Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861

John Brown’s Failure

What was the Lee connection to George Washington?

Robert E. Lee came from the type of elegant Southern family that many of us sometimes daydream about. The lives of Lee and his relatives were filled with cocktail parties, long afternoon picnics, and lazy days of courtship. Of course, most of this idyllic scene was made possible by the possession of slaves who did all the heavy lifting.

Light Horse Harry Lee—the most famous Lee until the career of his son blossomed—was a friend of George Washington, and when the great Virginian died, Harry Lee gave the eulogy that remains famous in American consciousness even today. “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” Lee said. The connection between the Lees and Washingtons was made stronger when Robert E. Lee married a step-granddaughter of the former president. Washington had no children, but his wife, Martha Custis Washington, had two from her previous marriage, and the line of Washington was therefore alive in Virginia. By marrying Mary Custis, Lee attached himself to the most famous name in America and obtained ownership of Arlington House, a magnificent plantation and its eighty-odd slaves. Throughout life, Robert E. Lee cherished the association with President Washington and did his best to emulate the great man.


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