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Henry (Light-Horse Harry) Lee

Note: The following is taken from volume 2 of the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (New York, 1915; pp. 19–21), edited by Lyon Gardiner Tyler.

Gov. of Va. 1794

Lee, Henry, was born at Leesylvania, Westmoreland county, Virginia, January 29. 1756, son of Henry and Lucy (Grymes) Lee, grandson of Henry and Mary (Bland) Lee, great-grandson of John and Lettice Lee, great-great-grandson of Richard and Laetitia (Corbin) Lee, and great-great-great-grandson of Colonel Richard and Anne Lee. Henry Lee was graduated at the College of New Jersey, A.B. 1773, A.M., 1776. Prevented from visiting Europe by the preparations for revolution, he returned to Virginia, recruited a company of “light horse” in 1775, was appointed captain in Colonel Theodorick Bland's legion of Virginia cavalry, and in 1777 joined Washington's army in Pennsylvania. He was promoted major for gallant conduct in battle, in January, 1778, and was given command of two troops of horse, to which he added a third troop and a company of infantry, and “Lee's Legion” became an independent partisan corps and its leader received the cognomen, “Lighthorse Harry.” This corps constantly hung on the flank of the British army, and annoyed both their march and camp. On July 19, 1779, Lee surprised the British at Paulus Hook, New York harbor, and with the loss of five of his riders carried off 160 prisoners, for which service Congress gave him a gold medal. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel and marched to South Carolina, where he covered the rear of General Greene's army. After Greene had crossed into Virginia, Lee remained in the mountains of North Carolina to encourage the Whigs and harrass Tarleton and the Loyalists. His efforts to surprise the British dragoons were unsuccessful, but he defeated 400 loyalists under Colonel Pyle. At Guilford Court House, March 15, 1781, his legion proved more than a match for Tarleton's dragoons, and, when General Greene marched against Camden, he sent Lee and Marion to cut off Rawdon's communications with the seacoast, and they captured Fort Watson, which forced Rawdon to abandon and burn Camden, May 10, 1781. Colonel Lee then proceeded south, capturing Forts Mott and Granby, and May 25 reached Augusta, Georgia, which city also fell into his hands June 5, 1781. He rejoined Greene's army, and took part in the siege of Fort Ninety-six, which after twenty-eight days was raised on the approach of Rawdon with 2000 men. In the battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781, Lee's Legion rendered distinguished service, and when the British retreated to Charleston, Lee followed so closely as to capture a large number of Rawdon's rear-guard. He witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, October 19, 1781, and soon after resigned his commission and became proprietor of “Stratford House,” by his marriage to his second cousin, Matilda, daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Virginia, 1785–88, and a member of the convention called to ratify the Federal constitution in 1788, and in that body, with Madison and Marshall, he opposed the efforts of Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, James Monroe, Benjamin Harrison and John Tyler, to defeat the ratification. He was a representative in the general assembly, 1789–91, and governor 1792–95. President Washington, in 1794, commissioned him major-general in command of troops sent to Western Pennsylvania to suppress the whiskey insurrection, and on his appearance with 15,000 men the insurrectionists were overawed and peace was restored without bloodshed. He was a representative in the sixth Congress, 1799–1801, and at the close retired to private life. He married (second) in 1798, Ann Hill, daughter of Charles and Anne Butler (Moore) Carter, of Shirley, Virginia. He was oppressed by debt the last years of his life. On July 27, 1812, while in Baltimore on a visit to William Hanson, editor of the “Federal Republican,” the printing office was attacked by a mob, and in the conflict that followed he was left for dead upon the street, where he was found insensible. He was disqualified for military service from the effects of this encounter. He visited the West Indies in 1817 for the benefit of his health, and on his way home he stopped at the homestead of General Greene, near St. Mary's, Georgia, where he was entertained by Mrs. Shaw, daughter of his old commander, and under whose roof he died. He was the author of: “Funeral Oration upon President Washington,” (1799), delivered before both houses of Congress, in which occur the words, “The man, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens”; and of “War in the Southern United States” (2 vols., 1812). He died on Cumberland Island, Georgia, March 25, 1818. Recently his remains were removed to Lexington, Virginia, and interred by the side of his illustrious son. General Robert E. Lee.

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