Richard Bland Lee I

Richard Bland Lee I

Infobox Congressman
honorific-prefix =
name = Richard Bland Lee
honorific-suffix =

state = Virginia
district = Prince William and Fairfax Counties—later 17th
party = Pro-Administration
term_start = March 4, 1789
term_end = March 3, 1795
preceded = First Congressman for Northern Virginia
birth_date = birth date|1761|1|20
birth_place = "Leesylvania", Prince William County, Virginia
death_date=death date and age|1827|03|12|1761|1|20
death_place=Washington, D.C.
nationality = American
spouse = Elizabeth Collins
party = Pro-Administration
relations = Brother of Major Gen. Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee III, Brother of Attorney General Charles Lee, Uncle of Robert E. Lee
children =
residence = Sully
alma_mater = The College of William and Mary
occupation = Planter
profession =
religion = Episcopalian

website =
footnotes =
succeeded = Richard Brent
speaker =
term_start2 =
term_end2 =
predecessor2 =
successor2 =

Richard Bland Lee (January 20, 1761March 12, 1827) was a planter, jurist, and politician from Fairfax County, Virginia. He was the son of Henry Lee II (1730–1787) of “Leesylvania” and Lucy Grymes (1734–1792) the "Lowland Beauty", as well as a younger brother of both Maj. Gen. Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee (1756–1818) and of Charles Lee (1758–1815), Attorney General of the United States from 1795 to 1801, who served in both the Washington and Adams administrations.

Early life and education

Richard Bland Lee the third son of Henry Lee II and Lucy Grymes was born on January 20, 1761 at "Leesylvania", the estate built by his father on land overlooking the Potomac River in Prince William County, Virginia. He was named after two distinguished relatives, his great-grandfather Richard Bland of "Jordan's Point", and his great-uncle, jurist and statesman Richard Bland, who Thomas Jefferson called "the wisest man south of the James".Gamble, Robert S. " Sully: Biography of a House" (Sully Foundation Ltd: Chantilly, VA, 1973), p. 17]

Possibly educated as a youth at "Chantilly", the home of his venerated cousin Richard Henry Lee in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Richard was enrolled at the College of William and Mary in 1779. Though not directly involved in the Revolutionary war as his brother Henry Lee III was, Richard nevertheless took an active interest in the American cause. In June of 1779 for example, Richard's uncle "Squire" Richard Lee of Lee Hall introduced a resolution in the House of Delegates that would authorize the building of a new statehouse. Though only eighteen years of age, Richard Bland Lee, in a letter written later that month, rebuked his famous uncle, characterizing the effort as "abominable... [at a] ...time of public danger when our expenses are already unsupportable." On June 17 of the next year Richard was admitted to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, an academic organization through which he was able to refine his speaking skills. In December of that year, a British invasion fleet appeared off of Jamestown, prepared it seemed, to launch an advance upon Richmond. Phi Beta Kappa undertook to secure its papers against capture, and many of its members joined a hastily formed local militia company to offer at least some resistance to the expected invasion.

Richard Bland Lee may have been a part of this militia, or may have earlier returned to "Leesylvania" to "converse with his father about the future." Part of that future had apparently already been decided for him, as his father Henry Lee II had destined a part of his holdings on Cub Run to Richard, who it appears agreed to act on his father's behalf in managing this property sometime in 1780 or 1781. In 1787, he inherited convert|1500|acre|km2 of this holding from his father, land that would comprise the estate he would later name "Sully".


Public Life

Virginia House of Delegates

Richard served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1784 to 1788, 1796, and again from 1799 to 1806. During his second term in the state legislature he was involved in debates surrounding the ratification of the United States Constitution which he wholeheartedly supported. Following ratification he opposed efforts by Patrick Henry and others to call a second constitutional convention to add a bill of rights, believing the new system should be given a chance to operate before wholesale alterations were made. He also believed that the new congress could be trusted to add the necessary amendments.

