Lee as a Slaveholder: Reputable Primary Sources?

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
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Dec 5, 2019
can with truth charge me with bad treatment'
Sometimes truth (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. It seems to me that it is perfectly possible for one person to see an act as reasonable while another may view it as being beyond the pale.
 

Quaama

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2020
Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
Earlier on this thread there was a lot of discussion regarding Gen. Lee and the Custis' Will. While looking for some other things I came across the following from Recollections and letters of General Robert E. Lee by his son R E Lee (see pp 89-90):
"One marked characteristic of my father was his habit of attending to all business matters promptly. He was never idle, and what he had to do he performed with care and precision. Mr. Custis, my grandfather, had made him executor of his will, wherein it was directed that all the slaves belonging to the estate should be set free after the expiration of so many years. The time had now arrived, and, notwithstanding the exacting duties of his position, the care of his suffering soldiers, and his anxiety about their future, immediate and distant, he proceeded according to the law of the land to carry out the provisions of the will, and had delivered to every one of the servants, where it was possible, their manumission papers. From his letters written at this time I give a few extracts bearing on this subject :
". . . As regards the liberation of the people, I wish to progress in it as far as I can. Those hired in Richmond can still find employment there if they choose. Those in the country can do the same or remain on the farms. I hope they will all do well and behave themselves. I should like, if I could, to attend to their wants and see them placed to the best advantage. But that is impossible. All that choose can leave the State before the war closes. . . .
". . . I executed the deed of manumission sent me by Mr. Caskie, and returned it to him. I perceived that John Sawyer and James's names, among the Arlington people, had been omitted, and inserted them. I fear there are others among the White House lot which I did not discover. As to the attacks of the Northern papers, I do not mind them, and do not think it wise to make the publication you suggest. If all the names of the people at Arlington and on the Pamunkey are not embraced in this deed I have executed, I should like a supplementary deed to be drawn up, containing all those omitted. They are entitled to their freedom and I wish to give it to them. Those that have been carried away, I hope are free and happy ; I cannot get their papers to them, and they do not require them. I will give them if they ever call for them. It will be useless to ask their restitution to manumit them. . . .".
 

Georgia

Sergeant
Do we have any sources that indicate who Lee hired his slave out too?.
Yes, there are sources which discuss locations and I believe the sort of work and the fees per year garnered by the hiring of them out. There is also a mention of a specific brother out of a trio of brothers who sadly passed away after they were freed and Lee comments that he hopes his anger hadn’t caused his passing.
If you’d like to get into this more on a different thread, I’d be glad to share information I found concerning Nancy Ruffin who had three children and came to the Lees via the Custis family. You may find it of interest that she had a child name Mack. (Reverend William Mack Lee, ring a bell.) And, yes, there is talk about other of her children possibly being fathered by Custis or by Lee.
However, I don’t feel that this is the correct location to discuss such things.
 
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eeric

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2019
Yes, there are sources which discuss locations and I believe the sort of work and the fees per year garnered by the hiring of them out. There is also a mention of a specific brother out of a trio of brothers who sadly passed away after they were freed and Lee comments that he hopes his anger hadn’t caused his passing.
If you’d like to get into this more on a different thread, I’d be glad to share information I found concerning Nancy Ruffin who had three children and came to the Lees via the Custis family. You may find it of interest that she had a child name Mack. (Reverend William Mack Lee, ring a bell.) And, yes, there is talk about other of her children possibly being fathered by Custis or by Lee.
However, I don’t feel that this is the correct location to discuss such things.
Please do share.
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
An article on Lee's support of the American Colonization Society.

"Before the Civil War, Robert E. Lee freed most of his slaves and offered to pay expenses for those who wanted to go to Liberia. In November 1853, Lee's former slaves William and Rosabella Burke and their four children sailed on the Banshee, which left Baltimore with 261 emigrants. A person of superior intelligence and drive, Burke studied Latin and Greek at a newly established seminary in Monrovia and became a Presbyterian minister in 1857. He helped educate his own children and other members of his community and took several native children into his home.

The Burkes's letters describing their lives in Liberia show that they relied on the Lees to convey messages to and from relatives still in Virginia, and the letters also reflect affection for their former masters.

