Six Unbelievable, But True, Facts About Colonial Life


Sandie Angulo Chen Common Sense Media

Sandie Angulo Chen
Common Sense Media

The following post, which seems a departure from her normal subject matter, was written by Sandie Angulo Chen. It appeared in Ancestry.com’s Family History Month on October 15, 2015, and honors colonial life. Sandie is known for her writing about movies, books, pop culture, and entertainment at EntertainmentWeekly.com starting in 1998. In 2007, she moved to AOL’s Moviefone.com.and has contributed as a movie critic and writer to the Washington Post, Variety, TV Squad, Film.com, and other entertainment-related publications and websites, and today, Sandy writes for Common Sense Media.

I especially enjoyed Sandie’s post because it broadly viewed the family and community’s pop culture (if you will), of living life in the 18th century–something I always try to juxtapose to today’s culture as I write my own posts about my ancestors and the historic times in which they lived.

Many of the commenters to Sandie’s original post questioned some of its facts or were disappointed that references to her sources were not included.  Therefore, I have done some of my own research and added sources where I could confirm this article’s facts.


Colonial Life

Colonial-LifeFor Americans living today, the Colonial era is a time of myth and legend. Because the days when the Founding Fathers lived are so central to our country’s history, we sometimes forget what life was like for ordinary colonists.  [Photo credit: Atalou via Flickr]

Today we might find it hard to believe that like modern generations, the colonists dealt with premarital sex, pregnancy, and blended families, along with some hardships (short lifespans, dying children) that we might have a hard time understanding. By searching your family’s history, you might be able to uncover how many of these startling issues your own ancestors encountered and survived.

1. COURTSHIP PRACTICES INCLUDED BED-SHARING

Although modern Americans imagine Colonial-era sexual morals to be, well, Puritanical, in the mid to late 1700s, more than one in three girls was pregnant when she walked down the aisle.1 So don’t be surprised if the birth or baptismal record of a progenitor that you discover on Ancestry is dated fewer than nine months after the parents’ wedding certificate. One unusual northern Colonial tradition may have encouraged this premarital fecundity. Bundling, or bed courting, involved young, unmarried couples testing their compatibility by sharing a bed for the night. More common among lower classes and along the frontier — perhaps due to the shortage of fuel for warmth and light — chastity was supposedly ensured by setting a “bundling board” (a long, upright plank) between the couple or by having them sleep in separate compartments of a large “bundling sack.”2 As Washington Irving later observed in 1809, no one was too surprised when hormones defeated these measures: “To this sagacious custom, therefore, do I chiefly attribute the unparalleled increase of the … Yankee tribe.”3

2. BLENDED FAMILIES WERE COMMON4
During the Colonial era, marriages lasted, on average, less than 12 years because of high mortality rates. In Colonial America, death visited earlier and often: In 1700, the average age of death for English men in Virginia was 48. One-third to one-half of all children lost at least one parent before the age of 21; in the South, more than half of children 13 and under had lost at least one parent. As a result, remarriages were frequent in Colonial America — a fact you can discover for yourself using databases of marriage records on Ancestry. Marriages during the Colonial era, however, were not always legally formalized. For many colonists, the cost of a formal, legal marriage was more an aspiration than a reality. In colonial North Carolina, for example, a marriage certificate cost £50 — a year’s salary for a teacher, or six months’ salary for a minister. As a result, many people formalized their relationships simply by posting “banns,” announcements read weekly to the community for several weeks.

My footnote #4 reflects just one of several instances, where some of the colonial period statistics may be slightly different among the various references reporting them; e.g.the average length of a colonial marriage was 10 years; the average age of death for English men in Virginia was 45; men outnumbered women 3 to 1; and the cost of buying a marriage license was expensive--up to one month's salary in general vs. one year of a teacher's salary.  This being said, I researched the various facts in the original article for the past several days and can tell you that there is a vast assortment of first-hand accountings that were published during and after the colonial period by various levels of authorities.  Many of my queries resulted in early 19th and 20th century books that have been published online and are available for free for anyone interested in delving more deeply into the facts surrounding this article.

