A gifted student, Henry Lee IV attended Washington Academy (later Washington and Lee University) and, from 1807 to 1808, the College of William and Mary. In 1808 he became the master of Stratford Hall after his father, having made some bad investments, fled the dilapidated estate and his creditors. (The former governor landed in debtor's prison the following year.)
After the war, Lee returned to Stratford. With the help of his uncle Richard Bland Lee, he sought a military appointment. President James Madison eventually offered him the position of assistant inspector general for the southern division, which Lee declined. In 1816 he ran as a Federalist to represent Virginia's Ninth Congressional District—the same seat his father had held from 1799 to 1801—but was defeated by William Lee Ball. One of three candidates, Lee managed to get only 14.5 percent of the vote.
Marriage and Scandal
On March 29, 1817, Lee married Anne Robinson McCarty, his distant cousin and heiress with her younger sister to Pope's Creek, a plantation adjoining Stratford. McCarty's land holdings, combined with the 3,000-acre Stratford property, amounted to roughly 5,000 acres—a considerable bit of property. The marriage brought Lee not only land, but additional slaves and cash. He also became the guardian of his wife's younger sister, Elizabeth "Betsy" McCarty, and the manager of her estate.
In 1818, Anne McCarty Lee gave birth to a daughter, Margaret. But two years later, the child fell down a stairway at Stratford Hall and died. The Lees never had another child, and a distraught Anne Lee turned to opium to alleviate her grief.
With the house in mourning, Henry Lee and Betsy McCarty had an affair. When rumor spread of an illicit pregnancy, the ensuing scandal rocked the Lee family. (The pregnancy rumor remains unconfirmed.) According to Virginia law, sex between siblings-in-law was considered incest; furthermore, Lee had embezzled money from his young ward's estate. A contrite McCarty left Stratford, cut short her red hair, and began wearing a veil in public. She reinstated as her guardian her stepfather, Richard Henry Stuart, who then sued Lee for mismanaging McCarty's estate. In 1822, a chancery court ruled that Lee owed McCarty one-half of the earnings from her Pope's Creek estate from November 1817 to May 1821—a total of $11,568.97.
For his part, Lee was remorseless about the affair. He later wrote in a letter that a man who "associates with the sister of his wife, with all the unguarded intimacy which he would observe toward his own sister and there being no blood connection, no barrier of instinct between them, is liable to be surprised into adultery." He did not face criminal charges of incest, but he was forced to sell Stratford Hall to cover his debt to McCarty. Lee's friend William C. Somerville bought the house in June 1822 for $25,000. After Somerville's unexpected death in 1826, the Westmoreland County Court seized the property and auctioned it to pay Somerville's debts. The buyer was Henry Storke—who in 1826 had married Betsy McCarty. Elizabeth McCarty Storke was the mistress of Stratford until her death in 1879.
Lee hoped Jackson would appoint him to a lucrative public office; in April 1829, he learned the president had appointed him consul to Algiers. Algiers was considered very dangerous, but Lee seemed to relish it. Upon moving there with his wife later that year, he claimed to keep six pistols, six muskets, and a Tennessee rifle in his house, and walked the streets armed. But his stay in Algiers was short-lived. When senators discovered the appointment in March 1830, they voted unanimously to have Lee recalled.
Henry and Anne Lee never returned to the United States. After leaving Algiers, they toured Italy and then settled in Paris, France. Still short of money, Lee begged his half-brother Charles Carter Lee for funds and threw himself into his writing. In 1832, he published Observations on the Writings of Thomas Jefferson, a response to Thomas Jefferson Randolph's four-volume book on the man. Randolph's book had included sharp criticisms of Light-Horse Harry Lee; in his Observations, Lee unleashed a barrage of invective against Jefferson. In 1834, Lee published Life of the Emperor Napoleon, the first of two planned volumes on the French military leader. The book was reviewed positively, but sold poorly. Lee never overcame his financial problems. In 1835, he sold his wife's slaves for $9,000, but it was not enough to pay his debts.
On January 30, 1837, Lee died of the flu. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Montmartre. His death left Anne Lee alone in Paris, where she remained until her death in 1840. In a letter to a friend she wrote, "All my habitudes are of this country I have been here so long, and the idea of returning there [America] without him is horrible to me. I can have no satisfaction in association with those who disliked and persecuted by dear husband while living and who may probably rejoice that he is no more."
- The Campaign of 1781 in the Carolinas (1824)
- Observations on the Life of Thomas Jefferson (1832)
- Life of the Emperor Napoleon (1834)
May 28, 1787 - Henry Lee IV is born at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County to Henry Lee III and Matilda Lee.
August 16, 1790 - Matilda Lee, wife of Henry Lee III and mistress of Stratford Hall, dies. Before she dies, she places Stratford Hall in trust to her three children.
1807–1808 - Henry Lee IV attends the College of William and Mary.
1808 - Henry Lee III flees Stratford Hall to escape his creditors. His son, Henry Lee IV, becomes the master of the estate.
1810–1813 - Henry Lee IV represents Westmoreland County in the House of Delegates.
1816 - William Lee Ball wins election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia's Ninth Congressional District, defeating Henry Lee IV.
March 29, 1817 - Henry Lee IV marries Anne Robinson McCarty.
1818 - Margaret Lee is born to Henry Lee IV and Anne McCarty Lee.
1820 - Margaret Lee, the daughter of Henry Lee IV and Anne McCarty Lee, falls to her death down the exterior staircase at Stratford Hall.
1822 - A chancery court rules that Henry Lee IV owes his ward, Elizabeth "Betsy" McCarty, one-half of the earnings from her Pope's Creek estate from November 1917 to May 1821—a total of $11,568.97.
June 1822 - William C. Somerville buys Stratford Hall from Henry Lee IV for $25,000.
1828 - After William C. Somerville's death, Westmoreland County Court seizes Stratford Hall and auctions the property. The buyer is Henry Storke.
1829 - President Andrew Jackson appoints Henry Lee IV consul to Algiers.
1830 - The U.S. Senate votes to recall Henry Lee IV as consul to Algiers.
January 30, 1837 - Henry Lee IV dies of influenza in Paris, France.
- Revolution and Early Republic (1763–1823)
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Woodward, C. E. Henry Lee (1787–1837). (2017, December 8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Lee_Henry_1787-1837.
- MLA Citation:
Woodward, Colin Edward. "Henry Lee (1787–1837)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 8 Dec. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 13, 2017 | Last modified: December 8, 2017
Contributed by Colin Edward Woodward, editor of the Lee Family Digital Archive at Stratford Hall.