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Charming and Lengthy ALS to her Mother Mentioning Friends, Family and her Husband

Item: 1343
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LEE, MARY CUSTIS. (1807-1873). Wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, her father being George Washington’s adopted grandson. ALS. (“M.C. Lee”). 4pp. Folio. N.p. (Baltimore), “Friday night” (April 22, n.y., but before 1853). To her mother, MARY LEE “MOLLY” FITZHUGH CUSTIS (1788-1853).

“My dearest Mother, I should have written before but waited till I could see about your bonnet. I have got you a very nice one white straw & very pretty ribbon & shall send it on the first safe opportunity. It will probably go thro Aunt Lee who is here so you had better let Lawrence take the band box over there ready for it & leave it as I may not be able to send it for 5 or 6 days. Ann says she is sure you cannot resist the temptation of exhibiting it in Broadway this summer. It cost only $2.50 so if you are very anxious to make payment & can conveniently get 2 of those evergreens from Douglass etc. so I have them planted but do not give yourself any particular trouble about them. I have also got a pair of clocks for my Annie & daughter & can get them some more in New York if necessary. I send on some cotton for my other two chemises. Tell Rose it had best be washed as it is so stiff. I spent today with Cousin Mary Thomas. She seems to me much stronger & more cheerful tho she coughs a good deal. John & his wife are in Virginia. She said she would keep the violets for the little boys. She says she regrets so much your not coming on & that you must go & see me this summer & call by & make her a visit & I say so too.

Think of it as a thing very practicable & then you can accomplish it. [2.] Anne is still confined to her bed tho her disease has been much relieved by Dr. Chatan [?] remedies. She sends much love to you all. She worries herself a good deal about imagining how all her affairs are going on down stairs & says I must tell Aunt Maria that a visit from her would be a great comfort to her but she could not bear her to undergo all the dirt she would find there as Frank is the principal housekeeper but as soon as she is able to get up she will be delighted to see her. I have heard from Robert since I came he is quite well & anxiously expecting us. I think I shall go on Tuesday possibly Monday but I rather think not before Tuesday & shall reach the narrows Friday. Rooney spent all the way coming here in the cars but … was very restless. She did not deem to recognize Mary at all & has hardly become quite reconciled to her yet. She wore her blue cap & shawl to Cousin Mary’s & looked very sweet. I have been much better since I came here my appetite much improved. I have found a soda fountain which has been a great comfort to me & still take my lemonade. I have received a letter from Mary G-h on the subject of Mrs. Quimby. She has referred to some of her friends here who she says are her nearest relatives except her father & who opportunely live next door to Anne. I will see them today. All seem to think her Mother’s own brother Mr. John Eyne of the Eastern Shore Virginia is the person most able & willing to assist her. [3.] They seem also to think her a little distrait. She is well known here. I have seen the Taney’s [?] & they regret very much that Mary did not come. I sent the parasol to Mrs. Gitting, & got all Sally’s pickles on safe. Anne was much pleased with them tho she cannot eat them at present. Do not forget to send for those 13 blankets at Mr. … Georgetown at 100 a piece. You had better take daughter’s bonnet to Miss Berry before you pay her & see if she cannot cut off the ears. Yours perhaps you will think rather long there but I could not get any large in the crown that were not large else-where. Give my love to Mrs. Greeley. I was so … when I was with her that I did n[ot] even attempt to give her the benefit of my poor experience but it seems to me the book she was studying was not so simple & clear as some, & that the more simply she can fix her soul on Christ for her support, her surety, one for whose sake alone she can hope for any grace or blessing from heaven the more will her mind be relieved of her anxiety & her heart flow with love to Him who is able & willing to do so for us more than we can ask or think. I have not seen any of the Rogers so shall write to Ellen this morning to come & see me. The weather is … now. I suppose you have had a great deal of clearing done. Rooney says I must tell daughter & Annie to be good girls to get them 12’O at 12 o’clock & never to quarrel or fight, I am finishing my letter in bed & the old fellow is laying by me half asleep which I suppose makes him [4.] so moral in his sentiments. The … is just routing up. You will get my letter at church tomorrow. I hope you have not been disappointed at my not writing sooner. Tell Rose when she cleans my room to look well for that jacket pattern of Boo’s. It is all tolled up somewhere & written on I think. The spool you know Rosina has. I may write again from Phila but possibly not before I get to New York so do not feel disappointed if you should not hear. I felt very sad at the necessity of leaving you but think you ought to try & abridge the separation by coming to see me this summer. Save up a little cash by your butter, flowers & vegetables. You will see how it will accumulate. Affectionate love to all. Tell Father Mr. M. regretted much …… did not arrive in time. Yours…”

