Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVII: The Reconstruction Period: His opinion of negro labour

The Document

The next letter I find is a reply to one of mine, in which I evidently had been confiding to him my agricultural woes:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 12, 1868.

"My Dear Rob: I am sorry to learn from your letter of the 1st that the winter has been so hard on your wheat. I hope, however, the present good weather is shedding its influence upon it, and that it will turn out better than it promises. You must, however, take a lesson from the last season. What you do cultivate, do well. Improve and prepare the land in the best manner; your labour will be less, and your profits more. Your flat lands were always uncertain in wet winters. The uplands were more sure. Is it not possible that some unbidden guest may have been feasting on your corn? Six hundred bushels are are a large deficit in casting up your account for the year. But you must make it up by economy and good management. A farmer's motto should be TOIL AND TRUST. I am glad that you have got your lime and sown your oats and clover. Do you use the drill or sow broadcast? I shall try to get down to see you if I go to Richmond, for I am anxious to know how you are progressing and to see if in any way I can aid you. Whenever I can, you must let me know. You must still think about your house and make up your mind as to the site and kind, and collect the material. I can help you to any kind of plan, and with some ready money to pay the mechanics. I have presently had a visit from Dr. Oliver, of Scotland, who is examining lands for immigrants from his country. He seems to be a sensible and judicious man. From his account, I do not think the Scotch and English would suit your part of the country. It would require time from them to become acclimated, and they would probably get dissatisfied, especially as there is so much mountainous region where they could be accommodated. I think you will have to look to the Germans; perhaps the Hollanders, as a class, would be the most useful. When the railroad shall have been completed to West Point, I think there will be no difficulty in getting the whites among you. I would try to get some of our own young men in your employ. I rode out the other day to Mr. Andrew Cameron's and went into the field where he was plowing. I took great pleasure in following the plows around the circuit. He had four in operation. Three of them were held by his former comrades in the army, who are regularly employed by him, and, he says, much to his satisfaction and profit. People have got to work now. It is creditable to them to do so; their bodies and their minds are benefited by it, and those who can and will work will be advanced by it. You will never prosper with blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury, and all of whose sympathies and associations are antagonistic to yours. I wish them no evil in the world--on the contrary, will do them every good in my power, and know that they are misled by those to whom they have given their confidence; but our material, social, and political interests are naturally with the whites. Mr. Davis' trial was fixed for the last of this month. If Judge Chase's presence is essential, I do not see how it can take place, unless that of Mr. Johnson is to be postponed. I suppose that will be decided to-day or to-morrow, and then I shall know what to expect. I shall not go to Richmond unless necessary, as it is always inconvenient for me to leave home, and I am not at all well. Your poor mother is also more ailing than she is ordinarily, in consequence of a cold she has taken. But it is passing away, I trust. I must leave you to her and Mildred for all local and domestic news. Custis and the boys are well, and 'Powhattie,' I hope has got rid of the chills. We hear regularly from Mary and Agnes, who seem to be enjoying themselves, and I do not think from their programme that they will get back to us till summer. All unite in much love, and I am always, Your father,

"R. E. Lee."

This same month he writes a long letter to his daughter Agnes, who was visiting friends in Baltimore. The Annette, Mildred, and Mary he mentions in this letter were the daughters of Charles Henry Carter, of "Goodwood," Maryland, a first cousin of my father:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 28, 1868.

"My Precious Agnes: I was so glad to receive your letter, to learn that you were well and enjoying yourself among pleasant friends. I hope that you will soon get through all your visits and come home. Your uncle Smith says you girls ought to marry his sons, as you both find it so agreeable to be from home, and you could then live a true Bohemian life and have a happy time generally. But I do not agree with him; I shall not give my consent, so you must choose elsewhere. I have written to Annette telling her of my alarm for her. Now that Mildred is engaged, and she sees how much Mary is in love, I fear she will pick up an Adonis next, so that she had better run away to the mountains at once. I am glad that you saw Mr. Davis. It is a terrible thing to have this prosecution hanging over him, and to be unable to fix his thoughts on a course of life or apply his hands to the support of his family. But I hope a kind Providence will shield and guide him. You must remember me to all my friends, the Taggarts, Glenns, McKims, Marshalls, etc.... As to the young ladies you mention, you must tell them that I want to see them very much, and hope that they will all come to the mountains this summer, and not pass us by in Lexington. When you go to 'Goodwood' and the Eastern Shore, do the same there for me, and present me to all by name. Tell sweet Sallie Warwick I think she ought to come to Lexington, if only to show those babies; but in truth the want to see her more than them, so she may leave them with Major Poor [her husband], if she chooses. You must see everybody you wish and enjoy yourself as much as you can, and then come home. I told Mildred to tell you if you wanted any funds you must let me know and where to send them. I do not know whether she delivered my message. She has become very imperious, and may not think you require any. She has been much exercised of late on the score of servants, but hopes to get some relief on the 1st proximo from the promised change of Miss Mary Dixon to Miss Eliza Cyrus. I hope her expectations may be realised. Little Mildred has had a return of her chills. It has been a sharp attack, and thought it has been arrested, when I left her this morning I feared she might have a relapse, as this is her regular day. She was looking remarkably well before it came on, better than she had ever done, but every cold terminates in this way, however slight it may be. Colds have been quite prevalent, and there have been two deaths among the cadets from pneumonia. Fortunately so far the students have escaped. I am relieved of mine I hope, and your poor mother is, I hope, better. The storm seems to have subsided, and I trust the bright weather may ameliorate her pains. Custis, Mildred, and the boys are well, as are most of our friends in Lexington.... Fitzhugh writes that everything is blooming at the 'White House,' and that his wheat is splendid. I am in hopes that it is all due to the presence of my fair daughter. Rob says that things at Romancoke are not so prosperous--you see, there is no Mrs. R. E. Lee, Jr., there, and that may make the difference. Cannot you persuade some of those pretty girls in Baltimore to take compassion on a poor bachelor? I will give them a plan for a house if they will build it.... All would unite with me in love if they knew I was writing. You ought to be here to enjoy the birds Captain O. C. H. sends us. With much love for yourself, and my poor prayers for your happiness, I am, Your devoted father,

"R. E. Lee."

Next: Mr. Davis's trial

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

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