Despite the hardships of being a colonist, William Burke was enthusiastic about his new life. After five years in Liberia he wrote that "Persons coming to Africa should expect to go through many hardships, such as are common to the first settlement in any new country. I expected it, and was not disappointed or discouraged at any thing I met with; and so far from being dissatisfied with the country, I bless the Lord that ever my lot was cast in this part of the earth. The Lord has blessed me abundantly since my residence in Africa, for which I feel that I can never be sufficiently thankful."

Letters from the Burkes to Mary Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, were published in the 1859 edition of The African Repository with Mrs. Lee's permission. This letter from Mrs. Burke to Mrs. Lee demonstrates personal warmth between the two women. Mrs. Burke shows concern for Mrs. Lee's health, tells Mrs. Lee about her children, and asks about the Lee children. The "little Martha" referred to was Martha Custis Lee Burke, born in Liberia and named for one of the Lee family. Repeating her husband's enthusiasm for their new life, Rosabella Burke says, "I love Africa and would not exchange it for America."

Essay on Liberia consolidated by Henry Robert Burke :: Liberia :: History :: Lest We Forget (hamptonu.edu)

stakeclaim_rosabellaburke_letter.jpg


Letter from Rosabella Burke to the Lees, February 20, 1859, in The African Repository and Colonial Journal, vol. 35, no 7, July 1859, p. 216. Library of Congress.
 

Georgia

Sergeant
An article on Lee's support of the American Colonization Society.



View attachment 382375

Letter from Rosabella Burke to the Lees, February 20, 1859, in The African Repository and Colonial Journal, vol. 35, no 7, July 1859, p. 216. Library of Congress.
For some reason, I was thinking this story was attributed to Custis and his wife as the ones who prepared those who would be returning to Africa by making sure they had trained in various areas prior to leaving this country.

Thank you for sharing as it shows I was incorrectly attributing this situation to the wrong family members.
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
The "premise" of the thread is a request for primary source information. Your opinion has been shared, so if you have actual evidence that fits the OP's request, that would be welcome.

The premise of this thread is a request for "reputable" primary sources. Here is a expert from the OP: Can anyone here provide me reputable primary sources- not modern SJW foolishness- as to Lee's conduct as a slaveowner? In other words, proof is required to affirm the validity of the so-called primary sources that were posted, which nobody did. Not one person verified the validity of the so-called primary sources they posted. If nobody can prove that they posted an original document then they never posted a reputable primary source. Its that simple. The OP is engaging in scholarly work, not pretending to be a historian on the internet. Therefore, the validity of the primary sources have to be examined to determine whether or not they are authentic or faked. The OP's professor already has his or her mind made up that Lee was a barbaric slave owner and a virulent racist, so he or she is not going to accept newspaper and letter reprints that can so easily be doctored as primary documents, especially ones that favor Lee as a benevolent slave owner. Moreover, especially a letter Lee wrote himself exonerating himself...

You actually gave your opinion way more than anyone else in this thread, but you recommended members should refrain from giving their opinion and produce primary sources. Interesting...

Let's look at your "premise" throughout this thread:

In post #18 you stated this: I'll take Lee at his word. There's too much testimony from too many of his contemporaries about his character to do otherwise? Stating you'll take Lee at his word is just your preference, and nothing more. What exactly does taking Lee at his word prove anyway? All it proves is that you trust what Lee stated at face value without any proof to verify the account. What exactly was it about Lee's character that his contemporaries testified that can prove that Lee would never have whipped slaves? Were his contemporaries around Lee's estate 24/7 and observed his interactions with his slaves at all times? No. Unless you can prove Lee's contemporaries were eye witnesses to Lee's interactions with his slaves at all times then they are dismissed as mere character witnesses who still have not proved if Lee whipped his slaves or not. Is taking Lee at his word a primary source? No.

In post #33 you stated this: If it was commonplace and accepted, Lee would have no reason to deny it if it happened. And yet he did deny it. All the more reason to believe he was telling the truth. How do you know Lee had no reason to lie? According to your rational backed by 10,000 hagiographies Lee had no reason to lie? According to you, the clincher is that Lee denied it and it's all the more reason to believe him? Even though a slave named Norris claimed in written and recorded testimony Lee had him and other runaways whipped, Lee denied it so he must have been telling the truth. Whew, thanks for clearing that up.

