Henry Lee III

Henry Lee III (January 29, 1756 – March 25, 1818) was an early American Patriot and U.S. politician who 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, who led Confederate armies against the U.S. in the American Civil War.

Henry Lee III
Posthumous portrait by William Edward West (c.1839)
9th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1791  December 1, 1794
Preceded byBeverley Randolph
Succeeded byRobert Brooke
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 19th district
In office
March 4, 1799  March 3, 1801
Preceded byWalter Jones
Succeeded byJohn Taliaferro
Delegate to the Confederation Congress from Virginia
In office
Preceded byJames Monroe
Personal details
Born(1756-01-29)January 29, 1756
Leesylvania near Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia, British America
DiedMarch 25, 1818(1818-03-25) (aged 62)
Cumberland Island, Georgia, U.S.
Resting placeUniversity Chapel
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
  • Matilda Ludwell Lee
    (m. 1782; died 1790)
  • Anne Hill Carter
    (m. 1793)
Children9, including Henry IV, Sydney, and Robert
ParentHenry Lee II (father)
RelativesSee Lee family
Alma materPrinceton University
Nickname"Light-Horse Harry"
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Years of service
  • 1776–1783 (CA)
  • 1798–1800 (USA)

Life and career

Early life and family

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.

Lee graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1773, and began pursuing a legal career.

Military career

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

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 August, Lee led a detachment on a raid on a British fort, culminating in the Battle of Paulus Hook in New Jersey on August 19, in which 50 British soldiers were killed or wounded and 158 captured, while the Americans suffered two dead, three wounded and seven captured. (Despite his success, some of his fellow officers saw to it he was brought before a court martial on eight charges, over George Washington's disapproval; he was acquitted on all counts.[4]) 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—an honor given to no other officer below the rank of general—for the Legion's actions during the Battle of Paulus Hook.[5][6]

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, South Carolina, Fort Galphin, Fort Grierson, and Fort Cornwallis, Augusta, Georgia.[7] 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.[8] 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. In 1788, he served in the Virginia convention and supported the ratification of the United States Constitution. From 1789 to 1791, he served in the Virginia General Assembly, and from 1791 to 1794, was Governor of Virginia. A new county of Virginia was named after him during his governorship.[9]

From 1799 to 1801, he served in the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist. At Washington's funeral on December 26, 1799, Lee famously eulogized him to a crowd of 4,000 as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."[10]


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:

  • Philip Ludwell Lee (1784–1794)
  • Lucy Grymes Lee (1786–1860)
  • Henry Lee IV (May 28, 1787 – January 30, 1837), was a historian and author who also served as a speech writer for both John C. Calhoun and presidential candidate Andrew Jackson, also helping the latter to write his inaugural address.

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. According to Winston Fontaine's research, Anne Moore's paternal pedigree dates back to Sir Thomas More. Her mother, Anne Katherine, was the daughter of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood, who was the great-grandson of John Spotswood and Rachel Lindsay; Rachelle's ancestors were David Lindsay, 1st Earl of Crawford, and Elizabeth Stewart, daughter of King Robert II of Scotland.[11] They had six children:

  • Algernon Sidney Lee (April 2, 1795 – August 9, 1796), died at Sully Plantation, buried there in an unmarked grave[12]
  • Charles Carter Lee (1798–1871)
  • Anne Kinloch Lee (1800–1864)
  • Sydney Smith Lee (1802–1869)
  • Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870), the fifth child of Henry and Anne, served as Confederate general-in-chief during the American Civil War.
  • Mildred Lee (1811–1856)

Later life

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.[13][14] 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.[15][16]

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 University Chapel, on the campus of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.[17]

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.[18]

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.

Henry Lee III was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia.[19]


See also

  • Lighthorse Harry Lee Cabin


  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.


  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. Vol. I. Chicago: Callaghan & Company. pp. liv–lv. ISBN 9780722291474.
  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. Cecere, Michael (September 19, 2019). "The Court Martial of Major Henry Lee". Journal of the American Revolution.
  5. 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.
  6. Discovery of medal that Congress granted to Lee Archived September 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Boyd, Thomas. Light-horse Harry Lee. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1931.
  8. "Whiskey Insurrection/Rebellion". Archived from the original on October 17, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  9. Templin, Thomas E. Henry Light Horse Harry Lee: A Biography. Ph.D. dissertation. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1975.
  10. "Papers of George Washington". Gwpapers.virginia.edu. Archived from the original on February 28, 2012.
  11. Fontaine, William W. "The Descent Of General Robert Edward Lee From Robert The Bruce, Of Scotland", Civilwarhome.com. Retrieved October 13, 2008.
  12. Gamble, Robert S. Sully: Biography of a House (Sully Foundation Ltd: Chantilly, VA, 1973), p. 40
  13. A Princeton Companion (Lee, Henry), 1978, retrieved August 20, 2010
  14. Stratford Hall/Lee Family Tree: Henry Lee III, retrieved August 20, 2010
  15. 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.
  16. A Contemporaneous Account of the Baltimore Riot of 1812, A Narrative of Mr. John Thompson, One of the Unfortunate Sufferers, September 1, 1812.
  17. William W. Winn. Private Fastness: Tales Of Wild, American Heritage, April 1972, Volume 23, Issue 3.
  18. The Patriot Film: Fact or Fiction
  19. "Officers Represented in the Society of the Cincinnati". The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati. Retrieved March 19, 2021.


Further reading

William Sturgis Thomas, Members of the Society of the Cincinnati, Original, Hereditary and Honorary; With a Brief Account of the Society's History and Aims (New York: T.A. Wright, 1929) page 93.

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.