Francis Lightfoot Lee Biography
Frank Lee, as he was known to those close to him, was regarded by his brothers, including Richard Henry Lee, as the keenest of them in all political judgement. He was quiet, reticent, and had no taste for public life, but the responsibilities that came from bearing the Lee name during the turbulent times of the American Revolution eventually propelled him into service.
Francis Lightfoot Lee was born on a farm in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on October 14, 1734, into an ancient and distinguished Virginia family and raised at Stratford Hall Plantation. Unlike his brother Richard Henry, Frank was not sent abroad for education but instead was tutored at home by a Doctor Craig.
He lived in Loudoun County where he was chief of the local militia and from 1758 to 1769 served as member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1758 Francis Lee and Philip Ludwell Lee were among the founders of Leesburg, Virginia. He was concerned about the rights of colonies and in 1766 signed the Westmoreland Association resolution against the Stamp Act.
In 1769, Frank, then in his thirties, married a girl of 16, Rebecca Tayloe, one of the eight daughters of John Tayloe of Mount Airy. In providing his blessing, Rebecca's father, John Tayloe II of nearby Mt. Airy, made a wedding gift to the couple of a plantation of 1,000 acres. Frank and Rebecca moved to Richmond County, where he was elected to the Virginia Legislature. He served as a member of the Virginia Conventions of 1774 and 1775 and as a member of the Continental Congress. The union with Rebecca was a marriage of love, and the letters they exchanged while Frank served in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg reveal how much the separation cost them. He served reluctantly at first, preferring to spend time with his new wife and the building of their home, a Georgian mansion, Menokin. But as the Revolution neared, Frank cast his lot with the Virginia patriots.
He became a close associate of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, though he preferred library discussions and back-room strategy to the limelight of public debate. Frank's contributions to the formation of the American Republic, though subtle and often overlooked, were nonetheless critical. His staid countenance offered stability to the sometimes fractious debate among the delegates and, importantly, he modulated the fiery and sometimes divisive speech of his brother, Richard Henry. "He was," as his youngest brother Arthur attested, "calmness and philosophy itself."
In September 1776, Frank went to Philadelphia as a delegate to the second Continental Congress. There he joined forces with his brother, Richard Henry, and by all accounts they were well received and respected. "The Virginians," John Adams later recounted, "were the most spirited and consistent of any." In the late summer of 1776, Frank and his brother Richard Henry were the only brothers in the group of fifty-six Delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Frank then returned to Virginia to continue his political career. He served, it seemed, from a sense of duty and conviction rather than one of ambition. It was not until 1785 when Frank was able to forsake politics "with delight" and return to Rebecca at his Menokin estate where the devoted couple raised the daughters of his infirmed brother, William. Frank spent his remaining days reading, farming, and enjoying the quiet country life.
In January of 1797, Rebecca and Frank Lee died only ten days apart. The couple is buried side by side in the Tayloe family graveyard at Mount Airy. One of Frank's nieces described her uncle as the "Sweetest of all the Lee race. ... Thy temper's as soft as the doves..."
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich