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Lee, Henry

Lee, Henry (1756–1818), Revolutionary War officer and early national statesman.Born in Prince William County, Virginia, Lee graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1773. An exceptional cavalryman, he rose to lieutenant colonel in the Continental army, where he commanded “Lee's Legion” and was known as “Light‐Horse Harry” Lee. In 1779, he captured a British force at Paulus Hook, New Jersey, and performed with distinction during the 1780–81 southern campaign.

Lee's military experience convinced him that American liberty depended on a strong central government led by proven patriots. He was a friend and supporter of George Washington, whom he eulogized as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” A staunch Federalist, Lee defended the Constitution at the 1788 Virginia ratifying convention and while serving as governor of Virginia commanded the 1794 Federal expedition against the Whiskey Rebellion.

In private life, Lee fared poorly. Failed speculations landed him in debtor's prison in 1808. Four years later, a Baltimore mob injured him after he attempted to defend the office of an unpopular newspaper. In 1813–18, he convalesced in the West Indies, but never recovered; he returned to die at the Georgia home of his late comrade, Nathanael Greene. One of his sons, Robert E. Lee, would become the leading general of the Confederacy.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Thomas Boyd , Light‐horse Harry Lee, 1931.
Charles Royster , Light‐Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution, 1981.

Stuart Leibiger

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Lee, Henry

Henry Lee, 1756–1818, American Revolutionary soldier, known as Light-Horse Harry Lee, b. Prince William co., Va. He was a cousin of Arthur Lee, Francis L. Lee, Richard H. Lee, and William Lee and was the father of Robert E. Lee. As a cavalry commander he established an enviable record in the Revolution. He first gained wide notice for his capture of the fort at Paulus Hook (now in Jersey City), N.J., on Aug. 19, 1779. His service under Nathanael Greene after 1780 in the Carolina campaign was notable for daring and brilliance and he distinguished himself at Guilford Courthouse and Eutaw Springs. After the war he was elected (1785) to Congress. He favored a stronger government and in 1788 was a leader in the struggle to have Virginia ratify the Constitution. He was (1791–94) governor of Virginia, and in 1794 he commanded the troops who suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion. A Federalist Congressman (1799–1801), he was author of the description of George Washington as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen" in the resolutions on the first President's death. A poor business manager, Lee was imprisoned (1808–9) for debt. In 1812 he was severely injured when an angry mob dragged Alexander Hanson, Lee, and others from a jail where they had gone for protection after Hanson's Federalist newspaper had denounced President Madison and the War of 1812. He wrote Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department (1812, repr. 1869 with a biographical sketch by Robert E. Lee).

See biographies by T. Boyd (1931) and N. B. Gerson (1966).

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