Saturday, January 29, 2011

Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III (1756–1818)

Light-Horse Harry Lee was born to Henry Lee II and Lucy Grymes at Leesylvania (near Dumfries, Virginia) on 29 January 1756. He is noted, among many other things as being the father of Robert E. Lee. As were most of the Revolutionary Lee’s, he felt strongly about the patriot cause. He attended the College of New Jersey (present-day Princeton University), graduating in 1773, just as the conflict began heating up between the colonists and the British. In the period before the war Lee practiced law, but when war finally broke out he enlisted as a captain in the 1st Continental Light Dragoons. He advanced quickly through the ranks, making it to the rank of lieutenant colonel. It was during his cavalry service in the war that he was nicknamed “Light-Horse Harry,” because of his skill in riding. He fought in the southeastern theater of the war, and was present at Cornwallis’ surrender. His military career did not end there—he went with George Washington to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

Lee married twice, first to his cousin Matilda Ludwell Lee in April of 1782 at Stratford Hall. They had three children together, but she passed away in 1790. Henry remained a widower until June of 1793, when he married Anne Hill Carter at Shirley. Their youngest son was Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Light-Horse Harry Lee served in the Confederation Congress from 1786 and 1788, and from 1788 to 1791 he served in the Virginia general assembly. He was governor of Virginia from 1791 to 1794.

Lee returned to his military career in 1798 and served until 1800 as a major general. During this time, on 26 December 1799, he famously spoke these words in his eulogy for his good friend George Washington, "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."

During the War of 1812, Lee was injured extensively in Baltimore while defending a Federalist newspaperman who was being attacked for his antiwar views. Lee went south to recuperate in the warm climate, but he ultimately died of these injuries six years later on 25 March 1818, at the home of Nathanael Greene's widow in Georgia. In 1913, Lee's remains were moved to the Lee Family crypt at the Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington and Lee University in Lexington.

Learn more about the Lee Family at the Lee Family Digital Archive.

Washington and Lee University • Lexington, VA 24450 • (540) 458-8400