3. PARENTS EXPECTED SOME CHILDREN TO DIE

While death was not uncommon for marriage-age adults, it was almost expected for children. With most Colonial women marrying around the age of 20, they would often have about seven to 10 children. Many children, however, did not survive until adulthood — or even to toddlerhood. One in 10 infants died before they were a year old, and four in 10 children died before the age of six. For slave children, not surprisingly, the outlook was even grimmer. Up to half of all black children in the 1700s died before their first birthday. But even the wealthiest parents had to endure their children’s deaths. First Lady Martha Washington, for example, had four children, all of whom she outlived. Two died before turning five; one died at age 17; the last died of an illness at age 26. Accidents also claimed older children, not a surprising fact considering the size of families and the risks of life on a farm. Colonial court records available to historians and genealogists show children drowning in tanning pits or millponds, falling into hearth fires, and down barn ladders. Because of this, don’t be surprised if the death records available on Ancestry for your extended ancestral family include many children.

4. JOBS WERE EXTREMELY LIMITED

In between birth and death in Colonial life, there was also work. During the Colonial era, nearly all men fell into one of just seven occupational categories: family farmer, Southern planter, indentured servant, slave, unskilled laborer, artisan, or merchant. Women worked in complementary occupations: domestic service, child care, gardening, and household production, either for home use or for trade. For whites early in the Colonial period, the vast continent promised substantial social mobility: even an indentured servant, after working practically as a slave for four to seven years, could find a plot to work as a tenant farmer and save enough to buy his own land. As the Colonial period progressed and towns grew larger, the number of artisans grew. In 1700, only four to five percent of the labor force worked as traders, shopkeepers, or merchants, but by 1770, that fraction had grown to seven percent. Do you know what jobs your ancestors held during the Colonial era?

5. CURRENCY WASN’T JUST CASH AND COIN

For all their work, many Colonial Americans took payment not in cash, but in leaf. Due to a chronic shortage of official English coin, colonists often bought and sold items with tobacco or other “rated commodities,” to which colonial authorities assigned a certain value in pounds, shillings, and pence (the official English units of money at the time and used until 1971). Besides pressing tobacco into service to facilitate commerce, each colony also printed its own paper money. Each colony also acted as a currency trader, assigning a value to foreign money, often Spanish dollars, circulating alongside English pounds. Because the value of that paper money and foreign coin depended on each colony’s proclamation, it was known as “proclamation money.”

6. IMPORTED GOODS WERE SOMETIMES WAY EXPENSIVE

In Colonial America, a set of bed sheets cost more than the bed itself. According to one North Carolina probate inventory — a list of an individual’s assets at his death, and some of the richest sources of genealogical records available on Ancestry and elsewhere — a set of “fine Holland sheets” in 1680 cost 50 shillings (written as £2:10:00 — 20 shillings equaled a pound). The bed itself cost only eight shillings (written as £0:08:00). In addition to Dutch textiles, French silks for dresses and Indian tea were prohibitively expensive because imported goods from anywhere other than England were limited by the Crown, even for wealthy families. The surprising disparity reflects the reality of the times: wood was abundant in 17th century North Carolina, but finely spun and woven fabric was unavailable in the colonies and had to be imported at great expense.

Sources:

1Andrew G. Gardner,”Courtship, Sex, and the Single Colonist,”Colonial Williamsburg Journal”, Holiday 2007.

2Henry Reed Stiles,”Bundling: Its Origins, Progress, and Decline in America”, Knickerbocker Publishing Company, Albany, NY, 1871.

3Peter Fenelon Collier, Publisher, New York,”The Works of Washington Irving Volume 4″, 1897, page 139.

4Lois Green Carr and Lorena S. Walsh, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct., 1977), pp. 542-571, “The Planters Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth Century Maryland.”

http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/10/15/six-unbelievable-but-true-facts-about-colonial-life/#sthash.hRd5XTAS.dpuf

Salty as the Sea–Sweet as Wine–Another Story from Jamestown


Back to Jamestown and Unearthing Yet Another Notable Ancestor

Because of my ancient Bolling family lineage, I have long been following anything and everything published related to Pocahontas, her marriage to Thomas Rolfe, their cultural and genealogical histories in England and Virginia.  Among the vast resources available, I also have followed the archaeological endeavors of Dr. William Kelso, director of archaeology on the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, at the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities ( APVA )–now known as Preservation Virginia.

