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
Dumfries, 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
RelationsSee Lee family
Children9, including:
Henry Lee IV
Sydney Smith Lee
Robert E. Lee
Parents Henry Lee II
Lucy Grymes
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 "Light-Horse Harry" 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.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Governor of Virginia head of state and of government of the U.S. commonwealth of Virginia

The Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia serves as the chief executive of the Commonwealth of Virginia for a four-year term. The current holder of the office is Democrat Ralph Northam, who was sworn in on January 13, 2018. His term of office will end in 2022.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.



Lee was born near Dumfries 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.

Dumfries, Virginia Town in Virginia

Dumfries, officially the Town of Dumfries, is a town in Prince William County, Virginia. The population was 4,961 at the 2010 United States Census.

Colony of Virginia English/British possession in North America (1607–1776)

The Colony of Virginia, chartered in 1606 and settled in 1607, was the first enduring English colony in North America, following failed proprietary attempts at settlement on Newfoundland by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583, and the subsequent further south Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1580s.

Henry Lee II American politician

Col. Henry Lee II (1730–1787) of Alexandria, Westmoreland, Virginia Colony, was an American planter, soldier, and politician, the father of Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee III, and grandfather of Robert E. Lee.

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.

Richard Bland I, sometimes known as Richard Bland of Jordan's Point, was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the father of Richard Bland, the son of Theodorick Bland of Westover, and the grandson of Richard Bennett, an elected Governor of the Colony of Virginia during the English Commonwealth period. Bland was also a county commissioner, a visitor to The College of William & Mary, and is noted in the church records as a member of the Vestry of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, which authorized in 1710 the building of the present Church structure. When his father died in 1671, Bland's brother, Theodorick inherited Westover Plantation and joined with Richard in its ownership. The brothers eventually conveyed 1,200 acres of land in Charles City County to William Byrd I in 1688 for £300 and 10,000 pounds of tobacco and cask. Richard Bland then established the Jordan's Point Plantation across the James River in Prince George County, where he died in 1720.

William Randolph American politician,born 1650

William Randolph I was an American colonist, landowner, planter, merchant, and politician who played an important role in the history and government of the English colony of Virginia. He moved to Virginia sometime between 1669 and 1673, and married Mary Isham a few years later. His descendants include many prominent individuals including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Paschal Beverly Randolph, Robert E. Lee, Peyton Randolph, Edmund Randolph, John Randolph of Roanoke, George W. Randolph, and Edmund Ruffin. Genealogists have taken an interest in him for his progeny's many marital alliances, referring to him and Mary Isham as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia".

Theodorick Bland, also known as Theodorick Bland of Westover, was a Virginia politician, merchant and planter. He was the father of Richard Bland, the grandfather of Richard Bland II, the great-grandfather of Congressman Theodorick Bland, and the great-great-grandfather of John Randolph of Roanoke.

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.

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.

Dragoon mounted infantry soldiers

Dragoons originally were a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. From the early 18th century onward, dragoons were increasingly also employed as conventional cavalry, trained for combat with swords from horseback.

The 1st Continental Light Dragoons, also known as Bland's Horse, was a mounted regiment of the Continental Army organized between 13 June and 10 September 1776 in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was made up of men from eastern and northern Virginia for service with the Continental Army.

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]

The Battle of Paulus Hook was fought on August 19, 1779 between Continental Army and British forces in the American Revolutionary War. The Patriots were led by Major Light Horse Harry Lee, and launched a nighttime raid on the British-controlled fort in what is today downtown Jersey City. They surprised the British, taking 158 prisoners, and withdrew with the approach of daylight. Despite retaining the fort and its cannons, the British lost much of their control over New Jersey. Lee was rewarded by the Second Continental Congress with a gold medal, the only non-general to receive such an award during the war.

New Jersey State of the United States of America

New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is a peninsula, bordered on the north and east by the state of New York; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; and on the southwest by the Delaware Bay and Delaware. New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by area but the 11th-most populous, with 9 million residents as of 2017, making it the most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states with its biggest city being Newark. New Jersey lies completely within the combined statistical areas of New York City and Philadelphia. New Jersey was the second-wealthiest U.S. state by median household income as of 2017.

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.

Lieutenant colonel (pronounced Lef-ten-ent Kernel or Loo-ten-ent Kernel ) is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies, most marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence. Sometimes, the term 'half-colonel' is used in casual conversation in the British Army. A lieutenant colonel is typically in charge of a battalion or regiment in the army.

Siege of Fort Watson

The Siege of Fort Watson was an American Revolutionary War confrontation in South Carolina that began on April 15, 1781 and lasted until April 23, 1781. Continental Army forces under Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee and South Carolina militia under Francis Marion besieged Fort Watson, a fortified British outpost that formed part of the communication and supply chain between Charleston and other British outposts further inland.

