The Lees of Virginia

The Lees of Virginia : Seven Generations of an American Family

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Whether opposing Nathaniel Bacon and his Rebels in 1676, or condemning English colonial policy in 1776, or turning back the Union Army at the Seven Days' battles of 1862, the descendants of Richard and Anne Lee have occupied a preeminent place in American history. They were among the first families of Virginia. Two were signers of the Declaration of Independence and several others distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War. And one, Robert E. Lee, remains widely admired for his lofty character and military success. In The Lees of Virginia, Paul Nagel chronicles seven generations of Lees, from the family founder Richard to General Robert E. Lee, covering over two hundred years of American history. We meet Thomas Lee, who dreamed of America as a continental empire. His daughter was Hannah Lee Corbin, a non-conformist in lifestyle and religion, while his son, Richard Henry Lee, was a tempestuous figure who wore black silk over a disfigured hand when he made the motion in Congress for Independence. Another of Thomas' sons, Arthur Lee, created a political storm by his accusations against Benjamin Franklin. Arthur's cousin was Light-Horse Harry Lee, a controversial cavalry officer in the Revolutionary War, whose wild real estate speculation led to imprisonment for debt and finally self-exile in the Caribbean. One of Harry's sons, Henry Lee, further disgraced the family by seducing his sister-in-law and frittering away Stratford, the Lees' ancestral home. Another son, however, became the family's redeeming figure--Robert E. Lee, a brilliant tactician whose ruling motto was self-denial and who saw God's hand in all things. In these and numerous other portraits, Nagel discloses how, from 1640 to 1870, a family spirit united the Lees, making them a force in Virginian and American affairs. Paul Nagel is a leading chronicler of families prominent in our history. His Descent from Glory, a masterful narrative account of four generations of Adamses, was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and a brilliant critical and popular success. The New Yorker hailed it as "intelligent, tactful, and spiritually generous," and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian W.A. Swanberg, in the Chicago Sun-Times, called it "a magnificent embarrassment of biographical riches." Now, in The Lees of Virginia, Nagel brings his skills to bear on another major American family, taking readers inside the great estates of the Old Dominion and the turbulent lives of the Lee men and women.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 346 pages
  • 160.02 x 233.68 x 33.02mm | 680.39g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 21 half-tones, 1 map
  • 0195053850
  • 9780195053852

About Paul C. Nagel

About the Author Paul C. Nagel was Director of the Virginia Historical Society until 1985, when he turned entirely to writing biography. His most recent books include Descent From Glory and The Adams Women. He is a contributing editor of American Heritage, a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a fellow of the Society of American Historians, and past president of the Southern Historical essociation.show more

Review Text

Having unveiled the private heartaches of the Adams family in the superlative Descent From Glory (1982), Nagel attempts the same task with a legendary First Family of Virginia, but this time less successfully. Beginning with family founder Richard Lee, who came to Virginia circa 1640, the Lees repeatedly placed their hard-won prestige on the line in the public arena. Over the next two centuries, they numbered, to name a few, five prominent patriot brothers (including two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot), dashing Revolutionary War cavalry leader "Light-Horse Harry," and, of course, Robert, the great Confederate symbol of brilliance in victory and dignity in defeat. Yet envious political rivals and their own frequent pettiness blocked the Lees' path to higher office Family members usually wielded their massive influence in tandem, so that "even when the Lees entered disgrace. . .they seemed usually to blunder ahead arm in arm," Nagel notes dryly. Congress excluded the quarrelsome Richard Henry from the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence; "Light-Horse Harry" ensnared brother Richard Bland in his get-rich-quick schemes and, ultimately, financial catastrophe; and Harry's son and Robert's half-brother, the scapegrace "Dark-Horse Harry," was ostracized for seducing his ward and for losing the family ancestral home, Stratford. Nagel examines this powerful, often troubled clan with the same searching, generous spirit he brought to the Adams family. Yet, at seven generations (compared with the Adamses' four), the Lees are too numerous and far-flung for him to tackle in the relatively short scope of this work. Moreover, for all their valor, they lack the dour Puritan sense of duty that made the Adams tribe so grimly compelling. A multigenerational saga as ambitious, accomplished, and, Finally, disappointing as the American dynasty it chronicles. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

66 ratings
3.89 out of 5 stars
5 24% (16)
4 48% (32)
3 21% (14)
2 5% (3)
1 2% (1)
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