Richard Henry Lee (January 20, 1732 June 19, 1794) was an American statesman from Virginia best known for proposing the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain.
Lee also served as the sixth President of the United States in Congress assembled under the Articles of Confederation, holding office from November 30, 1784 to November 22, 1785, and as a U.S. Senator from Virginia from 1789 to 1792, serving during part of that time as one of the first Presidents pro tempore.
Lee was born in Stratford, Westmoreland County in the Colony of Virginia on January 20, 1732. Richard was the son of Col. Thomas Lee, Hon. (1690-1750) and Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701-1750). He was the great-uncle of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Richard was sent to England and educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield in Yorkshire. In 1752 he returned to Virginia, where he began to practice law.
In 1757 he was appointed justice of the peace
for Westmoreland County. In 1761 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses
; this is where he met Patrick Henry
when both headed many committees on resolves. An early advocate of independence, he became one of the first to create Committees of Correspondence
among the many independence-minded Americans in the various colonies.
In August 1774, Lee was chosen as a delegate to the first Continental Congress
. In Lee's Resolution
on the 7th of June 1776, Lee put forth the motion to the Continental Congress to declare Independence from Great Britain
. which read (in part): "Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Due to Lee's absence from the Congress because of his wife's illness, Thomas Jefferson
was to write the Declaration
“To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
- Justice of the Peace for Westmoreland County, Virginia (1757)
- Virginia House of Burgesses (1758 - 1775)
- Member of the Continental Congress (1774 - 1779, 1784 - 1785, 1787)
- A Signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776)
- Virginia State House of Burgesses (1777, 1780, 1785)
- United States Senator from Virginia (March 4, 1789 - October 8, 1792)
- President pro tempore during the Second Congress
Marriages and children
Richard married first on December 5, 1757, Anne Aylett
(1738-1768), daughter of William Aylett
and Elizabeth Eskridge
(1719), who married secondly, Dr. James Steptoe
, Col. (1709-1757). Anne died December 12, 1768 at Chantille, Westmoreland Co., Virginia. The couple had four surviving children:
- Thomas Lee (1758-1805).
- Col. Ludwell Lee, Esq. (1760-1836), who married Flora Lee (1771-1795), daughter of Hon. Philip Ludwell Lee, Sr., Esq. (1727-1775) and Elizabeth Steptoe (1743-1789), who married secondly, Philip Richard Fendall I (1734-1805).
- Mary Lee (1764-1795).
- Hannah Lee (1765-1801), who married Hon. Corbin Washington (1764-1799), son of Col. John Augustine Washington (1736-1787) and Hannah Bushrod (1738-1801).
- Marybelle Lee (1768), who died in infancy.
Richard re-married in June or July of 1769 to Anne (Gaskins) Pinckard. The couple had five surviving children:
- Anne Lee (1770-1804), who married Hon. Charles Lee (1758-1815), U.S. Attorney General under John Adams. Charles was the son of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee II (1730-1787) and Lucy Grymes (1734-1792).
- Henrietta "Harriotte" Lee (1773-1803), who married Hon. George Richard Lee Turberville (ca. 1770), son of Hon. George Richard Turberville, Jr. (1742-1792) and Martha Corbin (1742).
- Sarah Caldwell "Sally" Lee (1775-1837), who married Edmund Jennings Lee I (1772-1843), son of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee II (1730-1787) and Lucy Grymes (1734-1792).
- Cassius Lee (1779-1850).
- Francis Lightfoot Lee II (1782-1850), who married Jane Fitzgerald (d. 1816), daughter of Col. John Fitzgerald and Jane Digges. (grandparents of Francis Preston Blair Lee)
- ? Lee (1784), who died in infancy.
- ? Lee (1786), who died in infancy.
Francis Lightfoot Lee II
Richard's youngest son was named for his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee
, another signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The younger Francis married Jane Fitzgerald (born 25 Jul 1818) on 9 Feb 1810. In 1811 he purchased the estate Sully in Fairfax County, Virginia from his second cousin Richard Bland Lee. Jane died on 25 Jul 1816, shortly after the birth on their fifth child.Children
- Jane Elizabeth Lee (1 Jan 1811-25 Jun 1837); married Henry T. Harrison
- Samuel Philips Lee (13 Feb 1812-5 Jun 1897); Rear Admiral; married Elizabeth Blair, daughter of Francis Preston Blair
- John Fitzgerald Lee (5 May 1813-17 Jun 1840)
- Arthur Lee (18 Feb 1815-3 Aug 1841)
- Frances Ann Lee (30 Jun 1816-5 Dec 1889); married Robinson Goldsborough
Richard was the son of Col. Thomas Lee
, Hon. (1690-1750) of "Stratford Hall
", Westmoreland Co., Virginia. Thomas married Hannah Harrison Ludwell
Hannah was the daughter of Col. Philip Ludwell II (1672-1726) of "Greenspring", and Hannah Harrison (1679-1731).
Thomas was the son of Col. Richard Lee II, Esq., “the scholar” (1647-1715) and Laetitia Corbin (ca. 1657-1706).
Laetitia was the daughter of Richard’s neighbor and, Councillor, Hon. Henry Corbin, Sr. (1629-1676) and Alice (Eltonhead) Burnham (ca. 1627-1684).
Richard II, was the son of Col. Richard Lee I, Esq., "the immigrant" (1618-1664) and Anne Constable (ca. 1621-1666).
Anne was the daughter of Thomas Constable and a ward of Sir John Thoroughgood.
He was related to Colonel Noah Lee (Revolutionary War), but not to General Robert E. Lee (Civil War).
Lee County, Georgia
is named in his honor.
Representations in fiction
Richard Henry Lee is a key character in the musical 1776
. He was portrayed by Ron Holgate
in both the Broadway cast and in the 1972 film. The character performs a song called "The Lees of Old Virginia", in which he explains how he knows he will be able to convince the Virginia House of Burgesses
to allow him to propose independence.