Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Samuel Phillips Lee, born February 13, 1812

Samuel Phillips Lee
Samuel Phillips Lee was born February 13, 1812 at "Sully" in Fairfax County, Virginia to Francis Lightfoot Lee II and Jane Fitzgerald Lee.  He was the grandson of Richard Henry Lee and was a third cousin of Robert E. Lee.

In 1816, as the result of giving birth to their fifth child, Frances Ann Lee, Jane Fitzgerald Lee died. This initiated a slow decline in the health of both Francis Lightfoot Lee himself, as well as Sully. Lee seemed to slowly lose interest in the farming operations at Sully. Finally, in 1820 Lee had either what would termed today a nervous breakdown, or possibly a stroke. In either case, he became unable to care for himself and in 1825 was committed to the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.  Following this breakdown, in 1820, Sully was placed under the administrative care of Lee's nephew Richard Henry Lee II, a move which did not turn out well. Richard Henry Lee II's management was marked by negligence and apparent apathy towards the dishonesty of managers who were extorting money from the estate.

Following their father's move to the Pennsylvania Hospital during the summer of 1825, Francis Lightfoot Lee's children (with the exception of Samuel Philips Lee who had entered the Navy), were under the care of William and Winifred Brent, kinsman who had moved to Sully to care for the Lee children

Lee was 49 years old when the Civil War began.

"Sully" House in Virginia
Samuel Phillips Lee was appointed a mishipman in the U.S. Navy in November 1825 and subsequently saw extensive service at sea, including combat action during the Mexican-American and exploration, surveying and oceanographic duty. 

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he was captain of the sloop of war Vandalia in the  East Indies, sailing her home on his own initiative to join the blockade of the Southern coast. Commander Lee commanded the new steam sloop Oneida during the New Orleans campaign and subsequent operations on the Mississippi River in the first half of 1862. 

Elizabeth Blair Lee
Lee became well known in Washington society due to the influence of his wife, the former Elizabeth Blair, of Maryland. She was born in Kentucky to Francis Preston Blair and and Eliza Violet Gist Blair. She was the sister of Montgomery Blair , Jessup Blair, and Francis Preston Blair, Jr. When the family moved to Blair House across the street from the White House, President Andrew Jackson and his Cabinet members were frequent guests. Elizabeth's best friend was President Jackson's young niece who was serving as First Lady for her uncle, whose wife had died. Elizabeth lived in the White House one winter because of her health problems from dampness at Blair House.

When asked about his loyalty, Lee famously replied "When I find the word Virginia in my commission I will join the Confederacy." This quote is often referenced by historians in contrast to the actions of his cousin Robert E. Lee, to show how the war divided families. 

Lee also, however, earned roughly $110,000 in prize money from vessels he captured trying to run the Union blockade (nearly $2,000,000 in 2010 dollars), causing some to question if profit was as strong a motivator as patriotism when it came to his loyalties.

In September 1862, Lee was placed in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron with the rank of Acting Rear Admiral. He led this force for over two years, during which it was responsible for the blockade of the North Carolina coast and operations on North Carolina and Virginia inland waters, all areas of very active combat. 

Blair House
In 1859, Lee's father-in-law, Francis Preston Blair, built a house for Elizabeth and Samuel Lee next door to his own. These two houses, within a block of the White House in Washington, D.C., were later combined into one house and became the property of the U.S. government. Today they are the Blair-Lee House, used by the president  as his guest house. 

Upon retirement, Lee moved to the family home in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he died on 7 June 1897.

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