Lee as a Slaveholder: Reputable Primary Sources?

Bartow93

Cadet
Joined
Nov 5, 2020
All,

The thesis I have chosen for my Masters Course in military philosophy (I am studying American Military History at AMU) contends that General Robert E Lee's moral upbringing and christian faith are mutually inclusive with his military brilliance, and that both were key considerations on both the tactical and strategic level.

I've a professor who undoubtedly holds the converse view, and who claimed quite a bit in reference to Lee being a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner, giving the Virginia Gentleman hand to the whites and the whip hand to people of color"...I have seen this said, and as a Southerner and Lee Admirer have a hard time believing it. Of course, he was a man of his time and I aim to always remain an objective historian, so my question is...

Can anyone here provide me reputable primary sources- not modern SJW foolishness- as to Lee's conduct as a slaveowner? What was his actual owner status? Thanks.

Nick C.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
All,

The thesis I have chosen for my Masters Course in military philosophy (I am studying American Military History at AMU) contends that General Robert E Lee's moral upbringing and christian faith are mutually inclusive with his military brilliance, and that both were key considerations on both the tactical and strategic level.

I've a professor who undoubtedly holds the converse view, and who claimed quite a bit in reference to Lee being a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner, giving the Virginia Gentleman hand to the whites and the whip hand to people of color"...I have seen this said, and as a Southerner and Lee Admirer have a hard time believing it. Of course, he was a man of his time and I aim to always remain an objective historian, so my question is...

Can anyone here provide me reputable primary sources- not modern SJW foolishness- as to Lee's conduct as a slaveowner? What was his actual owner status? Thanks.

Nick C.


Good luck wth your search, Nick, there is a lot of material in the public domain for you to examine. Of course Lee was not really a planter and slaveowner most of his life, but a professional military officer. He only became a planter/slaveowner late in life, when his wife inherited some substantial properties from her father.
 

Georgia

Sergeant
All,

The thesis I have chosen for my Masters Course in military philosophy (I am studying American Military History at AMU) contends that General Robert E Lee's moral upbringing and christian faith are mutually inclusive with his military brilliance, and that both were key considerations on both the tactical and strategic level.

I've a professor who undoubtedly holds the converse view, and who claimed quite a bit in reference to Lee being a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner, giving the Virginia Gentleman hand to the whites and the whip hand to people of color"...I have seen this said, and as a Southerner and Lee Admirer have a hard time believing it. Of course, he was a man of his time and I aim to always remain an objective historian, so my question is...

Can anyone here provide me reputable primary sources- not modern SJW foolishness- as to Lee's conduct as a slaveowner? What was his actual owner status? Thanks.

Nick C.
Nick,
After a quick online search, I found a primary source from one of his enslaved. Sadly, it doesn’t paint a good picture if it can be verified. I understand that no one want to think the worst if someone they admirer. I think of Lee as a chivalry driven, gentleman.

Please share your paper once done as I’m sure many would find it very interesting.

http://fair-use.org/national-anti-s...4/14/robert-e-lee-his-brutality-to-his-slaves
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Lee's acts as a slaveholder are fully documented. His behavior was in no way remarkable. Normal slave-holding included paying for a slave to be flogged. Whether Lee did that or not is irrelevant. He lived within a culture where that was common & ordinary. Everything he did was unremarkable & moral in the society in which he lived. There was nothing about the vile nature of slaveholding that could have escaped Lee's attention.

During Lee's lifetime, the commodity farm model of Virginia plantations had become economically untenable. His experience with his father in law's estate is unremarkable. Plantations in Virginia & Maryland had a surplus of labor. It was the sale of "extra men & extra women" as they were called, that was the source of the cash that kept the Virginia slaveholding society that Lee was loyal to solvent. Some Virginia slave-holders explicitly advertised that they were raising human beings for sale, most sold their "extras" as a matter ordinary stock management.

asdsi002036.jpg

"Extra Men" are valued at a prime rate on this market report.
This is a market newsletter from Betts & Gregory in Richmond that plantation owners subscribed to. Lee would have known that on July 20, 1860 that "Young women with first child" were selling for $1,500 to $2,500. Children over 4 feet tall were worth $100 for every 3 inches up to 5 feet tall. News papers that Lee would have read had adds from a Virginia slave farm where a premium price was charged because the white slave-holder claimed to have fathered all the goods on offer. Lee had absolutely no illusions about the institution of slavery that he was fighting to preserve.