It was also during this term that the election of Virginia's first two United States Senators took place. Lee was a strong supporter of James Madison's candidacy. Ultimately however, Madison was rejected by the Henry led House of Delegates on the assumption that he would not push for addition of a bill of rights. A contention Lee worked hard to counteract. Following this rejection Lee continued to work on Madison's behalf in his congressional race, proposing publication of letters between Madison and other's " would counteract the report industriously circulated in the assembly and consequently in the state that you were opposed to every amendment to the new government, and in every mode..."Richard Bland Lee to James Madison, 17 Nov. 1788(Library of Congress, Richard Bland lee Collection)] Unwilling to risk publication of letters critical of others, Madison rejected this idea, but would nevertheless defeat future President James Monroe in a hard fought contest.

In both of these debates Lee recognized the power of Patrick Henry's oratory, lamenting the weakness of opposition to him. In a letter from Lee to Madison he complains:

"“Our Assembly is weak. Mr. [Patrick] Henry is the only orator we have against us and the friends to the new government being all young and inexperienced, form a feeble bond against him”"
Richard Bland Lee to James Madison, 29 Oct. 1788 (Library of Congress, Richard Bland lee Collection)]

Despite these complaints however, opponents of Patrick Henry were able to defeat the call for a second constitutional convention and Lee would join Madison in the new federal Congress.

United States Congress

In 1788 he was elected as the first representative of Northern Virginia in the United States House of Representatives in which he served from 1789 to 1795. He was a party to the Compromise of 1790 by which in exchange for support of southern delegates for federal assumption of state Revolutionary War debt, northern delegates voted to move the Federal City to a location in the south. His participation in this compromise, as well as his adherence to federalist principles, eventually cost him his seat in Congress, and he was defeated for reelection in 1794. Following this defeat, Richard was returned to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1795, and again from 1799 to 1806.

Following his removal from "Sully" to Washington, DC in 1815, Richard was appointed by lifelong friend President James Madison as one of three Commissioners to superintend the reconstruction of the Federal buildings after the War of 1812. Following expiration of this commission in 1816, Richard was appointed by President Madison as a commissioner to adjudicate claims arising out of the loss or destruction of property during the War of 1812, and in 1819 he was appointed by President Monroe as a judge of the Orphans’ Court of the District of Columbia, a position he held until his death on March 12, 1827.

Gentleman Farmer

Upon his death in 1787, Henry Lee II bequeathed convert|3000|acre|km2 of his Cub Run estates to be equally divided between his sons Richard Bland and Theodorick. Being the older of the two, Richard was given the more alluvial northern half, on which his house already stood, he having lived there as manager of the estate since approximately 1781. After his election to Congress, and for most of the next five years, Richard turned day to day management of his estate over to his brother Theodorick, who supervised spring planting, fall harvest, collection of rent from tenant farmers, and the construction of the large house Richard had planned for the estate on which construction had begun in 1794. Before he left for Congress in 1789, Richard had chosen a name for his estate, Sully. The exact origin of the name is unknown, though Robert S. Gamble in "Sully: Biography of a House" speculates that Sully was named after "Chateau de Sully" in the Valley of Loire in France. According to Gamble, "if he turned to a specific source, it was doubtless the "Memoires" of Maximilien de Bethune, Duke of Sully and France's Minister of Finance under Henry IV." This work was well known among wealthy Virginians in the late 18th century.

Upon his defeat for reelection to Congress, Richard returned to "Sully" and took over primary operation of his estate. Determined to steer clear of the untenable practices characteristic of the tobacco monoculture which predominated in Virginia, Richard, like George Washington whom he idolized, applied modern methods of farming designed to diversify production and to halt depletion of the soil. To the end he switched to growing staple crops - wheat, rye, barley, corn and timothy, fruit trees - apple to produce cider, and peach for the making of peach brandy. He planted clover to help replenish the soil and he "tried crop rotation and the application of nutrients, especially crushed limestone, to fields where productivity was decreasing." During this period he either abandoned or severely limited the growing of tobacco at "Sully." He planted large vegetable gardens and in 1801 Richard built a dairy house.

