We all know who Robert E. Lee is, but did you know his father was famous Revolutionary War General Light Horse Harry Lee? You do? Well, how about this: did you know his Uncle Philip Richard Fendall was also his cousin? That type of family relation gives you an idea of how complex the Lee family was, and still is today. Looking at the Lee family tree is like trying to read Greek and pass a vision test at the same time…it is very complex.
(Pictured above, from left to right: 1) Richard the Immigrant, 2) Henry Lee, aka Light Horse Harry Lee, 3) Robert E. Lee, 4) Philip R. Fendall, Jr.)
Here at Lee-Fendall, the first Lee we find on our family tree is Hugh de Le. Hugh de Le is listed without birth or death dates, instead “an extremely old deed” is written next to his name. That probably refers to the fact that Hugh was a Norman who arrived sometime after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. This one de Le fathered another de Le who fathered another de Le, until eventually, around the 13th century, they dropped the “de” and ended up with the English surname of “Lee”.
In 1638 a man named Richard Lee, called “Richard the Immigrant”, arrived in Jamestown. Richard is the Lee to remember because, not only is he the first Lee in the American colonies, but he is also the Lee that established this American dynasty. Richard and Anna Constable Lee had eight children, but it is his son Richard II (Lees have a tendency of reusing names) who establishes three distinct Lee family lines: Mt.Pleasant, Blenheim, and Stratford (there is a fourth Lee family line but that comes later). Many of the children from these family lines end up living here at Lee-Fendall.
So how does this relate to Robert E. Lee’s uncle/cousin? Well, prepare to be profoundly confused: Philip R. Fendall was the grandson of Philip Lee, founder of the Blenheim family line, who was the son of Richard Lee, who was the son of Richard the Immigrant. Confused yet? It gets worse: Philip R. Fendall married three Lee ladies. His cousin Sarah Lettice, of the Blenheim Line, came first. Then he married Elizabeth Steptoe, who was the widow of Philip Ludwell Lee of the Stratford Line. Philip Ludwell Lee and Elizabeth Steptoe’s daughter Matilda, was married to Light Horse Harry Lee, which means that Elizabeth Steptoe was Light Horse’s mother-in-law. Finally, Philip R. Fendall married Mary Fendall, Light Horse Harry’s sister. If that made no sense to you, here’s what all those family relations equal: Philip R. Fendall is Robert E. Lee’s cousin through Richard Lee. Fendall is an Uncle because he married Light Horse Harry’s sister aka Robert E. Lee’s Aunt Mary. That probably still made no sense…
(To get an idea of these relationships, check out this family tree: Light Horse Harry and Siblings)
I wish I could say that the complicated familial relationship between Robert E. Lee and his uncle/cousin was an outlier in the Lee family, but it isn’t. A majority of the marriages in the Lee family were intermarriages. Intermarriage between family members is an established practice throughout history, which adds to the complication of family relationships. I will spare you the description of the other intermarriages that happened here at Lee-Fendall, however if you come for a visit I am sure a docent would be more than happy to hash out the various family lines with you. For more information about the Lee family and their complicated familial relationships, please check out the sites at the end of this post. Until then, beware trying to tackle the Lee Family tree solo unless you are ready to have your face melt off like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
— Mary LeMaster, Graduate Intern
Lee Genealogy References:
Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial – FAMILY: http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/arho/family.html
Genealogical history of the Lee family of Virginia and Marylandfrom A.D. 1300 to A.D. 1866 (1868) http://archive.org/details/genealogicalhist00mead
Washingtonand Lee University, Lee Family Digital Archive: http://leearchive.wlu.edu/
Society of the Lees of Virginia: http://www.thesocietyoftheleesofva.org/