Founding Fathers - Francis Lightfoot Lee

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Born: October 14, 1734 (Westmoreland County, VA)

Died: January 11, 1797 (Richmond County, VA)


While the Adams boys of Massachusetts may have been the most famous family members to have signed the Declaration of Independence, Virginia boasts the only pair of brothers to have affixed their signatures.  This week we'll look at Francis Lightfoot Lee, the younger of the two, who was known to family and friends throughout his life as Frank.  Born on the Lee family plantation known as Stratford Hall near the Potomac River in a section of Virginia known as the Northern Neck, Francis was the seventh child of 11 born to Thomas and Hannah Lee.  After both parents had died by the time Francis was 16, his oldest brother determined that the young man would remain a planter on the land he had inherited, and that he would not travel to England for formal education as his three older brothers had.  He completed his studies at home under his tutor, a Scottish minister by the name of Dr. Craig, and took an interest in science and politics while also engaging in lively debates with his siblings. 

In 1758, Francis Lightfoot Lee left his family home and relocated to an estate named Coton in northern Virginia.  Being a member of one of the colony's leading families, he was certainly well-recognized and was soon chosen to represent Loudoun County in the House of Burgesses.  Despite his interest in politics, he was a reluctant but dutiful participant.  Two of his brothers were much more vocal members of the assembly, and while he supported them his only contribution was to write a single bill which allowed residents to pay taxes in goods rather than currency.  In 1766, his older brother Richard Henry Lee wrote a fiery rebuttal against the Stamp Act, which Francis signed along with many others.  Three years later, at the age of 35, he married his 16-year-old second cousin Rebecca Tayloe.  Her father gave the newlyweds a tract of land in Richmond County and they named their new home Menokin.  Lee was almost immediately elected again to the House of Burgesses as a representative of his new county, and he served there for a number of years while becoming close friends with Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.

Although a quiet man by nature, Francis Lightfoot Lee was seen as a radical by his peers and strongly supported independence from Britain.  Seeking to unify all 13 colonies in the cause of liberty, he joined the Committee of Correspondence in 1773 and was among those who called for the Virginia Convention, which he attended as a delegate in 1774.  He was chosen to replace Patrick Henry in the First Continental Congress soon thereafter, and was a member of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 until 1779.  One of the committees he served was responsible for feeding the army, and upon hearing of General Washington's plight at Valley Forge he penned a letter to the governor of Pennsylvania threatening a levy against farmers if the state did not support the Continental Army.  It may have been an empty threat, but it succeeded and supplies were provided.  In 1777, Lee became one of just 16 men to sign both the Declaration of Independence as well as the Articles of Confederation.  After serving for a number of years, however, both of the Lees were accused of treasonous actions by  political rivals including a diplomat named Silas Deane, who had been in France alongside John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.  Tired of fighting to defend their family name for a period of over two years, the brothers both resigned their seats in 1779 and returned home to Virginia.

Francis continued to serve at the state level until 1785, both in the Virginia House and Senate, while continuing to develop his own plantation home.  Although he had no children of his own, Lee and his wife helped raise and provide for other family members.  Over the final 12 years of his life he remained a private citizen.  After outliving all of his brothers, Lee died at Menokin on January 11, 1797 - just 10 days after the passing of his wife.  The couple were buried together at her family's Mount Airy estate just a few miles away.

The signature of Francis Lightfoot Lee can be found as the eleventh name on the third column beneath the Declaration of Independence.



Comments

  1. Wondered what he and his wife died of since they passed only 10 days apart.

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