Lee as a Slaveholder: Reputable Primary Sources?

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I am not sure what the point of the Lee had some slaves whipped thing is. Slavery was legal. A whipping post set out front was the universally recognized signpost of a slave jail (slave trader) establishment. It was not only legal to have slaves whipped, it was the norm. Punishment ledgers kept by overseers indicate that slaves were beaten about once every three years on average. The point was, of course, not necessarily punishment as it was a way to intimidate. So, if Lee had paid to have some slaves beaten, it would have been legal & in no way remarkable in the society he lived in.
 

RobertP

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
As an interesting side note, the U.S. Army officially ended the practice of flogging in 1861 and Congress ended it for the Navy in 1862.
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Whether direct or indirect, whether accurate or not, the primariness of evidence remains. The term "primary evidence" refers to testimony given by someone with immediate knowledge of the incident.
There are some significant differences in that 1866 interview and what he told General Meade in 1863.

Norris, 1866: "...in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom..."

General Meade, September 1863: "[Norris] states that he left Richmond on Friday last, with a pass from General Custis Lee, to go through our lines via Culpepper."

And Norris didn't have to escape to gain his freedom. He was already free.

December 29, 1862:
"Know all men by these presents, that I, Robert E. Lee, executor of the last will and testament of George W. P. Custis deceased, acting by and under the authority and direction of the provisions of the said will, do hereby manumit, emancipate and forever set free from slavery the following named slaves belonging to the Arlington estate, viz: Eleanor Harris, Ephraim Demicks, George Clarke, Charles Syphax; Selena Grey and Thornton Grey and their six children Emma, Sarah, Harry, Anise, Ada and Thornton; Margaret Taylor, and her four children Dandridge, Jhon, Billy and Quincy; Lawrence Parks and his nine children- Perry, George, Amanda, Martha, Lawrence, James, Magdalena, Leano and William; Julia Ann Check and three children Catharine, Louis and Henry and infant of the said Catharine, Sally Norris and Len Norris and their three children Mary, Sally and Wesley....

And I do hereby release the aforesaid slaves from all and every claim which I may have upon their services as executor as aforesaid.
Witness my hand and seal, this 29th day of December in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred & sixty two
R E Lee (Seal)
Exr of G. W. P. Custis"
https://www.nps.gov/arho/learn/historyculture/lee-manumission-document.htm


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Scott1967

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
And there you have one man's word against another. Wesley Norris said it happened, but both times that the charges that he had whipped the slaves appeared in print during his lifetime, Lee denied it.
Privately , He never denied it in public , He could have took an oath just to stop all the speculation he was after all highly religious and so why didn't he?.

What was the punishment at the time for an escaped slave by Virginia Law?.

Quote:

It is re-enacted that if slaves are found notoriously guilty of going abroad at night or running away and lying out and cannot be reclaimed from such disorderly courses, it shall be lawful to direct every such slave to be punished by dismembering, or any other way not touching life.

Virginia State Law 1723

End Quote

Lee was a law abiding man , Did he break the law by not whipping them?.
 

Quaama

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2020
Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
As an interesting side note, the U.S. Army officially ended the practice of flogging in 1861 and Congress ended it for the Navy in 1862.

Ahhh, an enlightened nation.

Most Australian States still had such punishments on the Statute and did not abolish them from legislation until the 1970's.
However, the last official flogging (12 strokes of the 'cat o' nine tails) was carried out in 1957 [link].
There was however a 12-stroke birching (beaten with a birch rod, usually across the bare buttocks while the offender was tied to a wooden bench) carried out against a juvenile in 1962 [link].
Floggings of various sorts were common court punishments throughout the 19th century and birchings were not uncommon right through the 1930s [General details here].
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Robert E Lee is most closely associated with the horse Traveller but he actually rode another horse during large chunks of the war named Lucy Long. Lucy Long was a gift from JEB Stuart to Robert E Lee in 1862 and was preferred for her easy gait and temper compared to Traveller.

What I've never seen mentioned is that "Lucy Long" is a slang term. Most obviously in the form of the Minstrel song of the same name, "Lucy Long" or just "Lucy" refers in minstrelsy to sexually promiscuous black women. The song was published in 1842.

I jist come out afore you,
To sing a little song,
I plays it on the banjo,
And dey calls it Lucy Long.

CHORUS:
Oh take your time Miss Lucy,
Take your time Miss Lucy Long.
Oh take your time Miss Lucy
Take your time Miss Lucy Long.