Portrait of Mary Custis Lee

Mary Custis Lee

Mary Anna Custis, was a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, her father, writer George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857), being George Washington’s adopted grandson. His Virginia plantation, Arlington House, was a shrine to President Washington. In 1804, Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh, the daughter of a member of the Continental Congress who was also a close friend of Washington. Mary was the only one of their daughters to survive into adulthood and although she was courted by Sam Houston, she began her romantic relationship with her distant cousin, Robert E. Lee, in 1829. Lee was a member of a prominent Virginia family and son of the distinguished Revolutionary War hero “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, also a friend of George Washington, whom the younger Lee revered and emulated. However, Mary’s father initially disapproved of Lee finally giving his consent in September 1830; they wed nine months later.

In the early days of their marriage, Lee was stationed at Virginia’s Fort Monroe and in Washington. After the September 1832 birth of their first son, they largely resided at Arlington House and with other relatives. In 1842, Lee was deployed to New York City’s Fort Hamilton, during which time, as post engineer, he designed the new Fort Richmond (later Fort Wadsworth), located on Staten Island overlooking The Narrows, possibly the location mentioned in our letter.

A West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War, where he fought alongside his future adversary Ulysses S. Grant. In the days leading up to the Civil War, Lee commanded the militia raid on abolitionist John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. In 1861, he was promoted to colonel and offered the rank of major general in the fight against the seceding states. Though opposed to secession, Lee’s loyalty to Virginia trumped his loyalty to the Union, and in April 1861, he accepted command of Virginia’s Confederate forces, with the rank of general, rising, eventually, to become the army’s general-in-chief.

Mary Custis Lee also found herself on the front lines of the Civil War when, in 1862, the White House plantation where she was ill and staying with relatives was taken as a supply base by Union forces under General McClellan. “When Mary Custis Lee finally consented to leave, she left a note on the door for the soon-to-be occupiers. ‘Northern soldiers, who profess to revere Washington, forbear to desecrate the house of his first married life, the property of his wife, now owned by her descendants,’ she wrote, even though a newer house had long ago replaced the original. Nevertheless, the Northern soldiers who camped near the White House respected Mary Custis Lee’s wishes. Instead of looting it, officers stationed sentries to protect it,” (“White House on the Pamunkey,” New York Times, Horn). For upholding Mrs. Lee’s wishes, General McClellan was rebuked by Congress for his “cowardly policy of conciliation,” and his judgement was further questioned when he declined to use the house as a field hospital for wounded soldiers, (ibid.). The question went all the way to President Lincoln who demanded the reversal of McClellan’s order stating, “He does not want to break the promise he has made, and I will break it for him,” (ibid.).

Upon the Union’s retreat, Secretary of War Stanton ordered that all the supplies should be burned, but the house spared. However, on June 28, 1862, a Union soldier torched the house, which prompted Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart to remark, “An opportunity was here offered for observing the deceitfulness of the enemy’s pretended reverence for everything associated with the name of Washington, for the dwelling-house was burned to the ground, and not a vestige left except for what told of desolation and vandalism,” (A Short History of the Confederate States of America, Davis). Custis Lee rebuilt the house after the war only to see it destroyed by fire again in 1875.

The loss of White House added insult to a much larger injury: the confiscation of Lees’ property, Arlington House, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion. It had been occupied by Union troops since the war’s beginning and the government contrived to have it sold to pay back taxes levied against owners of property in “insurrectionary” areas. In June 1864, Stanton established Arlington National Cemetery on its grounds, on which prominent Union officers had already been interned on choice plots of land and a mass grave and monument erected for unknown soldiers. Deprived of his properties, Lee threw himself into his new role as president of the struggling Washington College (renamed Washington and Lee after his death), which he brought to prominence and restored to financial health. His wife continued her efforts to regain Arlington House, and the matter was debated on the floor of the Senate, to no avail. After the death of Robert and Mary Lee, their son Custis pursued the matter in a different way, claiming that the property had been taken improperly and seeking financial compensation rather than its return. The Supreme Court found in his favor in 1882, and the following year Congress awarded him $150,000.

Written on a tall sheet, with some significant separation along the folds. The integral address leaf forms part of the fourth page and bears a Baltimore ink postmark and remnants of a small red wax seal. In good condition.

Charming and Lengthy ALS to her Mother Mentioning Friends, Family and her Husband

$1500 • item #1343

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