Born of poor parents at Longnor, a Shropshire village 8 miles from Shrewsbury, Samuel Lee received a charity school education and at age twelve became a carpenter's apprentice in Shrewsbury. He was fond of reading and acquired knowledge of a number of languages. An early marriage caused him to reduce the time devoted to his studies, but the accidental loss of his tools caused him to become a school teacher, giving private lessons in Persian and Hindustani. His remarkable linguistic abilities eventually brought him to the notice of the Church Missionary Society, which paid for his education at Cambridge University. In 1819 he became professor of Arabic at Cambridge. At 15 November 1819 foundational meeting of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the Society committee elected William Farish as president with Sedgwick and Lee as secretaries. In 1823 he became chaplain of Cambridge gaol, in 1825 rector of Bilton-with-Harrogate, Yorkshire, and in 1831 Regius Professor of Hebrew, a position he held until 1848. In 1831 he also became vicar of Banwell, Somerset and remained vicar there until he resigned in June 1838 to become rector of Barley, Hertfordshire, where he died on 16 December 1852. He was married twice.