Construction on the large house was begun in 1794 and completed in 1795. It is a "Federal" or "Georgian" style home of two and a half stories.He erected a one and a half story addition in 1799 coincident with the wedding of Portia Lee who, along with her sister Cornelia Lee had come to live with Richard and Elizabeth Lee under their guardianship. Driven into significant debt trying to aid his brother Maj. Gen. Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee with his financial difficulties, Richard sold "Sully" in 1811 to a cousin, Francis Lightfoot Lee (1782-1858). Richard Bland and Elizabeth Lee initially moved to a home in Alexandria, then to a country home called Strawberry Vale (current site of Tysons Corner), and finally to the historic Thomas Law House at Sixth and N Streets, Southwest in Washington, DC.

Francis Lightfoot Lee's son, Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee (1812-1897), married Elizabeth Blair, daughter of Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), a member of President Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet", and Eliza Violet Gist. Samuel Phillips and Elizabeth (Blair) Lee's townhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue combined with the adjacent Blair House is now the Presidents' guest house.

"Sully" is located at Chantilly, just off U.S. Route 50, on State 28, the southern access road to Dulles International Airport. It is owned and operated as a museum house by the Fairfax County Park Authority.


Richard married Elizabeth Collins (ca. 1768-1858) in 1794. Elizabeth was the daughter of Stephen Collins and Mary Parrish.


Richard died in Washington, D.C. and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery there in 1827. In 1975 he was reinterred at his home, the "Sully Plantation" near Chantilly, Virginia. His home is now open to visitors as a county park.


Lee served on the first Rules Committee empaneled by the House of Representatives. A later chairman of the committee (1999–2007), David Dreier of California, claims to be a distant relative of Lee. ["CQ's Politics in America 2006, 109th Congress", Congressional Quarterly Publications (2006)]


# Mary Ann Lee born May 11, 1795, died June 21, 1795. Buried at Sully in unmarked grave.
# Col. Richard Bland Lee II born July 20, 1797, died August 2, 1875. Married Julia Anna Marion Prosser (1806-1882), daughter of William Prosser.Both buried at [ Ivy Hill Cemetery] , Alexandria, Va.
# Ann Matilda Lee born July 13, 1799, died December 20, 1880. Married Dr. Baily Washington III (1787-1854).
# Mary Collins Lee born May 6, 1801, died February 22, 1805. Buried at Sully in unmarked grave.
# Cornelia Lee born March 20, 1804, died December 26, 1876). Married Dr. James W. F. Marcrae.
# Hon. Zaccheus Collins Lee born December 5, 1805, died November 26, 1859. Married Martha Ann Jenkins. Classmate of Edgar Allan Poe and one of the few who attended his funeral.
# Laura Lee, died in infancy
# Stillborn infant
# Stillborn infant


Richard was the son of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee II (1730-1787) of “Leesylvania” and, Lucy Grymes (1734-1792) the "Lowland Beauty".

Lucy was the daughter of Hon. Charles Grymes (1693-1743) and Frances Jennings.

Henry II, was the third son of Capt. Henry Lee I (1691-1747) of “Lee Hall”, Westmoreland County, and his wife, Mary Bland (1704-1764).

Mary was the daughter of Hon. Richard Bland, Sr. (1665-1720) and his second wife, Elizabeth Randolph (1685-1719).

Henry I, was the son of Col. Richard Lee II, Esq., “the scholar” (1647-1715) and Laetitia Corbin (ca. 1657-1706).

Laetitia was the daughter of Richard’s neighbor and, Councillor, Hon. Henry Corbin, Sr. (1629-1676) and Alice (Eltonhead) Burnham (ca. 1627-1684).

Richard II, was the son of Col. Richard Lee I, Esq., "the immigrant" (1618-1664) and Anne Constable (ca. 1621-1666).

Anne was the daughter of Thomas Constable and a ward of Sir John Thoroughgood.


External links

* [ Biographic sketch at U.S. Congress website]
* [ Sully Historic Site in Fairfax County, Virginia]

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