Forrest Slave sale advertizement.jpeg

This advertisement for Nathan Bedford Forrest's slave dealership in Memphis states explicitly that

"They are daily received from Virginia..."​

Both Robert E. Lee & I are both members of the Episcopal Church. After the cotton gin made slave-holding profitable, the Episcopal Church changed its historic opposition to slavery & adopted what can only be called a proslavery position. Bishops, Polk being the most obvious example, came from slave-holding families. Lee would have been told that Africans were an inferior class of human created by god to be owned by white men from the pulpit. His moral teaching would have included rationalizing the brutality necessary to slave-holding as a god given right of white men. In that respect, what Lee would have considered right & moral is night & day different from what is Episcopal teaching today. Dealing with that legacy is an active, ongoing challenge for the church today.

I have no idea how Lee reconciled the morality of Christ's commandment that, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." with leading 240,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia to death or injury to perpetrate the institution of slavery. How that made him a better general is something I am happy that I am not going to have to explain.
 
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Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
Nick,
After a quick online search, I found a primary source from one of his enslaved. Sadly, it doesn’t paint a good picture if it can be verified. I understand that no one want to think the worst if someone they admirer. I think of Lee as a chivalry driven, gentleman.

Please share your paper once done as I’m sure many would find it very interesting.

http://fair-use.org/national-anti-s...4/14/robert-e-lee-his-brutality-to-his-slaves

And just to be fair, this appeared in newspapers while Lee was alive, both before and after the war I believe, and he denied that it was true.
 

Georgia

Sergeant
And just to be fair, this appeared in newspapers while Lee was alive, both before and after the war I believe, and he denied that it was true.
Most definitely take it with a grain of salt. I don’t want to believe he was an unkind person any more than you do.

The thesis sounds very interesting to me and I hope it will be shared upon completion.
 

Paul Yancey

Corporal
Joined
Jan 13, 2019
Location
Kentucky
Lee's acts as a slaveholder are fully documented, including paying for a slave to be flogged. Everything he did was unremarkable & moral in the society in which he lived. There was nothing about the vile nature of slaveholding that could have escaped Lee's attention. During Lee's lifetime, the commodity farm model of Virginia plantations had become economically untenable. His experience with his father in law's estate is in no way unremarkable. Plantations in Virginia & Maryland had a surplus of labor. It was the sale of "extra men & extra women" as they were called, that was the source of the cash that kept the Virginia slaveholding society that Lee was loyal to solvent. Some Virginia slave-holders explicitly advertised that they were raising human beings for sale, most sold their "extras" as a matter ordinary stock management.

View attachment 381160
"Extra Men" are valued at a prime rate on this market report.
This is a market newsletter from Betts & Gregory in Richmond that plantation owners subscribed to. Lee would have known that on July 20, 1860 that "Young women with first child" were selling for $1,500 to $2,500. Children over 4 feet tall were worth $100 for every 3 inches up to 5 feet tall. News papers that Lee would have read had adds from a Virginia slave farm where a premium price was charged because the white slave-holder claimed to have fathered all the goods on offer. Lee had absolutely no illusions about the institution of slavery that he was fighting to preserve.

View attachment 381161
This advertisement for Nathan Bedford Forrest's slave dealership in Memphis states explicitly that

"They are daily received from Virginia..."​

Both Robert E. Lee & I are both members of the Episcopal Church. After the cotton gin made slave-holding profitable, the Episcopal Church changed its historic opposition to slavery & adopted what can only be called a proslavery position. Bishops, Polk being the most obvious example, came from slave-holding families. Lee would have been told that Africans were an inferior class of human created by god to be owned by white men from the pulpit. His moral teaching would have included rationalizing the brutality necessary to slave-holding as a god given right of white men. In that respect, what Lee would have considered right & moral is night & day different from what is Episcopal teaching today. Dealing with that legacy is an active, ongoing challenge for the church today.

