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The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family Paperback – February 27, 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 27, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195074785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195074789
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,702,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Nagel, chronicler of the presidential Adams family ( Descent from Glory ), here presents another splendidly written, poignant, well-researched portrait of a notable clan through approximately 230 years, starting in 1640 with the arrival in Virginia of Richard Lee from Shropshire, England. We're made aware that the considerable contributions of the Lee family to the public, economic, military and intellectual life of the nation have been overshadowed by its most famous figure, Confederate general Robert E. Lee. From among the myriad (and occasionally confusing in their sheer number) members of this close-knit but usually politically feuding clan, several stand out, along with the general--Richard Henry, whose original motion for independence was incorporated by Jefferson into the Declaration of Independence, and headstrong, self-destructive cavalry leader "Light-Horse Harry." If, as Nagel notes, the Lees, like the Adamses, were often temperamentally estranged from their times, there was a marked difference: unlike the coolly detached Adamses, the Lees were passionate for involvement.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Author of Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family ( LJ 12/1/82), Nagel now looks southward to another celebrated American family, the Lees. Working from family papers, he chronicles seven generations, from the family's arrival in Virginia in 1640 to the death of Robert E. Lee in 1870. Scanty information for several periods, intermarriages, and constant recycling of personal names make some generations very difficult to sort out, but some personal histories are fascinating, as is the persistence of the family as a power bloc even with few distinguished members and many spectacular wastrels. For the general reader and all collections in Southern history.
- Nancy C. Cridland, Indiana Univ. Libs., Bloomington
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Others who like history should read this book.
Greenville National Bank
Certainly, General Lee could be seen as the last truly great or influential member of the family.
Andrew S. Rogers
The stories are exciting and I haven't even gotten to Robert E. Lee yet!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on July 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is a fascinating look at a famous and influential family in a time and place I happen to find among the most interesting in all American history: Virginia from its founding until 1870. Within a few decades of the founding of Jamestown in 1607, the first Lee arrived in the Tidewater. For the next three centuries, more or less, the Lees were at or near the center of Virginia's -- and later America's -- history. For readers familiar only with Robert E. Lee, it may come as a shock to realize just how important his family was before and during the Revolution. But even for those for whom that's not a surprise, Paul Nagel's work is still richly rewarding.

That's because "The Lees of Virginia" isn't really a composite biography of each individual member of the vast Lee family. Many of them do receive pretty thorough portraits, of course. But Nagel's main purpose is to chart the connections and relationships within the family, and to explore the influence of the family *as a* family.

In so doing, he paints a fascinating picture of how characteristics and traits passed from generation to generation -- and how, just as importantly, subsequent generations learned from, and tried to do things differently than, their forebears. Perhaps the most interesting contrast here is between the erratic and debt-ridden "Light-Horse Harry" Lee and his son Robert Edward. R.E. Lee, in this analysis, comes across, frankly, as something of a moralistic prig, and one who more or less chained his daughters to their invalid mother's bedside. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to say about someone, "Well, he came from a messed-up family." I have more appreciation for Robert E. Lee's greatness, as well as his human failings, for seeing that he, too, came from a messed-up family.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James Gallen VINE VOICE on July 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
"The Lees" tells the story of a remarkable American family from its establishment in Virginia to General Robert E. Lee. It gives us a glimpse into their lives and the stages on which they played.

One theme which runs through the book was that this family had many failures. Although there were shining lights, such as Richard Henry Lee and Robert E. Lee, the more typical Lee was R.E. Lee's father, Gen. Lighthorse Harry Lee, who squandered his wealth, spent time in debtor's prison and ended his life in flight from his creditors.

The two leading figures of the family are Richard Henry Lee and Robert E. Lee.
Richard Henry was one of the leaders of the call for American Independence. As the sponsor of the Independence Resolution, he would have been a natural for the Committee to draft the Declaration. His opponents in the Virginia delegation blocked his appointment, insisting on the conservative Benjamin Harrison. Less conservative delegates blocked Harrison, with Thomas Jefferson being the compromise choice. Oh, how history could have been different! Richard Henry had a long and, on the balance, distinguished career during which he led the "Lee Party" consisting of himself, his brothers and other Lee relatives.

The coverage of Robert E. Lee amounts to a biography lite, with an emphasis on his involvement in family matters. There are better sources to learn about him.
Much of the book consists of quotations from letters and the provisions of wills of many people who would have never been mentioned in a book had they not been related to Richard Henry Lee and Robert E. Lee. This makes portions of the book rather boring.

I picked up two ideas which emerged from this book. One is the tremendous importance of inheritance for the Lees.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brian Hawkinson VINE VOICE on October 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Lees were instrumental in many of the events that have shaped American History. The Lees, under Thomas Lee, helped form the Ohio Company, which ultimately helped provoke the French and Indian War. Richard Henry Lee led the charge against George Mercer, the Stamp Tax Collector, and led the fierce opposition against the Parliamentary tax (even though he himself had sought out the collector position, losing to Mercer, his rival). RH and his four brothers played a huge role in the American Revolution. Arthur Lee was a diplomat with Benjamin Franklin in England and Paris, even though Lee opposed Franklin in many of his views and ways to gain the loyalty of the French. And, of course, there is Robert E. Lee as leading and influential General of the Civil War. Simply stated, the Lees helped shape America.

On a whole the Lees of Virginia has enough to make for an interesting book, one that has plenty of ammo to keep the read interesting. The problem came in that the book was too long as Nagel wrote on a lot of issues that helped to portray the Lees in their day to day life interaction with one another. I would find myself becoming bored and then, all of a sudden, an interesting story in history would suddenly come up, such as Richard Henry parading an effigy of Mercer towards his execution.

Ultimately, Nagel set out to accomplish what he wanted, which was to not be a history of America, but rather how the Lees interacted with one another, with the history sidelines thrown in.
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