Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter X: President of Washington College: Advice to Robert Junior

The Document

Spending the summer on the Pamunkey at the White House, exposed all day in the fields to the sun, and at night to the malaria from the river and marshes, I became by the last of September one continuous "chill," so it was decided that, as the corn was made, the fodder saved, the wheat land broken up, and hands not so greatly needed, I should get a furlough. Mounting my mare, I started on a visit to my mother and sisters, hoping that the change to the upper country would help me to get rid of the malaria. When I reached "Derwent" my father had gone to Lexington, but my mother and the rest were there to welcome me and dose me for my ailments. There was still some discussion among us all as to what was the best thing for me to do, and I wrote to my father, telling him of my preference for a farmer's life and my desire to work my own land. The following letter, which he wrote me in reply, is, like all I ever got from him, full of love, tenderness, and good, sensible advice:

"My Dear Son: I did not receive until yesterday your letter of the 8th inst. I regret very much having missed seeing you--still more to hear that you have been suffering from intermittent fever. I think the best thing you can do is to eradicate the disease from your system, and unless there is some necessity for your returning to the White House, you had better accompany your mother here. I have thought very earnestly as to your future. I do not know to what stage your education has been carried, or whether it would be advantageous for you to pursue it further. Of that you can judge. If you do, and will apply yourself so as to get the worth of your money, I can advance it to you for this year at least. If you do not, and wish to take possession of your farm, I can assist you a little in that. As matters now stand, you could raise money on your farm only by mortgaging it, which would put you in debt at the beginning of your life, and I fear in the end would swallow up all your property. As soon as I am restored to civil rights, if I ever am, I will settle up your grandfather's estate, and put you in possession of your share. The land may be responsible for some portion of his debts or legacies. If so, you will have to assume it. In the meantime, I think it would be better for you, if you determine to farm your land, to go down there as you propose and begin on a moderate scale. I can furnish you means to buy a team, wagon, implements, etc. What will it cost? If you cannot wait to accompany your mother here, come up to see me and we can talk it over. You could come up in the packet and return again. If you do come, ask Agnes for my box of private papers I left with her, and bring it with you; but do not lose it for your life, or we are all ruined. Wrap it up with your clothes and put it in a carpet-bat or valise, so that you can keep it with you or within your sight, and do not call attention to it. I am glad to hear that Fitzhugh keeps so well, and that he is prospering in his farming operations. Give him a great deal of love for me. The first thing you must do is to get well.

"Your affectionate father,

"R. E. Lee."

Trip to "Bremo" on private canal-boat

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee,, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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