Miss Lucy she is handsome,
And Miss Lucy she is tall,
To see her dance Cachucha
Is death to n*****s all.

Oh! Miss Lucy's teeth is grinning
Just like an ear ob corn,
And her eyes dey look so winning!
Oh would I'd ne'er been born.

I axed her for to marry
Myself de toder day,
She said she'd rather tarry
So I let her habe her way.
Pray &c.

If she makes a scolding wife
As sure as she was born
I'll tote her down to Georgia
And trade her off for Corn.

 

Texasdude555

Cadet
Joined
Jul 27, 2021
I am not sure what the point of the Lee had some slaves whipped thing is. Slavery was legal. A whipping post set out front was the universally recognized signpost of a slave jail (slave trader) establishment. It was not only legal to have slaves whipped, it was the norm. Punishment ledgers kept by overseers indicate that slaves were beaten about once every three years on average. The point was, of course, not necessarily punishment as it was a way to intimidate. So, if Lee had paid to have some slaves beaten, it would have been legal & in no way remarkable in the society he lived in.
People try to use this incident whether it happened or not to smear Lee. They take the biggest embellishments as absolute fact to make him look as bad as possible. It’s that simple.

This is called Presentism with a capital “P”
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
People try to use this incident whether it happened or not to smear Lee. They take the biggest embellishments as absolute fact to make him look as bad as possible. It’s that simple.

This is called Presentism with a capital “P”
The assumption is that common & ordinary slave holding made Lee a bad person. Within the society that Lee chose to defend there is nothing unusual about the behavior described. At a fundamental level, Lee went to war to defend the right of white peoples to hold other human beings as property. He did not get to exclusively represent the plantation were Shirley Temple sang & danced; he owned the whole institution, horrors & all.
 

DanSBHawk

Captain
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
There are some significant differences in that 1866 interview and what he told General Meade in 1863.

Norris, 1866: "...in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom..."

General Meade, September 1863: "[Norris] states that he left Richmond on Friday last, with a pass from General Custis Lee, to go through our lines via Culpepper."

And Norris didn't have to escape to gain his freedom. He was already free.
Not necessarily significant. Norris was returning to Richmond from working at a different location. He needed a pass to travel.

Custis Lee gave him a pass to travel to Richmond. Norris used the pass to travel by rail to Orange Courthouse. He had to get another pass at Orange Courthouse, and then he walked to Culpeper.

Why would Custis Lee give him a pass to go to the Union army, and provide intelligence on CS troop numbers?
 

Scott1967

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
People try to use this incident whether it happened or not to smear Lee. They take the biggest embellishments as absolute fact to make him look as bad as possible. It’s that simple.

This is called Presentism with a capital “P”
So why didn't Lee deny it in Public and end all speculation my post 384 which nobody seems to want to answer.

Virginia State Law is what Lee would have followed by the book

All other comments in this forum are people defending Lee and dismissing Norris as a fraud and yet we have eyewitness accounts not just from Norris but others who escaped with Norris and by Virginia State Law they needed to be punished or as I have said previously did Lee break the law by not having them punished?.

A simple oath on the holy book would have ended all the speculation but Lee was guilty that's why he never took it and in his own snobbish behaviour deemed it unnecessary simply stating to a few people in private that he never whipped any slaves and I believe him he paid to have done instead.

For a man who abided by the Law in Virginia I find it perfectly reasonable that Lee would have punished slaves for escaping how else are you going set examples and stop other slaves from doing the same , Lee thought he had done nothing wrong and simply followed what was the Law at the time.
 
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Texasdude555

Cadet
Joined
Jul 27, 2021
The assumption is that common & ordinary slave holding made Lee a bad person. Within the society that Lee chose to defend there is nothing unusual about the behavior described. At a fundamental level, Lee went to war to defend the right of white peoples to hold other human beings as property. He did not get to exclusively represent the plantation were Shirley Temple sang & danced; he owned the whole institution, horrors & all.
That was not the primary motivation of the Confederacy, they did not fight and die for the right to enslave blacks. That was a right that was not threatened in the South before the war. The question was over slavery’s expansion into the territories. Many did not like slavery as an institution including Lee who detested it, but they simply did not know what to do with it.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
That was not the primary motivation of the Confederacy, they did not fight and die for the right to enslave blacks. That was a right that was not threatened in the South before the war. The question was over slavery’s expansion into the territories. Many did not like slavery as an institution including Lee who detested it, but they simply did not know what to do with it.
My slaveholding relations would have laughed out loud at such a statement. As Alexander Stephens said, the CSA was the only government in the history of the world founded on slavery. Read the official Mississippi State secession statement,.. preserving slavery is the only reason given. To say that the CSA was created for anything other than “…to guarantee the right to own a human being as property.” Is to ignore everything my family went to war to preserve.
 