In recent weeks. Dr. Kelso unearthed the remains of Captain Gabriel Archer, in the old church yard in Jamestown, along with three other leaders of the colony.  When I checked my ever-growing ancestral tree I saw that Captain Archer is yet another relative of mine related to me by a 2nd cousin several generations removed.  My intention was to write a post about Dr. Kelso’s recent discovery and detail Captain Archer’s life cut short in Jamestown. However, valuable information is already readily available and I see no need for me to “reinvent the wheel,”  so I am sharing a video, Gabriel Archer’s time line, and excerpts from an article by Patrick G. Duffeler, Owner and Chairman of Williamsburg Winery, who shares his connection to Captain Gabriel Archer.

The Video that Details the July 2015 Archaeological Find by Dr. Kelso and Crew (3:59):

1Time Line

  • ca. 1574 – Gabriel Archer is born in Mountnessing, Essex County, England.
  • ca. 1591 – Gabriel Archer matriculated at Saint John’s College, Cambridge University.
  • March 15, 1593 – Gabriel Archer begins studies at Gray’s Inn.
  • March 26, 1602 – An English colonizing expedition, led by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, departs Falmouth on the ship Concord. Twenty colonists and a dozen crewmembers are aboard.
  • May 14, 1602 – The English ship Concord, commanded by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, anchors off a peninsula that Gosnold names Cape Cod. He later names Martha’s Vineyard for his late daughter, before establishing a small colony on Cuttyhunk Island.
  • June 18, 1602 – The English ship Concord, commanded by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, sails to England after its exploration of the New England coast.
  • Late 1606 – Gabriel Archer enrolls in the Virginia Company of London’s expedition to establish a colony in what is known as South Virginia.
  • April 26, 1607 – Jamestown colonists first drop anchor in the Chesapeake Bay, and after a brief skirmish with local Indians, begin to explore the James River.
  • May 13, 1607 – The Jamestown colonists select a marshy peninsula fifty miles up the James River on which to establish their settlement.
  • May 26, 1607 – While Christopher Newport and a party of colonists explore the James River, an alliance of five Algonquian-speaking Indian groups—the Quiyoughcohannocks, the Weyanocks, the Appamattucks, the Paspaheghs, and the Chiskiacks—attacks Jamestown, wounding ten and killing two.
  • May 28, 1607 – After an Indian attack, the settlers at Jamestown begin building a fort.
  • June 10, 1607 – Finally released from arrest, John Smith takes his seat as a member of the Council.
  • June 15, 1607 – English colonists complete construction of James Fort at Jamestown.
  • June 22, 1607 – Christopher Newport departs from Jamestown for England, carrying a letter to the Virginia Company of London that exaggerates the Virginia colony’s commercial possibilities.
  • September 10, 1607 – Council members John Ratcliffe, John Smith, and John Martin oust Edward Maria Wingfield as president, replacing him with Ratcliffe. By the end of the month, half of Jamestown’s 104 men and boys are dead, mostly from sickness.
  • January 2, 1608 – John Smith returns to Jamestown after being held captive by Powhatan. Only thirty-eight colonists survive, Smith’s seat on the Council is occupied by Gabriel Archer, and the Council accuses Smith of killing his companions. Smith is sentenced to hang, but charges are dropped when Christopher Newport arrives with the first supplies from England.
  • April 10, 1608 – Aboard the John and Francis, Christopher Newport leaves Jamestown for England. Among those with him are Gabriel Archer, Edward Maria Wingfield, and the Indian Namontack.
  • Summer 1608 – While in England, Gabriel Archer probably supplies the Virginia Company with copies of his reports of the colony at Jamestown.
  • August 11, 1609 – Four ships reach Jamestown from England: Unity, Lion, Blessing, and Falcon. Two others are en route; two more wrecked in a storm; and one, Sea Venture, was cast up on the Bermuda islands’ shoals.
  • August 31, 1609 – In his last surviving letter, Gabriel Archer describes his most recent voyage to Virginia and attacks the leadership of John Smith.
  • October 1609 – John Smith leaves Virginia. The Jamestown colony’s new leadership is less competent, and the Starving Time follows that winter.
  • November 1609 – Powhatan Indians lay siege to Jamestown, denying colonists access to outside food sources. The Starving Time begins, and by spring 160 colonists, or about 75 percent of Jamestown’s population, will be dead from hunger and disease. This action begins the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614).
  • Winter 1609–1610 – Gabriel Archer dies on an unrecorded date during the Starving Time at Jamestown.
  • 1625 – Samuel Purchas publishes Gabriel Archer’s account of Bartholomew Gosnold’s New England expedition of 1602 