A student cannot present that implausible argument in annotated bibliography. I severely doubt a professor would accept a 21st century character witness off an internet forum whose eisegesis interpretation is to exonerate any and every accusation about Lee. You giving an opinion to why you think Robert E. Lee had no reason to lie. Then you give opinion to why you think it is all the more reason why he was telling the truth. You didn't even cite your statements that you made as, "my opinion" as a subjective reference, but you were brazen enough to predicate as it were objective. No.

In post #108 you stated this: I've read it. It's not worth the paper it's printed on. "We can't infer" Pryor says at the beginning, after which she spends the entire book inferring the worst in chapter after chapter. It's very poor history. Isn't this a matter of "your" opinion? I suppose for whatever reason(s) you feel you are qualified to determine whether or not a book is poor history or superior history? You stated, "the author spends the entire book inferring the worst chapter after chapter, and that's poor history." But yet, you infer your entire post history in this thread to the best of Lee. Not one time in this thread did you remotely deviate from your path of exonerating Lee, and according to you that type of approach to history is poor history. You tried to counter an extreme with another extreme. No.

In post #186 you stated this: Just because an action is legal or approved by society does not mean everyone who could take that action does so. But that doesn't mean they didn't take that action either. All you are stating is a theory, a theory that does not lean in your favor because it is documented that slave owners whipped slaves. Again, what about the slave named Wesley Norris who accused Lee of whipping him or ordered the punishment? The slave's word vs Lee's word. You take Lee at his word, but others take Wesley Norris at his word. Now it has become an impasse, that nobody can exactly prove. This is typical when studying history because historians always almost never deal in "certainties," and always deal in "probabilities." A tenure professor is going to go with the probability that Lee whipped slaves, or ordered the whipping. The probability suggests that Lee did indeed whip slaves, directly or indirectly because whipping slaves was common practice during the days of slavery.

Lee was the commanding officer who sent tens of thousands to their death without any qualms in a losing effort. I know some Lee proponent is going to say something in the manner that Lee fought for Virginia and all other course reasons. Blah, blah, blah. But the fact is that Lee knew the Confederacy could never win, but still gambled with the lives of 17 year old boys. But he never whipped a slave because according to people on the internet Lee had infallible character. Lee had an existential view towards slaves but a nihilistic view towards the average Confederate soldier. According to bloggers, Lee's character is essential regarding slaves but incidental regarding Confederate troops. I think that would be an accurate interpretation to what was spouted out in this thread.


The OP stated this: Can anyone here provide me reputable primary sources- not modern SJW foolishness- as to Lee's conduct as a slaveowner? The OP also stated this: "he was a man of his time and I aim to always remain an objective historian." Stating that he didn't want any social justice warrior foolishness meant that he didn't want any radical and extreme views about Lee, like when he stated his professor thought Lee was a barbaric slave owner. But that extreme was countered in this thread with a reactionary traditionalist extreme that Lee had sterling character and was a benevolent slave owner, which he never would have whipped slaves. Two opposing extremes .The OP doesn't want a hamartography that Lee was a sinful man and was a barbaric slave owner, nor does the OP want another hagiography about Lee that idealizes him as a saint.
 

Quaama

Sergeant
Joined
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Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
Yes, proof is required.

If none is forthcoming then Lee should be given the presumption of innocence. As the OP said:
"I've a professor ... 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."
I feel that the onus of proof rests with anyone trying to claim Lee was a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner". I see no 'reputable primary sources' in this thread or elsewhere to support such a claim.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
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Yes, proof is required.
I don't think that you understand what a primary source is. It is merely a source that comes from someone present at the event. Proof or credibility is up to the person using (or ignoring) that source. For example, a birth certificate is a primary source--yet no one has to prove a birth in--say--1800; it is up to the genealogist to accept or refute--and to explain this action to others.

Proof is not required when giving a primary source (or secondary source or supposition or whatever) to a potential user; that is up to the one who accepts the source (if s/he uses it).

Right now, for example, I am working on a piece on an event in 1863. I have many statements before me--some of them primary. It is my responsibility to decide which are credible and which are not--and then to justify my decision. Another example would be a criminal case: it is well known that witnesses to the same event can give very different accounts and it is up to the police and/or courts (not the witnesses) to seek among them. In other words, if I see someone robbing a store and report it, it is not up to me to prove that I am being accurate.
 

