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Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

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I had before this time gone to my farm in King William County andstarted out in life as a farmer. As there was nothing but the landand a few old buildings left, for several years I had a very up-hilltime. My father encouraged, advised me, and gave me material aid.His letters to me at this time will show the interest he took in mywelfare. In one written March 16, 1866, after advising me as to stepsto be taken in repairing an old mill on the place, he writes:

"I am clear for your doing everything to improve your property and makeit remunerative as far as you can. You know my objections to incurringdebt. I cannot overcome it.... I hope you will overcome your chills,and by next winter you must patch up your house, and get a sweet wife.You will be more comfortable, and not so lonesome. Let her bring acow and a churn. That will be all you will want.... Give my loveto Fitzhugh. I wish he were regularly established. He cannot affordto be idle. He will be miserable."

My brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, was negotiating to rent hisfarm, the White House, to some so-called English capitalists, and hadnot as yet established himself. In another letter to me, of May 26,1866, my father says:

"...I will state, at the outset, that I desire you to consider Romancokewith its appurtenances your own; to do with as you consider most toyour interest; to sell, farm, or let; subject, however, to theconditions imposed by your grandfather's will, as construed by thedecree of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, which declares, 'If thelegacies are not paid off by the personal property, hires of slaves,rents, and sale of the real estate, charged with their payment, at theend of five years, the portion unpaid remains a charge upon the WhiteHouse and Romancoke until paid. The devisees take their estates cumonere.'

"The result of the war having deprived the estates of the benefit ofthe hire of the slaves and the sale of Smith's Island, and the personalproperty having all been swept off by the Federal armies, there isnothing left but the land of the two estates named. A court mightmake some deduction from the amount of the legacies to be paid inconsideration of these circumstances, and I should think it would befair to do so. But of that I cannot say. Now, with this understanding,make your own arrangements to suit yourself, and as you may determinemost conducive to your interests. In confirming your action, as theexecutor or your grandfather, I must, however, take such measures asmay be necessary to carry out the purpose of his will.... If you aredetermined to hold the estate, I think you ought to make it profitable.As to the means of doing so, you must decide for yourself. I am unableto do it for you, and might lead you astray. Therefore, while alwayswilling to give you any advice in my power, in whatever you do youmust feel that the whole responsibility rests with you.... I wish,my dear son, I could be of some advantage to you, but I can only giveyou my love and earnest prayers, and commit you to the keeping of thatGod who never forgets those who serve Him. May He watch over andpreserve you.

"Your affectionate father,

"R. E. Lee."

In another letter, of June 13th, after telling me of the visit of acousin of my mother's and how much gratification it was to have herwith them, he regrets that he son, who brought his mother up toLexington, had to hurry home on account of having left his wife andlittle son:

"...When you have such pleasing spurs in your flanks, I hope you maybe on the fair road to prosperity. All unite in love to you andFitzhugh. Ask the latter if George has yet found a horse to trade withthe gray. We miss him very much [my brother had recently visitedLexington], and want to see you as badly. You may judge how poorlywe are off. The examination has commenced at Washington College. Threedays are over successfully, and I hope to finish in twelve more. ----has been up in two subjects, and not got thrown. He has two more.But, in the meantime, I am much occupied, and will be confined all day.I have no time for letters of affection, so must tell you good-bye.

"Most affectionately,

"R. Lee."

This was the first final examination at Washington College since myfather became its president. He worked very hard, and was kept busyattending to all the details and the putting into practice of severalnew methods and systems he had introduced.