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Richard Henry Lee (January 20, 1732 June 19, 1794) was an Americanmarker statesman from Virginiamarker best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britainmarker. His famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States Declaration of Independence, which Lee signed. He also served a one-year term as the President of the Continental Congress, and was a U.S. Senator from Virginiamarker from 1789 to 1792, serving during part of that time as one of the first Presidents pro tempore.

Early life

Lee was born in Westmoreland Countymarker in the Colony of Virginia on January 20, 1732. Richard was the son of Col. Thomas Lee, Hon. (1690–1750) and Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701–1750). He was the great-uncle of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. His nephew, "Light Horse Harry" Lee earned minor fame during the Revolution, and is now mainly remembered as the father of Robert E. Lee.

Richard was sent to England and educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefieldmarker in Yorkshiremarker. In 1752 he returned to Virginia, where he began to practice law.

Early career

In 1757, Lee was appointed justice of the peace for Westmoreland County. In 1758 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he met Patrick Henry. An early advocate of independence, Lee became one of the first to create Committees of Correspondence among the many independence-minded Americans in the various colonies.

American Revolution

In August 1774, Lee was chosen as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphiamarker. In Lee's Resolution on the 7th of June 1776 during the Second Continental Congress, Lee put forth the motion to the Continental Congress to declare Independence from Great Britainmarker, which read (in part):

Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Lee had returned to Virginia by the time Congress voted on and adopted the Declaration of Independence, but he signed the document when he returned to Congress.


"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."

"The first maxim of a man who loves liberty, should be never to grant to rulers an atom of power that is not most clearly and indispensably necessary for the safety and well being of society."

Political offices

Marriages and children

Richard married first on December 5, 1757, Anne Aylett (1738–1768), daughter of William Aylett and Elizabeth Eskridge (1719), who married secondly, Dr. James Steptoe, Col. (1709–1757). Anne died December 12, 1768 at Chantille, Westmoreland Co., Virginia. The couple had four surviving children:
  1. Thomas Lee (1758–1805).
  2. Col. Ludwell Lee, Esq. (1760–1836), who married Flora Lee (1771–1795), daughter of Hon. Philip Ludwell Lee, Sr., Esq. (1727–1775) and Elizabeth Steptoe (1743–1789), who married secondly, Philip Richard Fendall I (1734–1805).
  3. Mary Lee (1764–1795), who married Joshua Logan Younger (1752–1834).
  4. Hannah Lee (1765–1801), who married Hon. Corbin Washington (1764–1799), son of Col. John Augustine Washington (1736–1787) and Hannah Bushrod (1738–1801).
  5. Marybelle Lee (1768), who died in infancy.

Richard re-married in June or July of 1769 to Anne (Gaskins) Pinckard. The couple had five surviving children:
  1. Anne Lee (1770–1804), who married Hon. Charles Lee (1758–1815), U.S. Attorney General under John Adams. Charles was the son of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee II (1730–1787) and Lucy Grymes (1734–1792).
  2. Henrietta "Harriotte" Lee (1773–1803), who married Hon. George Richard Lee Turberville (c. 1770), son of Hon. George Richard Turberville, Jr. (1742–1792) and Martha Corbin (1742).
  3. Sarah Caldwell "Sally" Lee (1775–1837), who married Edmund Jennings Lee I (1772–1843), son of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee II (1730–1787) and Lucy Grymes (1734–1792).
  4. Cassius Lee (1779–1850).
  5. Francis Lightfoot Lee II (1782–1850), who married Jane Fitzgerald (d. 1816), daughter of Col. John Fitzgerald and Jane Digges. (grandparents of Francis Preston Blair Lee)
  6. ? Lee (1784), who died in infancy.
  7. ? Lee (1786), who died in infancy.

Francis Lightfoot Lee II

Richard's youngest son was named for his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee, another signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The younger Francis married Jane Fitzgerald on 9 Feb 1810. In 1811 he purchased the estate Sullymarker in Fairfax County, Virginiamarker from his second cousin Richard Bland Lee. Jane died on 25 Jul 1816, shortly after the birth on their fifth child.

  1. Jane Elizabeth Lee (January 1, 1811 – June 25, 1837); married Henry T. Harrison
  2. Samuel Philips Lee (February 13, 1812 – June 5, 1897); Rear Admiral; married Elizabeth Blair, daughter of Francis Preston Blair
  3. John Fitzgerald Lee (May 5, 1813 – June 17, 1840)
  4. Arthur Lee (February 18, 1815 – August 3, 1841)
  5. Frances Ann Lee (June 29, 1816 – December 5, 1889); married Robinson Goldsborough


Richard was the son of Col. Thomas Lee, Hon. (1690–1750) of "Stratford Hallmarker", Westmoreland Co., Virginia. Thomas married Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701–1750).

Hannah was the daughter of Col. Philip Ludwell II (1672–1726) of "Greenspring", and Hannah Harrison (1679–1731).

Thomas was the son of Col. Richard Lee II, Esq., "the scholar" (1647–1715) and Laetitia Corbin (c. 1657–1706).

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

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

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


Lee County, Georgiamarker is named in his honor. Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Rossmoor, Californiamarker and honor as is Richard Henry Lee School in Chicago, Illinoismarker are also named in his honor.

Representations in fiction

Richard Henry Lee is a key character in the musical 1776. He was portrayed by Ron Holgate in both the Broadway cast and in the 1972 film. The character performs a song called "The Lees of Old Virginia", in which he explains how he knows he will be able to convince the Virginia House of Burgesses to allow him to propose independence.


  1. Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic (1787–1788), Letter XVIII
  2. Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic (1787–1788), Introduction
  3. Gamble, Robert S. Sully:Biography of a House (Chantilly, Virginia: Sully Foundation Ltd., 1973)

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