lee was promoted to major and given the command of a mixed corps of cavalry and infantry known as Lee's Legion, with which he won a great reputation as a capable leader of light troops. At the time, highly mobile groups of light cavalry provided valuable service not only during major battles, but also by conducting reconnaissance and surveillance, engaging the enemy during troop movements, disrupting delivery of supplies, raiding and skirmishing, and organizing expeditions behind enemy lines; [2] [3] part of such tactics now are known as guerrilla warfare and maneuver warfare. In September of the same year, Lee commanded a unit of dragoons which defeated a Hessian regiment at the Battle of Edgar's Lane.

It was during his time as commander of the Legion that Lee earned the sobriquet of "Light-Horse Harry" for his horsemanship. On September 22, 1779 the Continental Congress voted to present Lee with a gold medal—a reward given to no other officer below a general's rank—for the Legion's actions during the Battle of Paulus Hook in New Jersey, on August 19 of that year. [4] [5]

Lee was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was assigned with his Legion to the southern theater of war. Lee's 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. Lee united with General Francis Marion and General Andrew Pickens in the spring of 1781 to capture numerous British outposts in South Carolina and Georgia including Fort Watson, Fort Motte, Fort Granby, Fort Galphin, Fort Grierson, and Fort Cornwallis, Augusta, Georgia. [6] They conducted a campaign of terror and intimidation against Loyalists in the region, highlighted in Pyle's Massacre. Lee and his legion also served at the Battle of Guilford Court House, the Siege of Ninety-Six, and the Battle of Eutaw Springs. He was present at Charles Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, but left the Army shortly after, claiming fatigue and disappointment with his treatment from fellow officers.

In 1794, Lee was summoned by President George Washington to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. Lee commanded the 12,950 militiamen sent to quash the rebels; because of a peaceful surrender, there was no fighting. [7] In 1798, in anticipation of a war with France, Henry Lee was appointed a major general in the U.S. Army. In 1808, he was recommissioned by President Thomas Jefferson as major-general when war with Great Britain was imminent; Lee organized the Virginia militia. He asked President James Madison for a commission at the onset of the War of 1812 but without success. In 1812 he published his Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, where he summarized his military experiences during the Revolutionary War.

Political career

From 1786 to 1788, Lee was a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation, and in 1788 at the Virginia convention; he favored the adoption of the United States Constitution. From 1789 to 1791, he served in the General Assembly and, from 1791 to 1794, was Governor of Virginia; a new county of Virginia was named after him during his governorship. [8]

From 1799 to 1801, he served in the United States House of Representatives of the Congress. He famously eulogized Washington to a crowd of 4,000 at the first President's funeral on December 26, 1799 as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". [9]


Between April 8 and 13, 1782, at Stratford Hall, Lee married his second cousin, Matilda Ludwell Lee (1764–1790), who was known as "the Divine Matilda". She was the daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee, Sr., and Elizabeth Steptoe. Matilda had three children before she died in 1790:

On June 18, 1793, Lee married the wealthy Anne Hill Carter (1773–1829) at Shirley Plantation. Anne was the daughter of Charles Carter, Esq., of Shirley, and his wife Ann Butler Moore. [10] They had six children:

Later life

Lee's house in Alexandria, Virginia HenryLeehouse.jpg
Lee's house in Alexandria, Virginia

After retiring from public service in 1801, he lived with his family at Stratford Hall and unsuccessfully tried to manage his plantation. The Panic of 1796–1797 and bankruptcy of Robert Morris reduced Lee's fortune. In 1809, he became bankrupt and served one year in debtors' prison in Montross, Virginia; his son, Robert Lee was two years old at the time. [12] [13] After release, Lee moved his family to Alexandria, Virginia,

During the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland in 1812, Lee received grave injuries while helping to resist an attack on his friend, Alexander Contee Hanson, editor of the Baltimore newspaper, The Federal Republican on July 27, 1812. 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 and removed the Federalists, beating and torturing them over the next three hours. All were severely injured, and one Federalist, James Lingan, died. [14] [15]

Lee suffered extensive internal injuries as well as head and face wounds, and even his speech was affected. His observed symptoms were consistent with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. After unsuccessful convalescence at home, he sailed to the West Indies in an effort to recuperate from his injuries. On his way back to Virginia, he died on March 25, 1818, at Dungeness, on Cumberland Island, Georgia, cared for by Nathanael Greene's daughter Louisa. "Light-Horse Harry" was buried with full military honors, provided by an American fleet stationed near St. Marys, Georgia, in a small cemetery at Dungeness. In 1913, his remains were moved to the Lee family crypt at Lee Chapel, on the campus of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. [16]

The fictional character of Colonel Harry Burwell in the 2000 film The Patriot according to screenwriter Robert Rodat was inspired by the historical exploits of Henry Lee. [17]

In the 1969 musical 1776 Lee's nickname is mentioned (anachronistically) during the song "The Lees of Old Virginia," sung by the character of his older cousin Richard Henry Lee.