Gabriel Archer Celebrated by Patrick G. Duffeler, Founder and Chairman, Williamsburg Winery – August 7, 2015:

Williamsburg Winery

Captain Gabriel Archer was born in 1575 and grew up in Mountnessing, Essex, about 25 miles from London. He attended Cambridge University and then Grays Inn, where he studied law. Archer had been part of an expedition in 1602 on the coast of “Northern Virginia”, what would later be called New England. He had written a then widely read account of that trip. He had been an enthusiastic proponent of the Virginia Colony and had been named co-captain of the Godspeed, the lead ship of three vessels that brought the men that founded the first permanent settlement in the New World in 1607. They were establishing a colony for the Virginia Company, a private venture under a Royal Charter.

Archer wanted to locate the settlement at the mouth of a creek, on a piece of land that he intended to name Archer’s Hope. “Hope” in the words of the period referred to an “opening or hollow amongst hills”.  However, Captain John Smith, overruled Archer and placed the settlement instead on “Jamestowne” Island.  The creek became known as Archer’s Hope Creek and later, College Creek, (as it finds its source behind the College of William & Mary that was chartered in 1693).

Subsequently, Archer was named as the first secretary of the colony but initially was not appointed to the governing council. He was a fierce critic of Captain John Smith and other leaders and was one of the principles involved in deposing the first president of the colony, Edward Maria Wingfield.

After Smith was sent home a few months later, Archer was one of the most important of the leaders remaining.  He returned to England in 1608 and sailed back again to Virginia a year later with the fleet that was damaged and scattered by a major hurricane in the Atlantic. He was on one of the ships that survived the crossing and arrived at Jamestown in August 1609. He died in 1609 or 1610 during the terrible Winter known as “The Starving Time”.  His burial within the church’s chancel demonstrates that his status was recognized among the settlers even during a time of great stress. He was only 35.

About 400 Years Later…

I was raised with an appreciation for history.  Our historical research had led my wife, Peggy, and I, to talk to many historians and archeologists, and we discovered the treasures of the land and its chronicle from 1607 to the twentieth century. But, in January 1982,  when we first walked on that acreage where Captain Gabriel Archer had recommended the colonists settle, it was bitterly cold. Yet, the farm grounds were beautiful and inspiring. After many visits to other farms, we decided to acquire what we later, after considerable historical research, would find was not just Jockey’s Neck Farm, as it was then called, but Archer’s Hope. In the meantime, we had named our project, our farm, Wessex Hundred…from our family’s early origins…

Wessex Hundred became home to the Williamsburg Winery in 1987 and later to its diverse operations:
Wedmore Place, a 28 room country hotel, the Café Provencal, a fine dining restaurant; and, right across from the winery itself, the Gabriel Archer Tavern, a farm-to-fork, informal, dining establishment opened in ’87 with the focus on “Delicious Simplicity”.

Gabriel Archer and his preference to place the first settlement on our farm loomed large and was, in many respects, inspiring.  So much so, in fact, that Peggy and I deeded the land that would have been “Archer’s Hope” (and can now be seen from the Colonial Parkway, a roadway between Williamsburg and Yorktown) into Conservation Easement.  We chose not to build on that land to protect the historical vista.  This site is now identified by a state historic highway marker.



In 1991, we decided to name our first “reserve” wine, a red blend of different Vinifera varietals, the “Gabriel Archer Reserve”. Descendants of Gabriel Archer living in Richmond, VA contacted us and expressed an interest in our activities both in the sense of their interest in wines, but more importantly about our research on the history of our farm.

