The Robert E. Lee Boyhood Home Virtual Museum

Ann Hill Carter Lee
Ann Hill Carter Lee

Ann Hill Carter Lee

Robert E. Lee's mother, Ann Hill Carter Lee, was the great-granddaughter of Robert Carter (1663-1732), one of America's earliest men of wealth. Carter's wealth came from service as land agent for the English Proprieter, Lord Fairfax. As such, he collected rents on the millions of acres owned by Fairfax in Virginia. His position gained for him an estate of some three hundred thousand acres and made him so powerful that he became known as "King" Carter. His wealth, filtered through several generations, was the ultimate source of Ann's inheritance.

Ann's father was Charles Carter, one of Virginia's wealthiest planters. His home called Shirley Plantation was located on the south side of the James River near Richmond, VA. Ann came from a distinguished family. It is probable that she was known personally to all seven Virginian signers of the Declaration of Independence, to all of whom, save one, she was related by ties of consanguinity or marriage.

Comparatively little is known of Ann personally. It is believed that the likeness shown above is hers because the brooch in the picture, bearing a likeness of George Washington, is similar to one known to have been hers. Ann was born in 1773, though exactly where is not certain. Ann was the daughter of Anne Butler Moore, Charles Carter's second wife, who was the daughter of Bernard Moore and Anne Catharine Spotswood. She was the tenth of twenty-three children born to Charles' two wives. So, though of a wealthy family, she could not see herself as particularly unique. Charles, nonetheless, displayed a lively interest in the welfare of each of his children. It may be safely inferred that she posessed a strong sense of family. Similarly, she was a religious person with a strong belief in the existence of a just and benevolent God.

Ann was not physically strong. She is said to have suffered from narcolepsy, a disease which made her, along with many persons of her time, even those not so afflicted, fearful of being buried alive. There is even a legend that she was, indeed, thought dead and nearly so buried. As early as 1806 she writes that she was becoming an invalid. During her stay at the Oronoco street home, she needed help negotiating the stairs. Ann apparently suffered from tuberculosis for an indeterminant time preceding her death.

After the death of his first wife, the "Divine" Matilda Lee, mistress of Stratford Hall, thirty-seven year old, Virginia Governor and Revolutionary War hero, Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee came to Shirley to woo Maria Farley one of Ann's friends living there. Upon his being rejected by Maria, twenty year old Ann set about capturing him for herself, although he was seventeen years her senior. Charles Carter was aware of Lee's reckless reputation and constant financial difficulties. He, therefore, opposed the match, citing Lee's then consideration of an offer of a generalship in France's Revolutionary armies. When Lee rejected the offered French commission, Carter lost the reason he had used for stopping the marriage. The wedding took place at Shirley on June 18, 1793. Although consenting to the marriage, Charles did ensure that Lee could not touch any of Ann's inheritance. A near contemporaneous account of this courtship and its aftermath is provided in a linked 1821 letter.

By the time of the birth of Robert, her fifth child [Algernon Sydney, the eldest did not survive], Henry Lee was in deep financial trouble. He was being pursued by his creditors and Stratford Hall, where the Lee's had gone to live, was being denuded of property and servants to satisfy their demands. Ann was sick with a cold and saddened by the death of her father when Robert Edward Lee, named for two of her brothers, was born on January 19, 1807. In 1809, her husband was twice imprisoned for debt. Circumstances reduced Ann to delivering food in person to Lee's prison for lack of servants and teaching her children herself in Stratford's Great Hall, where they could find both heat and light from the fireplace. About this time Ann was offered asylum for herself and her children by the husband of her late sister, Mildred. Ann refused to abandon her husband, choosing to maintain her home and family despite Henry's imprisonment. Upon his release she did insist on the right to choose their residence. Ann chose to move to Alexandria, VA, eventually renting William Henry Fitzhugh's home at 607 Oronoco Street. In this location, she had numerous family members nearby and her children were thus assured an education at their neighboring plantations and later the Alexandria Academy.

In 1813 Henry's career and life in America came to an end when he went into virtual exile in the West Indies after being nearly killed and permanently injured in a political riot in Baltimore, MD. Left on her own, Ann husbanded her inheritance to provide for her children writing infrequently to Henry, who had even in good times seldom been much at home.

Of her children, Carter, the eldest, was closest to his father and was the addressee of most of his letters, though oft unmailed, from exile. Carter was also favored by Ann's brother William, who paid for his education at Harvard. The younger sons were not so fortunate. Smith, the second son, chose to go to sea, joining the US Navy. Ann Kinloch, the eldest daughter and second eldest child spent much of her time away from home seeking medical attention for a condition, probably tuberculosis of the bone, which eventuated in the loss of her arm. This left to Robert, the eldest remaining child, the principle responsibility for assisting Ann during most of the Lee's stay in Alexandria. In his mother's words he became "both son and daughter" to her. There can be no doubt of a close personal attachment between mother and son. However, Nagel* concludes Ann had no favorites.

Upon Robert's departure for West Point, Ann moved with her two daughters from Alexandria to Carter's home in Georgetown, DC.where he practiced law. Finally, her health deteriorating, she moved to the home of William Henry Fitzhugh's widow at Ravensworth in Fairfax County, VA. There she died on June 29. 1829, but not before seeing Robert return after graduation from West Point, Carter and Smith with established careers in law and the Navy, daughter Ann Kinloch married and daughter, Mildred, engaged.

Originally interred at Ravensworth, Ann's remains are now, along with those of her husband and son, in the Lee Crypt at Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA.

* The above narative is primarily based upon Paul C. Nagel's The Lee's of Virginia. From the Lee Boyhood Home Museum Docent's Guide I have also quoted from a reprint of Cazenove G. Lee Jr.'s article on Ann Hill Carter from the William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 16, series 2, 1936, pages 417-419. WJS