Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XIII: Family Affairs: The General writes to his sons

The Document

I had before this time gone to my farm in King William County and started out in life as a farmer. As there was nothing but the land and a few old buildings left, for several years I had a very up-hill time. My father encouraged, advised me, and gave me material aid. His letters to me at this time will show the interest he took in my welfare. In one written March 16, 1866, after advising me as to steps to be taken in repairing an old mill on the place, he writes:

"I am clear for your doing everything to improve your property and make it remunerative as far as you can. You know my objections to incurring debt. I cannot overcome it.... I hope you will overcome your chills, and by next winter you must patch up your house, and get a sweet wife. You will be more comfortable, and not so lonesome. Let her bring a cow and a churn. That will be all you will want.... Give my love to Fitzhugh. I wish he were regularly established. He cannot afford to be idle. He will be miserable."

My brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, was negotiating to rent his farm, the White House, to some so-called English capitalists, and had not as yet established himself. In another letter to me, of May 26, 1866, my father says:

"...I will state, at the outset, that I desire you to consider Romancoke with its appurtenances your own; to do with as you consider most to your interest; to sell, farm, or let; subject, however, to the conditions imposed by your grandfather's will, as construed by the decree of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, which declares, 'If the legacies are not paid off by the personal property, hires of slaves, rents, and sale of the real estate, charged with their payment, at the end of five years, the portion unpaid remains a charge upon the White House and Romancoke until paid. The devisees take their estates cum onere.'

"The result of the war having deprived the estates of the benefit of the hire of the slaves and the sale of Smith's Island, and the personal property having all been swept off by the Federal armies, there is nothing left but the land of the two estates named. A court might make some deduction from the amount of the legacies to be paid in consideration of these circumstances, and I should think it would be fair to do so. But of that I cannot say. Now, with this understanding, make your own arrangements to suit yourself, and as you may determine most conducive to your interests. In confirming your action, as the executor or your grandfather, I must, however, take such measures as may be necessary to carry out the purpose of his will.... If you are determined to hold the estate, I think you ought to make it profitable. As to the means of doing so, you must decide for yourself. I am unable to do it for you, and might lead you astray. Therefore, while always willing to give you any advice in my power, in whatever you do you must feel that the whole responsibility rests with you.... I wish, my dear son, I could be of some advantage to you, but I can only give you my love and earnest prayers, and commit you to the keeping of that God who never forgets those who serve Him. May He watch over and preserve you.

"Your affectionate father,

"R. E. Lee."

In another letter, of June 13th, after telling me of the visit of a cousin of my mother's and how much gratification it was to have her with them, he regrets that he son, who brought his mother up to Lexington, had to hurry home on account of having left his wife and little son:

"...When you have such pleasing spurs in your flanks, I hope you may be on the fair road to prosperity. All unite in love to you and Fitzhugh. Ask the latter if George has yet found a horse to trade with the gray. We miss him very much [my brother had recently visited Lexington], and want to see you as badly. You may judge how poorly we are off. The examination has commenced at Washington College. Three days are over successfully, and I hope to finish in twelve more. ---- has been up in two subjects, and not got thrown. He has two more. But, in the meantime, I am much occupied, and will be confined all day. I have no time for letters of affection, so must tell you good-bye.

"Most affectionately,

"R. E. Lee."

This was the first final examination at Washington College since my father became its president. He worked very hard, and was kept busy attending to all the details and the putting into practice of several new methods and systems he had introduced.

Next: To his wife at Rockbridge Baths

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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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