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Resources: February/March 2009

Originally published by Civil War Times magazine. Published Online: February 01, 2009 
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Robert E. Lee and Slavery, P. 30

Sources for Elizabeth Brown Pryor's "Robert E. Lee and Slavery," based on a lecture given at the University of Virginia, are listed below:

Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters (New York: Viking, 2007). Slavery is discussed in detail in Chapters 8, 9 and 16; Lee's postwar racial views are elabo­rated in Chapters 24 and 25. Chapter 17 discusses his agonizing decision of 1861. These chapters are followed by extensive endnotes that give individual citations for Lee and his wife's words, the opinions of the slaves and other contemporaries, and public documents relating to these issues. Institutions that hold particularly rich collections of materials relating to Lee and slavery are the Virginia Historical Society; Library of Congress; National Archives and Records Administration; Jesse Ball duPont Memorial Library at Stratford Plantation; Duke Univer­sity Special Collections; University of Virginia Special Collections; Washington and Lee University Special Collections; the Huntington Library; Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial; and the Alexandria, Va., Courthouse.

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For information on the case of "Old Nat," see REL to Mary Anna Randolph Custis, Cockspur Island, February 1 and 6, and April 3, 1831, Mary Custis Lee Papers, Virginia Historical Society; Sally Lee to Mary Custis Lee, Gordonsville, November 10, 1870, DeButts-Ely Collection, Library of Congress. Two of the many embellishments of the story are found in Emily V. Mason, Popular Life of General Robert E. Lee (Baltimore: John Murphy, 1874), P. 23; and Edmund Jennings Lee, "The Character of General Lee," in Robert Alonzo Brock, ed., General Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen, and Christian Patriot (Richmond: B.F.  Johnson Publishing Co., 1897), P. 384. Douglas Southall Freeman's mistaken account is in Freeman, R.E. Lee (New York: Charles Scrib­ner, 1934), I: pages 94-95.

Those wishing to examine a similar incident, in which Lee is said to have knelt next to a black man at the communion rail of St. Paul's Church in Richmond, will be interested in Joseph Pierro, "Without a Word, General Lee Rose From His Family Pew…," Civil War Times, February 2006.

Lee's letter of December 27, 1856, is found in the Lee Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society. A compendium of the proslavery thought it reflects is in Drew Gilpin Faust, ed., The Ideology of Slavery (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981). More on the Crittenden Compromise is found at

The court case filed by Lee is in Custis Exr. vs Lee and Others, "Note of Argument for Appellant" [1858], Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, copy in Legal Papers, Kate Waller Barrett Library, Alexandria, Va. Other documents relating to Lee's management of the Custis estate are in Accounts for the Estate of G.W.P. Custis, Alexandria Courthouse; Lee Family Papers, Virginia

Historical Society; Robert E. Lee Papers, Huntington Library; and Robert E. Lee Papers, Duke University. The constable's account of his duties is found in Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan (New York: Amistad, 2005), pages 109-110. Lee is referred to as an "emancipator" in Emory Thomas, Robert E. Lee (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), P. 273.

Further information about attitudes at Washington College during Lee's tenure can be found in the Records of the Freedman's Bureau, National Archives and Records Administration; the Robert E. Lee and Hugh Moran Collections at Washington and Lee University; and John M. McClure, "The Freedmen's School in Lexington versus 'General Lee's Boys,' " in Peter Wallenstein and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, eds., Virginia's Civil War (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2005).

One Response to “Resources: February/March 2009”

  1. 1
    shane says:

    i have read elizabeth brown pryors book on r e lee and i think it to be a thorough and accurate compendium of his life in both antebellum and civil war eras. for the most part Mrs pryor seems to be objective and unbiased in her writing, but there are a few instances to which i believe she has let her 21th century mind be affected by r e lees 19th century beliefs and views. no matter how we as historians and history buffs in contemporary times would like to think that the beliefs held by those esteemed figures of victorian and antebellum america are not excusable, they in fact are not quite so easy to dismiss. it is easy for us to excoriate those of that era and pontificate that we would never behold such ideas, but if we were taught that from both parents and clergy, as well as had it impressed during school, we would not only embrace those ideas, but fight to maintain them as well.

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