I have no idea how Lee reconciled the morality of Christ's commandment that, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." with leading 240,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia to death or injury to perpetrate the institution of slavery. How that made him a better general is something I am happy that I am not going to have to explain.
Could you please provide the source that Lee paid to have his slaves flogged. Is this source verifiable or is it hearsay. Is it one man's word against another. Is there testimony from reliable witnesses to substantiate these allegations.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Lee's acts as a slaveholder are fully documented, including paying for a slave to be flogged. Everything he did was unremarkable & moral in the society in which he lived. There was nothing about the vile nature of slaveholding that could have escaped Lee's attention. During Lee's lifetime, the commodity farm model of Virginia plantations had become economically untenable. His experience with his father in law's estate is in no way unremarkable. Plantations in Virginia & Maryland had a surplus of labor. It was the sale of "extra men & extra women" as they were called, that was the source of the cash that kept the Virginia slaveholding society that Lee was loyal to solvent. Some Virginia slave-holders explicitly advertised that they were raising human beings for sale, most sold their "extras" as a matter ordinary stock management.

View attachment 381160
"Extra Men" are valued at a prime rate on this market report.
This is a market newsletter from Betts & Gregory in Richmond that plantation owners subscribed to. Lee would have known that on July 20, 1860 that "Young women with first child" were selling for $1,500 to $2,500. Children over 4 feet tall were worth $100 for every 3 inches up to 5 feet tall. News papers that Lee would have read had adds from a Virginia slave farm where a premium price was charged because the white slave-holder claimed to have fathered all the goods on offer. Lee had absolutely no illusions about the institution of slavery that he was fighting to preserve.

View attachment 381161
This advertisement for Nathan Bedford Forrest's slave dealership in Memphis states explicitly that

"They are daily received from Virginia..."​

Both Robert E. Lee & I are both members of the Episcopal Church. After the cotton gin made slave-holding profitable, the Episcopal Church changed its historic opposition to slavery & adopted what can only be called a proslavery position. Bishops, Polk being the most obvious example, came from slave-holding families. Lee would have been told that Africans were an inferior class of human created by god to be owned by white men from the pulpit. His moral teaching would have included rationalizing the brutality necessary to slave-holding as a god given right of white men. In that respect, what Lee would have considered right & moral is night & day different from what is Episcopal teaching today. Dealing with that legacy is an active, ongoing challenge for the church today.

I have no idea how Lee reconciled the morality of Christ's commandment that, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." with leading 240,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia to death or injury to perpetrate the institution of slavery. How that made him a better general is something I am happy that I am not going to have to explain.
I don't see how one views on slavery whether pro or anti would make anyone a better or worse general at all either.....as I see little connection to military science, tactics or strategy.....

The leading generals of both sides, in Grant and Lee had slaves in their lives during the war...don't see where it really helped or hindered eithers generalship.
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
You can read his letters to his wife and family regarding his relationships to his slaves before and after he freed them in December 1862. He freed his father in laws slaves and the ones he inherited from his mother all at one time.

As regards the people at Romancoke, I much prefer their recg their free papers & seeking their fortune. It has got to be done & it was in accordance with your father's will. I am unable to attend to them & I am afraid they will suffer or come to some harm. I do not see why they can not be freed & hire themselves out as others do, & think it might be accomplished. I am afraid there is some desire on the part of the Community to continue them in slavery, which I must resist. I wish you would talk to Mr. Caskie on the subject & Mr. Frank Smith, whom I see is in Richmond. Mr. Collins can hire some of them out at any rate. It will diminish the number to clothe & feed. How are clothes & shoes to be obtained for them?



Based on Lee's own letters at the time he wanted to unload his father in law's slaves at the nearest time he could afford to do so. The attacks forced him to write a letter to the northern press that ended up in the NY Times on the subject of him violating his father in law's terms. He refused to respond publicly to the abolitionists more extreme attacks like that he stripped his female slaves naked and flogged them though privately refused them.
 
