Stratford Hall (plantation)
Back side of Stratford in 2012
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||October 7, 1960|
|Designated VLR||September 9, 1969|
Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, was the home of four generations of the Lee family of Virginia, including two signers of the Declaration of Independence, and it was the birthplace of Robert Edward Lee (1807–70), who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War, and then became the president of Washington College, which later became Washington and Lee University.
Colonel Thomas Lee (1690 - 1750) was a Virginian who served as acting Governor of the colony and was a strong advocate for westward expansion. Lee purchased the land for Stratford Hall in 1717, aware of its agriculture and commercial potential as a waterfront site. Construction of the Georgian Great House did not begin until the late 1730s. Designed by an unknown architect, the brick Great House is a two story H-shaped structure, surrounded on four corners by attending outbuildings, all of which still stand today. Following construction of the Great House, Thomas Lee expanded the site into a bustling hive of activity, and soon the working plantation became "a towne in itself" as one visitor to Stratford marveled. A wharf on the Potomac River was the destination for a large number of merchant ships, a grist mill ground wheat and corn there, and slaves and indentured servants farmed tobacco and other crops on the thousands of acres of farmland. Blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters, tailors, gardeners, and weavers plied their trades at Thomas Lee's Stratford. Stratford Hall is set in the Historic Northern Neck of Virginia, a rural peninsula where historic Christ Church is located.
In the midst of this busy world, Thomas Lee and his wife Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701–49) raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. They played important roles in shaping the early history of the nation. His eldest son, Philip Ludwell Lee, Sr., Esquire (1727–75) inherited Stratford Hall. Richard Henry Lee (1732–94) and Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734–97) were delegates from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress, and signers of the Declaration of Independence. Richard Henry was later instrumental in guiding the fledgling nation, serving as President of Congress in 1784 - 85. Thomas Ludwell Lee, active in local politics, served as a Virginian legislator and helped compose the Virginia Declaration of Rights. William Lee (1739–95) and Dr. Arthur Lee (1740–92) were diplomats to England during the turbulent struggle for American independence. Hannah Lee was an early proponent of women's rights, and Alice Lee married the prominent physician William Shippen, Jr. (1736 - 1808) of Philadelphia.
Philip Ludwell Lee, Sr. (1727–75), a member of the House of Burgesses and the King's Council, continued to expand the plantation after he inherited Stratford until it eventually encompassed almost 6,600 acres (27 km2). A lover of horses and music, Philip and his wife Elizabeth Steptoe (1743–89) had two daughters, the oldest of them known as the "divine Matilda". Philip died in 1775, and Elizabeth remarried in 1780 to Philip Richard Fendall I (1734 - 1805). The new couple continued to reside at Stratford Hall with her two daughters and her son-in-law (and later a hero of the Revolutionary War, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee (1756 - 1818), who had married her daughter Matilda. An arrangement was reached in 1784-85 that the Fendalls would turn over their rights to Stratford Hall, and Henry would sell a one-half acre lot situated on Oronoco Street in Alexandria, Virginia for 300 pounds. It was there that Philip R. Fendall built the "Lee-Fendall House". Matilda inherited Stratford Hall in this agreement and lived there with her husband Harry and her second cousin, but the couple's time together was cut short when Matilda died after eight years of marriage.
Several years passed before "Light Horse Harry" remarried to Ann Hill Carter (1773 - 1827) of Shirley Plantation. Their fourth child, Robert Edward Lee (1807–70), was born at Stratford Hall in 1807. Robert E. Lee spent only his first four years at Stratford Hall, yet remembered it fondly for the remainder of his life. In the middle of the Civil War, Lee wrote his wife that "In the absence of a home I wish I could purchase Stratford. That is the only place I could go to, now accessible to us, that would inspire me with feelings of pleasure and local love. You and the girls could remain there in quiet. It is a poor place, but we could make enough cornbread and bacon for our support and the girls could weave us clothes. I wonder if it is for sale and at how much."
Light Horse Harry fell heavily into debt and eventually served a two year term in debtors prison. Anne Carter Lee and the children departed from Stratford Hall during the winter of 1810-1, and moved to Alexandria. Stratford Hall passed into the hands of Harry and Matilda's surviving son Major Henry Lee IV "Black Horse" (1787 - 1837), but financial troubles and personal scandal forced him to sell the plantation several years later.
After the Lees
Stratford Hall remained in private hands for more than a century. William C. Somerville of Maryland purchased the property from Henry Lee IV in 1822. After his death his heirs discovered that obligations incurred by Henry Lee IV continued to encumber the property. The plantation was foreclosed in 1828 and purchased by Henry D. Storke of Westmoreland County, who was married to Elizabeth "Besty" McCarty, sister of Henry Lee IV's wife, Anne Robinson McCarty. Besty Storke lived on the property until her death in 1879 and was buried there.
In 1929, a group of women dedicated to preserving the memory of Robert E. Lee and the Lee family joined together to form the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association and purchased Stratford Hall from the Storkes' heirs. These women worked tirelessly to fund the purchase and restoration of the property. Today the site is still maintained by the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association and is open to the public.
Visitors today can tour the Great House, numerous outbuildings, the restored working grist mill and explore the gardens, walking trails, and Miocene Era cliffs found on the site.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- "Stratford Hall". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-27.
- Nagel, Paul C. "The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family" p 251
- Nagel, Paul C. (1990). The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Stratford Hall Plantation and the Lees of Virginia. Stratford, VA: Robert E. Lee Memorial Association. 1998.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Stratford Hall Plantation.|
- Official website of Stratford Hall
- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. VA-307, "Stratford, State Route 214, Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, VA", 139 photos, 34 measured drawings, 15 data pages
- National Historic Landmark: Stratford Hall