Scott1967

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
That was not the primary motivation of the Confederacy, they did not fight and die for the right to enslave blacks. That was a right that was not threatened in the South before the war. The question was over slavery’s expansion into the territories. Many did not like slavery as an institution including Lee who detested it, but they simply did not know what to do with it.
That's not true either Lee had ample opportunities to practice was he preached but didn't.

The slaves he inherited could have been set free but were not until he had profited from them and then they were only set free because of a date clause without that clause Lee would have kept them no doubt.

He could of condemned the racial injustice in the South after the war but he didn't turning a blind eye to what was happing.

He was even supportive of bringing in cheap Irish labour to replace Black labour even encouraging said Blacks to go North.

He never supported the idea of the black vote and ignored white supremist violence never once speaking out against the perpetrators which even Forrest did.

The myth of this kindly gentle caring man is a complete sham he was undoubted a man of the times in the South with religion in Lee's case the Episcopal Church making a big impact on his views of slavery and race both of which viewed the blacks in a negative way of thinking.

Any caring decent human being who truly believed in god would have released the Custis slaves from day 1 but as we see Lee chose profit over human decency and therefore is a glaring example of hypocrisy at the highest level imho.
 

RobertP

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
“He was even supportive of bringing in cheap Irish labour to replace Black labour even encouraging said Blacks to go North.” ???
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
That's not true either Lee had ample opportunities to practice was he preached but didn't.

The slaves he inherited could have been set free but were not until he had profited from them and then they were only set free because of a date clause without that clause Lee would have kept them no doubt.

He could of condemned the racial injustice in the South after the war but he didn't turning a blind eye to what was happing.

He was even supportive of bringing in cheap Irish labour to replace Black labour even encouraging said Blacks to go North.

He never supported the idea of the black vote and ignored white supremist violence never once speaking out against the perpetrators which even Forrest did.

The myth of this kindly gentle caring man is a complete sham he was undoubted a man of the times in the South with religion in Lee's case the Episcopal Church making a big impact on his views of slavery and race both of which viewed the blacks in a negative way of thinking.

Any caring decent human being who truly believed in god would have released the Custis slaves from day 1 but as we see Lee chose profit over human decency and therefore is a glaring example of hypocrisy at the highest level imho.
Well...as much as I am convinced that your point of view is absolutely correct and moral -
and as much as it would be a matter-of-course to expect any person today to act or to have acted that way

...it is maybe a bit much to be expected from a white Southerner born in 1802.

A lot of people felt quite uneasy with the idea of racial equality then -
#1...and especially the idea of black vote seemed even to Abraham Lincoln in 1864 a strange and rather inacceptable idea. When such was considered for Union controlled Louisiana he could imagine to give the vote to certain prominent leaders of the black community and maybe some troopers of the US coloured troops (who distinguished themselves with outstanding performance) - but was far from granting universal black vote.

#2 Regarding Lee ´s position after the war: we are talking about just 5 years here
and a time where Lee generally refrained from any public declarations -
fearing this might be more damaging than doing any good
(to himself - the idea of legal prosecution for his siding with the Confederacy was not universally discounted -
but also in general as any declaration of the former leading confederate general would provoke a public sensation and debate - where a lot of people would choose sides
and hence the whole affair could very rapidly get aggressive, hot-tempered and produce incalculable results).

#3 Of course Lee could have freed the Custis slaves on day 1 - but why should he have done that?
He was of course not an abolitionist - and the situation of the slaves at Arlington was quite comfortable in comparision to the situation elsewhere in the South: there was generally no hard labour to do (as Arlington produced no cash crops), there were no sales of people „down the river“, the slaves had a comparable great latitude visiting the market in Washington quite liberally and being able to sell their own products there without any further controls or the need of explanation.
Of course...WE would regard such an existence as absolutely insufferable as it was far from a life in freedom - but a Southerner like Lee - and even an average american of that age would most probably regard the situation of the Custis slaves as quite agreeable.
And it should be noted that Lee had neither experience with dealing with - nor felt he a close relation to the Custis slaves - they were part of a difficult and financially uncomfortable inheritance he tried to entangle without any financial loss to his family.