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Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Could you please provide the source that Lee paid to have his slaves flogged. Is this source verifiable or is it hearsay. Is it one man's word against another. Is there testimony from reliable witnesses to substantiate these allegations.
There are a number of threads on this forum that have exhaustively covered this subject. There is no secret concerning Lee’s struggles with his father in law’s legacy. The reliable witness in this case is Lee himself. I am not at home so don’t have my folders at hand, will suggest you just google it. The important thing is that Lee behaved just like other slave-holders in the same predicament. It only matters when Lee’s behavior is viewed through a lens of modern morality.
You might find the Slavery is our king thread that accompanies this thread illuminating.
 

CowCavalry

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
There are a number of threads on this forum that have exhaustively covered this subject. There is no secret concerning Lee’s struggles with his father in law’s legacy. The reliable witness in this case is Lee himself. I am not at home so don’t have my folders at hand, will suggest you just google it. The important thing is that Lee behaved just like other slave-holders in the same predicament. It only matters when Lee’s behavior is viewed through a lens of modern morality.
You might find the Slavery is our king thread that accompanies this thread illuminating.
Lee denied the allegations privately in 1859, in a letter to his son, he told him he would not respond to the accusation and mentions "the unpleasant legacy" Custis left him. He continued his public silence and private denial of the event when the allegations resurfaced in 1866. You can believe what you want to.
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Most definitely take it with a grain of salt. I don’t want to believe he was an unkind person any more than you do.

The thesis sounds very interesting to me and I hope it will be shared upon completion.
Perhaps you might want to give some thought to the fact that Lee spent his entire adult life in an army where flogging was a routine form of punishment until 1861. How many flogging do you suppose Lee had ordered during his career? Nobody in his day would bat an eye about that.
Could you please provide the source that Lee paid to have his slaves flogged. Is this source verifiable or is it hearsay. Is it one man's word against another. Is there testimony from reliable witnesses to substantiate these allegations.
I have answered this Lee & his slaves thing dozens of times. Like all writers I sometimes see what I meant to write, not what is actually on the page. Thanks for getting my attention so that I could complete what I meant to say. I edited my post.
 
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Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Lee denied the allegations privately in 1859, in a letter to his son, he told him he would not respond to the accusation and mentions "the unpleasant legacy" Custis left him. He continued his public silence and private denial of the event when the allegations resurfaced in 1866. You can believe what you want to.
Lee’s situation was in no way a unique one. He was dealing with a legacy.
 

CowCavalry

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
Perhaps you might want to give some thought to the fact that Lee spent his entire adult life in an army where flogging was a routine form of punishment until 1861. How many flogging do you suppose Lee had ordered during his career? Nobody in his day would bat an eye about that.

I have answered this Lee & his slaves thing dozens of times. Thanks for getting my attention so that I could complete what I meant to say. I edited my post.
And here is what Lee had to say about that: "This same slander which you at the time denounced as false, was nevertheless circulated at the North, and since the termination of hostilities has been renewed in Europe. Yet there is not a word of truth in it, or any ground for its origin. No servant, soldier, or citizen, that was ever employed by me, can with truth charge me with bad treatment."
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
And here is what Lee had to say about that: "This same slander which you at the time denounced as false, was nevertheless circulated at the North, and since the termination of hostilities has been renewed in Europe. Yet there is not a word of truth in it, or any ground for its origin. No servant, soldier, or citizen, that was ever employed by me, can with truth charge me with bad treatment."

I'll take Lee at his word. There's too much testimony from too many of his contemporaries about his character to do otherwise.
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
And here is what Lee had to say about that: "This same slander which you at the time denounced as false, was nevertheless circulated at the North, and since the termination of hostilities has been renewed in Europe. Yet there is not a word of truth in it, or any ground for its origin. No servant, soldier, or citizen, that was ever employed by me, can with truth charge me with bad treatment."

Thanks, here is the full text version.

leee.png
 
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