July 03, 2010

Signing the Declaration


uly 4th is one of my favorite holidays. Our family has always enjoyed participating in events that honor our nation and its heritage.

When we lived along the Route 95 corridor in Northern Virginia, we regularly visited Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County Virginia. Stratford Hall is probably not one of the primary targets for tourism for most people. In fact, the Northern Neck of Virginia may very well be the lightest traveled portion of Virginia no matter what time of year it is.

Stratford Hall

But we love visiting there.

Kim and David at Stratford Hall
July 4, 2006

Stratford Hall was the birthplace of some men who had a strong impact on our nation. One of those men is a personal hero to my wife and to me—Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate forces during the War Between the States. He’s also the man who liberated the town we now live in (Front Royal, Virginia) from occupying Yankee forces. But when we began visiting Stratford Hall we found out that there were other very important people born in that house—people who had a strong impact on the course of our nation during its founding and early years.

Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee were born at Stratford Hall when we were an English colony. These brothers were the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. And they had a tremendous impact on the local Virginia area as well as the fledgling nation.

The following passage is from The Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It is a short biographical sketch of Francis Lightfoot Lee—one of Virginia’s favored sons.

Francis Lightfoot Lee


No less a patriot than his dynamic elder brother Richard Henry and his gifted younger brothers Arthur and William, Francis Lightfoot Lee preferred the uneventful life of a country squire to the public spotlight and chose to follow rather than to lead. Despite his shyness and weakness as a speaker, he exercised extensive political influence, took an active part in the Revolution, and signed both the Declaration and the Articles of Confederation

Lee, a member of one of the most famous families in Virginia and U.S. history and the sixth son and eighth child of planter Thomas Lee, was born in 1734 at the family estate, Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Va. He was educated by a private tutor and never attended college. In 1750, upon the death of his father, he inherited Coton, an estate in Fairfax County. Seven years later, newly created Loudoun County absorbed Coton. At that time, the colonial legislature nominated him as Loudoun lieutenant. The next year, he moved to Coton and became trustee of the newly incorporated village of Leesburg, named after him or his brother Philip Ludwell, both local landowners. For the next decade, Francis Lightfoot represented the county in the House of Burgesses.

In 1769 Lee married socialite Rebecca Tayloe of Richmond County. The newlyweds resided at Mount Airy estate with Rebecca’s parents for a few months until Menokin, a new home that Colonel Tayloe was building nearby for them, was completed. From then until 1774, Lee sat again with the burgesses.

Lee had joined the Revolutionary movement at an early date. From the time of the Stamp Act (1765) until the outbreak of war a decade later, he participated in most of the Virginia protests and assemblies. He rarely debated on the floor in Congress (1775–79), but often opposed the position of his brother Richard Henry, and served on the military and marine committees as well as that charged with drafting the Articles of Confederation.

In 1779, weary of office and longing for the peace and quiet of Menokin, Lee left Congress. Except for a few years in the State legislature, he abandoned public service altogether and lived quietly. In 1797, only a few months after the death of his childless wife, at the age of 62 he succumbed. Burial took place in the Tayloe family graveyard at Mount Airy.


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