Augusta, Georgia Consolidated city-county in Georgia, United States

Augusta, officially Augusta–Richmond County, is a consolidated city-county on the central eastern border of the U.S. state of Georgia. The city lies across the Savannah River from South Carolina at the head of its navigable portion. Georgia's second-largest city after Atlanta, Augusta is located in the Piedmont section of the state.

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, 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 film The Patriot according to screenwriter Robert Rodat was inspired by the historical exploits of Henry Lee. [17]

In the 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.

Related Research Articles

Richard Henry Lee American statesman

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Banastre Tarleton British Army general

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Leonard Wailes Covington was a United States Army Brigadier General and a member of the United States House of Representatives.

William Lee (diplomat) American diplomat

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William Henry Fitzhugh Lee Confederate Army general

William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, known as Rooney Lee or W.H.F. Lee, was the second son of General Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis. He was a planter, a Confederate cavalry General in the American Civil War, and later a Congressman from Virginia.

Fitzhugh Lee Confederate Army general

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Legion of the United States reorganization of the United States Army from 1792 to 1796

The Legion of the United States was a reorganization and extension of the Continental Army from 1792 to 1796 under the command of Major General Anthony Wayne composed of professionally trained soldiers, rather than state militias. The Legion was composed of four sub-legions each with its own infantry, cavalry, riflemen and artillery.

United States Cavalry Branch of the U.S. Army

The United States Cavalry, or U.S. Cavalry, was the designation of the mounted force of the United States Army by an act of Congress on 3 August 1861. This act converted the U.S. Army's two regiments of dragoons, one regiment of mounted riflemen, and two regiments of cavalry into one U.S.Cavalry branch of service. The Cavalry branch transitioned to the Armored Forces with tanks in 1940, but the term "Cavalry" such as "armored cavalry" remains in use in the U.S. Army for mounted reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) units based on their parent Combat Arms Regimental System (CARS) regiment. Cavalry is also used in the name of the 1st Cavalry Division for heraldic/lineage/historical purposes. Some combined arms battalions are designated as armor formations, while others are designated as infantry organizations. These "branch" designations are again, heraldic/lineage/historical titles derived from the CARS regiments to which the battalions are assigned.

Stratford Hall (plantation) plantation

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. It was the boyhood home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), and Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797), and it was the birthplace of Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870), who was a longtime military officer in the Corps of Engineers in the United States Army, and later General-in-Chief of the Confederate States Army and commanded its Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War (1861-1865), and then became the president of Washington College, which later became Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The 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.

Joseph Eggleston was an American planter, soldier, and politician from Amelia County, Virginia. He represented Virginia in the U.S. Congress from 1798 until 1801. He was the uncle of William S. Archer.

Lee family American family

The Lee family of the United States is a historically significant Virginia and Maryland political family, whose many prominent members are known for their accomplishments in politics and the military. The family became prominent in colonial British North America when Richard Lee I immigrated to Virginia in 1639 and made his fortune in tobacco.

Lee's Legion was a military unit within the Continental Army during the American Revolution. It primarily served in the Southern Theater of Operations, and gained a reputation for efficiency, bravery on the battlefield and ruthlessness equal to that of Tarleton's Raiders.

Thomas Lee (Virginia colonist) Virginia colonist

Col. Thomas Lee was a leading political figure of colonial Virginia. He was a member of the Lee family, a political dynasty which included many figures from the pre-American Revolutionary War era until the late 20th century. Lee became involved in politics in 1710 and he became the resident manager of the Northern Neck Proprietary for Lady Catherine Fairfax. After his father died, he inherited land in Northumberland and Charles County. Lee later acquired vast holdings in what are now Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Prince William, and Loudoun Counties. These properties were developed as tobacco plantations.

Lee–Fendall House historic house in Alexandria, Virginia

The Lee–Fendall House is a historic house museum and garden located in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Since its construction in 1785 the house has served as home to thirty-seven members of the Lee family (1785–1903), hundreds of convalescing Union soldiers (1863–1865), the prominent Downham family (1903–1937), and powerful labor leader John L. Lewis (1937–1969).

Nicholas Ruxton Moore was a U.S. Representative from Maryland.

The Battle of Wetzell's Mill was an American Revolutionary War battle fought on March 6, 1781, between detachments of Nathanael Greene's Continental Army and militia and Banastre Tarleton's Loyalist provincial troops in Guilford County, North Carolina.

Dungeness (Cumberland Island, Georgia) historic plantation in Georgia, USA

Dungeness on Cumberland Island, Georgia, is a ruined mansion that is part of a historic district that was the home of several families significant in American history. James Oglethorpe first built on Cumberland Island in 1736, building a hunting lodge that he named Dungeness. Oglethorpe named the place after Dungeness, in England. The next Dungeness was the legacy of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, who had acquired 11,000 acres (45 km2) of island land in exchange for a bad debt. His widow built a four-story tabby mansion in 1803, over a Timucuan shell mound. During the War of 1812 the island was occupied by the British, who used the house as a headquarters.

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
  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