The wine became the flagship of our product range.  Friends of the winery have written to us about how well the ’93 vintage has aged and bested some top Bordeaux first growth wines in tastings. The most recent news was that the Gabriel Archer Reserve received wonderful ratings by none other than Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Both the 2009 and 2010 received a 90 point rating.
Almost 25 years after the first vintage of the Gabriel Archer Reserve, the history of the man has come to life in a bright light.

 

Cheers to Gabriel Archer
Enjoy Life,

Patrick G. Duffeler
Founder & Chairman

 


1Quinn, D. B., the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Gabriel Archer
(ca. 1574–ca. 1610). (2015, August 10). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Archer_Gabriel_ca_1574-ca_1610.

People, Politics, and Pastimes of the Day


Cover--The Crockett Almanac 1841
I’m not sure why I left this post in draft form for nearly a year now. But, my posting of the following article as sourced by Claudia Swain, one of the authors of WETA’s local history blog; “Boundary Stones,” struck a chord with me regarding this presidential election’s “anything goes” characterizations, attitudes and posturing.
On Election Day 1800; Federalist John Adams vs. Republican Thomas Jefferson were in the race for President; tensions were very high; “bad-whiskey” was readily available; and apparently, “anything goes when it comes to politics,” was even 216 years ago the sentiment of the day! Now–sound familiar? Well–recklessness never comes without consequences–just say’n!  I hope you enjoy the read.
Ms. Swain based her story which follows on The 1841 Crockett Almanac:  containing Adventures, Exploits, Sprees and Scrapes in the West; & Life and Manners in the Backwoods, by Davy Crockett  (August 17, 1786-March 6, 1836), (frontiersman, congressman, and defender of the Alamo), falls on the 230th anniversary of his birth in Limestone, TN.

Some Further Background:

For those of you who may be unaware, Crockett was killed at the Alamo, a fortified mission on the outskirts of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio) on March 6, 1836, along with the rest of a small garrison that had been besieged for 13 days by an overwhelming force personally led by the autocratic ruler of Mexico, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Although it’s been 180 years since Crockett’s death, the precise nature of  it remains a hauntingly open question; i.e., did he die in the fury of combat, iconically swinging his empty rifle in a hopeless last stand? Or, was he one of a group of men captured at the end of the battle and then quickly and coldly executed?
The Crockett Almanac, named after this Tennessee backwoodsman, made famous by his self-serving tall tales, portrayed a rough rural “sport.” The inexpensive comic almanacs combined illustrated jokes on topical subjects with astrological and weather predictions. While presented here as a rollicking free-for-all, frontier violence, emanating from a male culture based on honor and reputation, this “sport” was often characterized by sudden attacks and maiming (such as eye gouging). The rough-and-tumble frontier Crockett came to represent was formed as white Southerners poured across the Appalachian Mountains in the decades following the Revolution, settling first in Tennessee and Kentucky, and later in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, and eventually Texas. The Louisiana Purchase, the introduction of steamboats, and an expanded network of roads made this migration possible.

 

Rough and Tumble in Georgetown

10/2/2015 in DC by Claudia Swain

“A Regular Row in the Backwoods.”1800s Election - Rough and Tumble in Georgetown

Source: Crockett Almanac (1841)—Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

You’ve heard of DUELING, now get ready for ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE. In the 1800s, more than a few disputes of personal honor were solved by shooting each other to death. But that’s what the gentry of the area did, so what did the common people do? Plain old hand-to-hand fighting and eye-gouging.“Rough-and-tumble” was the name given to the fights between lower class men to settle disputes of honor and status. The style was unique in its brutality, with an “emphasis on maximum disfigurement or severing body parts.”[1] Essentially the rules were that there were no rules, and the fight was over when somebody lost an eye. That’s not an exaggeration; pulling out the eye of an opponent meant you won, and you even got to keep the eye as a trophy.How does this apply to D.C.? As you’ve probably already guessed, the District took place in the rough-and-tumble too. Most memorable, however, was one fight that took place on election day, 1800. Tensions were very high; John Adams and the Federalists were in fierce competition with Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans. In Georgetown, votes were cast at Suter’s tavern (located near what is today K and 31st St NW). A large crowd was gathered to vote and talk but as the day wore on, and “bad whiskey” began to make its way through the men, folk became more and more unruly.It was not long before a man named Shipely called a challenge to anyone from the opposite party who dared challenge him; a Lieutenant Peter answered his call, but sent one of his enlisted soldiers to fight for him, a man named Lovejoy. Christian Hines describes the scene:

