Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVIII: Mrs. R. E. Lee: Miss Jones, a would-be benefactor of Washington College Fate of Washington

The Document

A lady living in New York wrote to General Lee in 1867, asking for a catalogue of Washington College and a copy of its charter and laws. She wished also to know whether or not the college was sectarian, and, if so, of what denomination. She intimated that she desired to make a donation to some institution of learning, and was rather inclined to select the Episcopal Theological Seminary, near Alexandria, Virginia. The president sent her the following reply to her letter:

"Lexington, Virginia, June 24, 1867.

"Miss Ann Upshur Jones, No. 156 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y.

"My Dear Madam: I have had the honour to receive your letter of the 17th inst., and I send to your address a catalogue of Washington College and a copy of its charter and laws. On the thirty-seventh page of the former, and the eleventh of the latter, you will find what is prescribed on the subject of religion. I do not know that it ever has been sectarian in its character since it was chartered as a college; but it certainly is not so now. Located in a Presbyterian community, it is natural that most of its trustees and faculty should be of that denomination, though the rector, president, and several of the professors are members of the Episcopal Church. It is furthest from my wish to divert any donation from the Theological Seminary at Alexandria, for I am well acquainted with the merits of that institution, have a high respect for its professors, and am an earnest advocate of its object. I only give you the information you desire, and wish you to follow your own preferences in the matter. With great respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."

In 1869 she wrote again, stating that she proposed breaking up housekeeping, that she had no family to whom to give her books, furniture, and silver, that she did not wish to sell them nor store them away, and had therefore determined to present them to the "greatest living man," and she begged him to accept them, or, if his house was already furnished, to make use of them in his college. To this letter he replied:

"Lexington, Virginia, February 13, 1869.

"My Dear Miss Jones: After long and diligent inquiry I only this moment learned your address, and have been during this time greatly mortified at my inability to acknowledge the receipt and disposition of your valuable and interesting donation to Washington College. The books were arranged in the library on their arrival, the globes in the philosophical department, while the furniture, carpets, sofas, chairs, etc., have been applied to the furnishing of the dais of the audience-room of the new chapel, to the comfort and ornament of which they are a great addition. I have yet made no disposition of the plate and tableware, and they are still in the boxes in which they came. I inclose the resolution of thanks passed by the Board of Trustees of the College at their annual meeting, to which I beg to add my personal acknowledgments and grateful sense of your favour and kindness to this institution. It would give me great pleasure if you would visit Lexington at the commencement in June next, the third Thursday, that I might then show you the successful operation of the college. Mrs. Lee joins me in sentiments of esteem and regard, praying that the great and merciful God may throw around you His protecting care and love. I am, with great respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee.

"Miss Ann Upshur Jones, No. 38 Union Square, New York."

The plate, tableware, and a curious old work-table, for which no place could be found in the college, valuable only on account of their antiquity and quaintness, he finally allowed to be called his own.

Next: Fate of Washington relics belonging to Mrs. Lee's family

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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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