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 became the Confederate General-in-chief 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), a Virginian who served as the acting Governor of the colony, and who advocated strongly for westward expansion, purchased the land for Stratford Hall in 1717, recognizing the potential for the waterfront site both agriculturally and commercially. Construction of the Georgian Great House however 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 its 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 of 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 of the plantation. Blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters, tailors, gardeners, and weavers all plied their trades at Thomas Lee's Stratford. Stratford Hall is set in the Historic Northern Neck - a rural peninsula in Virginia where the historic Christ Church is located.
In the middle 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), both of whom were delegates from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress, were 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 both 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 following his inheritance of 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 whom was known as the "divine Matilda". Philip died in 1775, and Elizabeth continued to reside there. In 1780, she married Philip Richard Fendall I (1734 - 1805). The new couple resided at Stratford Hall along 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 Fendall’s would turn over their rights to Stratford Hall, and at the same time, 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". As a result of this agreement, Matilda inherited Stratford Hall, and she resided there with her husband Harry and her second cousin. However, the couple's time together was cut short when Matilda died after eight years of marriage.
Several years passed before "Light Horse Harry" married a second time, marrying 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 he remembered it fondly throughout the remainder of his life. In the middle of the Civil War, Lee wrote to 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."
With "Light Horse Harry" serving a two year term in debtors prison, his wife and children departed from Stratford Hall during the winter of 1810-11, and moving 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 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. However, 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 to purchase 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 can 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