See also


  1. In the military parlance of the time, the term "Light-horse" had a hyphen between the two words "light" and "horse". See the title page of The Discipline of the Light-Horse. By Captain Hinde, of the Royal Regiment of Foresters, (Light-Dragoons.) published in London in 1778, a cavalry tactics classic which was used as a manual.

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Stratford Hall (plantation) United States historic place

Stratford Hall is a historic house museum near Lerty in Westmoreland County, Virginia. It was the plantation house of four generations of the Lee family of Virginia. Stratford Hall is the boyhood home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794), and Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734–1797). Stratford Hall is also the birthplace of Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870), a longtime military officer in the Corps of Engineers in the United States Army. Later, Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis selected Robert E. Lee as General-in-Chief of the Confederate States Army. Lee commanded the CSA’s Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War (1861–1865). After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee became president of Washington College, later known as Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia. The Stratford Hall estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, under the care of the National Park Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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Anne Hill Carter Lee (1773-1829)

Anne Hill Carter Lee was the wife of the ninth governor of Virginia, Henry Lee III, and the mother of the general-in-chief of the Confederate States of America, Robert E. Lee. As a separated wife and then as a widow, she was the head of her household at Lee Corner, Alexandria, Virginia, in what is now known as the Robert E. Lee Boyhood Home. Her chronic pain and straightened circumstances play a significant role in her son Robert's biography.


  1. Dillon, John Forrest, ed. (1903). "Introduction". John Marshall; life, character and judicial services as portrayed in the centenary and memorial addresses and proceedings throughout the United States on Marshall day, 1901, and in the classic orations of Binney, Story, Phelps, Waite and Rawle. I. Chicago: Callaghan & Company. pp. liv–lv.
  2. Hinde, Captain Robert (1778), Discipline of the Light-Horse, London: W.Owen, retrieved August 20, 2010
  3. Haythornthwaite, Philip J, and Adam Hook. Napoleonic Light Cavalry Tactics. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2013.
  4. The medal (which is actually silver) finally presented to Lee is in Princeton University's Numismatic Collection. Also included are a signed letter of Lee's to the New Jersey quartermaster from 1780 and a signed letter of the same year from George Washington to Lee approving Lee's plan to capture Benedict Arnold.
  5. Discovery of medal that Congress granted to Lee Archived September 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  6. Boyd, Thomas. Light-horse Harry Lee. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1931.
  7. "Whiskey Insurrection/Rebellion". Archived from the original on October 17, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  8. Templin, Thomas E. Henry Light Horse Harry Lee: A Biography. Ph.D. dissertation. Lexington, Ky: University of Kentucky, 1975.
  9. "Papers of George Washington". Gwpapers.virginia.edu. Archived from the original on February 28, 2012.
  10. Fontaine, William W. The Descent Of General Robert Edward Lee From Robert The Bruce, Of Scotland , Civilwarhome.com. Retrieved October 13, 2008.
  11. Gamble, Robert S. Sully: Biography of a House (Sully Foundation Ltd: Chantilly, VA, 1973), p. 40
  12. A Princeton Companion (Lee, Henry), 1978, retrieved August 20, 2010
  13. Stratford Hall/Lee Family Tree: Henry Lee III , retrieved August 20, 2010
  14. Paul A. Gilje. The Baltimore Riots of 1812 and the Breakdown of the Anglo-American Mob Tradition, Journal of Social History, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Summer, 1980), pp. 547–564.
  15. A Contemporaneous Account of the Baltimore Riot of 1812, A Narrative of Mr. John Thompson, One of the Unfortunate Sufferers, September 1, 1812.
  16. William W. Winn. Private Fastness: Tales Of Wild, American Heritage, April 1972, Volume 23, Issue 3.
  17. The Patriot Film: Fact or Fiction


Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Beverley Randolph
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
Robert Brooke
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Walter Jones
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 19th congressional district

March 4, 1799 – March 3, 1801 (obsolete district)
Succeeded by
Edwin Gray