Quaama

Sergeant
Joined
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Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
I don't think that you understand what a primary source is. It is merely a source that comes from someone present at the event. Proof or credibility is up to the person using (or ignoring) that source. For example, a birth certificate is a primary source--yet no one has to prove a birth in--say--1800; it is up to the genealogist to accept or refute--and to explain this action to others.

Proof is not required when giving a primary source (or secondary source or supposition or whatever) to a potential user; that is up to the one who accepts the source (if s/he uses it).

Right now, for example, I am working on a piece on an event in 1863. I have many statements before me--some of them primary. It is my responsibility to decide which are credible and which are not--and then to justify my decision. Another example would be a criminal case: it is well known that witnesses to the same event can give very different accounts and it is up to the police and/or courts (not the witnesses) to seek among them. In other words, if I see someone robbing a store and report it, it is not up to me to prove that I am being accurate.

I understand exactly what is a primary source. Where are such sources that show Lee was a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner" given the OP's professor claimed that there was "quite a bit"?
If there was 'quite a bit' of such primary sources they would constitute the proof. As I said "I see no 'reputable primary sources' in this thread or elsewhere to support such a claim." Bring them forth if you have them. Otherwise, Lee must be given the presumption of innocence on such a charge.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
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Dec 5, 2019
I understand exactly what is a primary source. Where are such sources that show Lee was a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner" given the OP's professor claimed that there was "quite a bit"?
If there was 'quite a bit' of such primary sources they would constitute the proof. As I said "I see no 'reputable primary sources' in this thread or elsewhere to support such a claim." Bring them forth if you have them. Otherwise, Lee must be given the presumption of innocence on such a charge.
Sorry but I am neither responsible for what the professor said nor have I been given the task of judging General Lee.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
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Let's not overrate Norris' (alleged) statement.

It was not testimony. It was called an Interview and printed in a

...newspaper.
A newspaper interview counts as a primary source and primary source needn't be legal testimony. It wasn't an alleged statement but an actual one. If I describe something that happened to me, it is primary--whether it is reported in a newspaper interview or appears in a letter; the fact that it wasn't sworn to on a Bible makes no difference.
 

Quaama

Sergeant
Joined
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Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
Let's not underrate it either. As Elizabeth Brown Pryor found, many of the details of his account can be verified.

The 'Norris' statement seems to be nullified by a number of matters from p2 of this thread up to and including Post #113
on p6 (which quoted OR records as supporting documents) and a few beyond that one.

Which of the details found by Elizabeth Pryor can be verified (and by what and where)?
[I can not find verification of any details in this thread in relation to the Norris statement that would show Lee to be a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner" as stated in the OP.]
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
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What ever your (or my or anyone's) opinion is of the interview does not change its being a primary source. I don't think that you understand what primary source means: it refers to an account from "the horse's mouth". Whether you credit it or not doesn't matter--qualification of a source is up to the historian using (or not using) the source.

As an aside, actually there is verification in a 2nd interview (with another person) reported in 1868 (Press of Philadelphia: 1 May 1868; Buffalo Commercial Advisor: 1 May 1868; also--Milwaukee Journal 20 Apr 2011).
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
A newspaper interview counts as a primary source and primary source needn't be legal testimony. It wasn't an alleged statement but an actual one. If I describe something that happened to me, it is primary--whether it is reported in a newspaper interview or appears in a letter; the fact that it wasn't sworn to on a Bible makes no difference.
...but a letter is of far more value than a newspaper article.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
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Dec 5, 2019
...but a letter is of far more value than a newspaper article.
Sometimes. Sometimes not. If, as the historian/writer, you choose to prefer letters to newspaper interviews, that is your business--but it doesn't negate either's status as a primary (or secondary) source.

I can write an untruthful letter as easily as I can tell the truth in an interview. 😣. This is where you earn that Pulitzer!
 

DanSBHawk

Captain
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May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
Uh-huh...she called those at the whipping "witnesses" simply because Norris claimed they were there. None of them ever gave an account of the alleged incident.
As Elizabeth Brown Pryor found, the details in the Norris account that were verified:
-The timing of when he ran away (17 months)
-The number of slaves at Arlington
-The name of the overseer
-The name of the jail
-The location they were taken after the punishment
-Where they were employed after the war
-Even the name of the constable who arrested them and was paid by Lee (the receipts still existing)

The Norris account is no less credible than Lee's version of the events. Slaves were no less credible than their masters.
 
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