#4 The myth of this kindle gentle caring man - is of course a myth. Absolutely correct. Lee was rather a meticulous, strict person who always tried to control situations - but he was also a principled person and tried to act in a way that nobody would (or could) regard as selfish, careless or immoral.
Considered what was regarded as morale and responsible behaviour then (!) he solved the matter of the Custis slaves quite commendable -
out of OUR present perspective there is of course A LOT to be missed to speak of morale behaviour....

I think Lee gets a lot of bashing because people are still trying to tear down the marble statue that Southerners made out of him for decades after the war...
but I think that only very few people today are still adhering to such an perception of Lee...
we can now rather clearly perceive and realise his personality....

- and painting him as unhuman or despotic would seem - at least to me - to be a distortion....
 
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Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
My slaveholding relations would have laughed out loud at such a statement. As Alexander Stephens said, the CSA was the only government in the history of the world founded on slavery. Read the official Mississippi State secession statement,.. preserving slavery is the only reason given. To say that the CSA was created for anything other than “…to guarantee the right to own a human being as property.” Is to ignore everything my family went to war to preserve.
As much as you may be right with your essential point (albeit it could be challenged in it´s one-dimensionality and rigour) -
I would dare to give you a demerit for your way of argumenting.

@Texasdude555 could just reply that HIS confederate relations would have laughed out loud at YOUR statement -
as THEY fought for states ´ rights (for example) - and to claim other motives would ignore everything HIS family went to war for....

Where shall this lead to?
 

Scott1967

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
it is maybe a bit much to be expected from a white Southerner born in 1802.
I quite agree their is no doubt Lee was a stand up law abiding honourable gentleman in Southern society a society based on the English class system to a certain extent with Lee at the very top.
and the situation of the slaves at Arlington was quite comfortable in comparision to the situation elsewhere in the South
A slave is a slave I'm sure they never viewed themselves as being comfortable , Lee broke up families and hired out slave labour
an average american of that age would most probably regard the situation of the Custis slaves as quite agreeable.
I would presume nobody cared both North and South apart from the more enlightened people.

I often hear the saying that Southerners were just transplanted Englishmen and I disagree with this , By the time of the war of 1812 the British accepted the fact that Slavery was fundamentally wrong and a moral stain on the world remember this is the world super power of the time spending its treasury and resources to stop the international slave trade.

I think Britain had more in common with the North than the South who by this time had formed its own unique way of living and seemed to be getting more and more isolated from the rest of the world however this didn't stop Britain buying cheap cotton or sugar from the South or Caribbean so some double standards were at work.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2019
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
I'm pretty sure I know which one you are talking about. His accounts have been refuted. For one, the woman in the story who was supposedly stripped and whipped is the sister of Mary Lee's personal slave. The Lees held a wedding for her in their home. When Lee told Mary she needed to abandon Arlington, she left Selina in charge of the home. Selina fought like a tiger to protect it and the personal property and protested to the Union commander when soldiers started stealing everything of value including many things that belonged to George Washington. I doubt she would have given a fig about it if Lee had brutalized her sister.

In addition, some of the dates are off in his statements. Plus they don't jive with the court documents of what the judge decreed in settling the will. A lady historian has researched this extensively and picks his story apart pretty thoroughly with evidence.

I read the book published by the slave who accompanied Lee in the war and later became a minister, Rev. Wm Mack. One thing that struck me as kind of sad and funny was when William killed Lee's pet hen that he kept because he liked a fresh egg for breakfast. Lee was going to entertain some generals for supper, but all William had to make food was flapjacks, so he killed Lee's pet hen and made chicken dinner. Lee said nothing during dinner, but cornered William later and asked him where he got the chicken for that fine dinner. He admitted he killed his hen. Lee got a tear in his eye because he grieved over the death of a hen or a soldier and told William sadly, that he was very disappointed and he was just going to have to tell Mary what he had done.

Lee's preferred method of dealing with recalcitrant slaves was to send them elsewhere. The slaves at Arlington could read and they seldom broke up families if it could be helped. This is in records, not sentimental drivel.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2019
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.

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.
Lee wrote letters to editors long before the war opposing slavery. This is a matter of record regardless of what was taught in church, his feelings are published.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2019
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.

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.
The terms of the will were that the slaves were to be freed not sold regardless of what their value was. As soon as the property was solvent and the terms of the will fulfilled, he was to free the slaves. Unfortunately, Lee's father-in-law was bat-**** crazy and had spent huge sums of money on insane projects and Arlington was severely indebted and the plantation was in terrible shape. Lee had to take off time from the military just to get it functioning again as a farm. Once the debts were paid, the slaves were freed.
 
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