William Lee

William Lee as a young man by unknown artist

QUICK FACTS
BORN:
1739 at Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia
  DIED:
1795 at ???

  • William Lee, son of Thomas Lee (1690 – 1750) and Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701 – 50), was born into one of the most politically powerful families in Virginia. Three of his other (four) brothers also played significant roles in American Revolution:
PLACES TO VISIT

William Lee, born in 1739 at the family plantation, Stratford Hall, in Virginia, was a diplomat during the American Revolution. He accompanied his brother Arthur Lee to England in 1766 to engage in mercantile pursuits, and in 1775 was elected an alderman of London, then a life position.

In April 1777, however, he received notice of his appointment by the Committee of Secret Correspondence in America to act with Thomas Morris as commercial agent at Nantes, France. He became involved in his brother’s opposition to fellow American commissioners, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. In May 1777 Congress chose William Lee commissioner to the courts of Vienna and Berlin, but he gained recognition at neither. In September 1778, while at Aix-la-Chapelle, he negotiated a plan of a treaty with Holland. However, a copy of the draft fell into British hands on the capture of Henry Laurens, the duly appointed American minister to the Netherlands, which led to Great Britain’s declaration of war against the Netherlands in December 1780.

Lee was recalled from his mission to Vienna and Berlin in June 1779, without being required to return to America. He resigned his post as an alderman of London in January 1780, and returned to Virginia about 1784. He died in 1795.

ADAPTED FROM:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed.

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By modern standards there is something unlikeable about John Hancock. His type of patriotism and charity is as obsolete as his brocaded dressing-gowns and jewelled buttons. He was one of those men who curiously go in and out of style. Once they are out they are hard to value. ‘The golden showers of guineas’ that marked his almost royal progress, his big speeches, like ‘burn Boston and make John Hancock a beggar if the public good requires it,’ do not arouse in us the same genuine enthusiasm they did in his contemporaries. Such men as Paul Revere, [Royal Governor Thomas] Hutchinson, Joseph Warren, or Sam Adams never are in style or out. Their personalities exist quite independently from the accident of their birth in the first half of the eighteenth century. This is not quite true of John Hancock.

Esther Forbes
Paul Revere & The World He Lived In (1942)