[Lovejoy] was a very large man, well proportioned, and stood about six feet high. Shipely was nearly the same height, and very bony and muscular, but not so stout as Lovejoy. The Crowd having formed a ring, the combatants went into the fight with a will, those in the crowd occasionally cheering and otherwise encouraging their choice of the men. [2]

They clawed at each other’s eyes, grappling on the wet ground outside the tavern. Shipely proved victorious, by smearing Lovejoy’s eyes generously with mud. Bystanders picked Lovejoy up and washed his face, although he’d managed to keep his eyes in his head–the man was blinded for life. He spent the rest of his days being led around the streets of Georgetown by a hired boy. Although it’s unclear who Shipely won for, it was Jefferson who ultimately carried the election that day.And what became of rough-and-tumble? It fell out of fashion in the 1840s when deadlier weapons were invented that made the sport too lethal for most people’s blood. A good thing, too, or the Twitter feuds of today would result in a lot less click-bait and a lot more blindness; #RoughAndTumblr.

Footnotes^ Gorn, Elliot J. “Goughe and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry.American Historical Review, Vol. 90,1985.^ Hines, Christian. Early Recollections of Washington City. 1866.

Children Are the Greatest Gifts From God…Cherish Them!


We have three grown children, who with their spouses presented us with nine grandchildren; who, in turn, with their special loves have, to date, given us four great grandchildren at our very young age!  And, there is not much more cheering up that I can get as when I happen upon a note or remembrance from any of my many loved ones, especially if it dates back to when they were young children.

In this instance, I stumbled upon a note from our only granddaughter, Kylie, now 15, and a sophomore in high school.  We always have been close, even before the miracle of her conception and birth.

Then, too, her mom and dad lived with us so they could save up money to buy their first home (not too far from ours).   And, we watched Kylie in the evenings from her infancy through toddler years when mom was still teaching dance.

Here’s the note that resurfaced from inside my desk drawer.  I believe Kylie was somewhere around the age of 9 when she wrote it:

Kylie Note of Love

More recently, Kylie made and gave me a “Prayer Requests” box that has been a mainstay on my desk for a few years now.  We have a game we play, where we leave prayers for each other and both of us periodically check this box without the other knowing.  Usually, when we know the other is struggling and just not feeling up to par. Warm and fuzzies…

Kylie Prayer Box

To paraphrase Lisa Wingate who is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author:  Our children are the greatest gift God will give to us, and their souls the heaviest responsibility that He will place in our hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. As we get older, we realize that nothing else that we’ve done will matter as much.

There’s Nothing Civil About War


General Robert E. Lee, the Man…

General Robert E LeeDescended from several of Virginia’s First Families, General Robert E. Lee was a well-regarded officer of the United States Army before the American Civil War. Born in 1807 to Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee in Stratford Hall, Virginia, Robert Edward Lee seemed destined for military greatness. His decision to fight for the Confederacy was emblematic of the wrenching choices faced by Americans as the nation divided.

By the end of the American Civil War, General Lee was 58, a husband, married 34 years to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (the witty, artistic great-granddaughter of Martha Washington), and a father of seven children, ages 19 to 33, to whom he was powerfully attached.

William Henry Fitzhugh leeMary Tabb BollingIn fact, I have become attached to General Lee in my own way.  It appears that General Lee’s third child William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, 28, married my second cousin (6X removed), Ms. Mary Tabb Bolling, just two years after the war ended and during the postbellum/reconstruction period.

General Lee had tied his anchor to the Custis-Lee Mansion and the family seat at Arlington, (known as the “Custis-Lee Mansion,” the “Arlington House,” and now the “Robert E. Lee Memorial”) with its splendid grounds and historical associations. Unfortunately, during the war,  the federal government confiscated the lands and the property because the Lees failed to show up in person and pay property taxes levied against it. The property was offered for public sale Jan. 11, 1864, and was purchased by a tax commissioner for “government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes.”

Arlington House painting in Welcome Center

It was on June 15, 1864, when Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who commanded the garrison at Arlington House, appropriated the grounds for use as a military cemetery. Today, Arlington National Cemetery, is the most famous cemetery in the country and the final resting place for many of our nation’s greatest heroes, including more than 300,000 veterans of every American conflict, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just a short 5 years later, on October 12, 1870, Robert died at age 63, most likely from pneumonia at his home in Lexington, Virginia.  Three years later Robert’s wife passed at age 66. Neither Robert E. Lee, nor his wife, Mary Anna, ever attempted to publicly recover control of Arlington House. They were buried at Washington University (later renamed Washington and Lee University) where Lee had served as president. The couple never returned to the home George Washington Parke Custis had built and treasured. Mary Anna Randolph CustisHowever, Mary Anna Lee did visit Arlington just a few months before her death in 1873. Unable to get out of the carriage, one of her former slaves, brought her a drink of water from the well. 1“I rode out to my dear old home but so changed it seemed but a dream of the past—I could not have realized it was Arlington but for the few old oaks they had spared and the trees planted by the General and myself which are raising their tall branches to the Heaven which seems to smile on the desecration around them.”

General Robert E. Lee, the Surrender…

One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 7, 1865, with General Robert E. Lee’s army surrounded, his men weak and exhausted, he began exchanging a series of notes with union leader, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The Battle of Appomattox Court House, fought on the morning of April 9, 1865, was one of the last battles of the American Civil War. It was the final engagement of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia before it surrendered to the Union Army.

Lee, abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, after the ten-month Siege of Petersburg.  Even at the end of the campaign, on April 2, 1865, Lee evacuated more than 50,000 men out of Richmond and Petersburg, while Grant’s combined armies counted at least 110,000 men by that time. Although precise figures are hard to come by, the best estimates suggest 42,000 Union casualties and 28,000 Confederate casualties, in total. Lee and his men retreated west, hoping to join his army with the Confederate forces in North Carolina. However, Union forces pursued and cut off the Confederate retreat at the village of Appomattox Court House. Lee launched an attack to break through the Union force to his front, assuming the Union force consisted entirely of cavalry. When he realized that the cavalry was backed up by two corps of Union infantry, he had no choice but to surrender. After four years of Civil War, approximately 630,000 deaths and over 1 million casualties, the two men agreed to meet on April 9, 1865, at the house of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Courthouse.

Ulysses S Grant2The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not fail to attract marked attention as they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nut-brown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes were spattered with mud. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder-straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.

Lee, on the other hand, age 58, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant’s senior by about sixteen years. His hair and full beard were silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in the front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. His top-boots were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels. A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside him on the table. The meeting lasted about 2-1/2 hours and at its close the bloodiest conflict in the nation’s history was nearing its end. General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Keith Rocco Civil War SurrenderThere were 16 people known to have attended at least part of the meeting as shown in Keith Rocco’s painting. This event triggered the end of the American Civil War.

  • Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
  • Lt. Col. Ely Parker
  • Lt. Col. Orville E. Babcock
  • Maj. Gen. Edward O. C. Ord
  • Lt. Col. Horace Porter
  • Capt. Robert T. Lincoln
  • Lt. Col. Theodore S. Bowers
  • Maj. Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan
  • Brig. Gen. John Rawlins
  • Brig. Gen. Rufus Ingalls
  • Lt. Col. Adam Badeau
  • Brig. Gen. George H. Sharpe
  • Brig. Gen. Michael Morgan
  • Brig. Gen. Seth Williams

General Lee, the Sad Departure from Miltary Service… 

2“At a little before 4 o’clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay – now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”


1″Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial: Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee,” http://www.nps.gov/arho/learn/historyculture/mary-lee.htm

2“Surrender at Appomattox, 1865,” EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com  (1997).

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