George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Lee, Jr., 22 May 1799

From Henry Lee, Jr.

Alexa[andria] 22d may [1799]

dear General

I have waited here two weeks cheifly to try to finish my engagement with you—But all my endeavors are vain—I shall never recede from my exertions till I do accomplish the end, for no event of my life has given me more anguish.

I would if you consider yr sale injurious rather relinquish the contract & give up the payments made, than to be the instrument of damage to you—The loss of money I am used to, the loss of mental quietude I cannot bear, & pained as I am, I wish to regain tranquility.

Every conversation I hold with you on the subject furnishes additional matter of regret to me—Till then I can close the contract I must avoid their repetition—this I am sure notwithstanding the present & general distress, I shall be able to do in the Course of the summer.1

In June I return here for that purpose.

Respecting the military appointment which you did me the honor to consult me upon I have not been able to do any thing satisfactory.

I beleive Byrd, Baytop and Campbell (the two last are Majors in the ten Regts) will best fill the commissions of Colonels. Thos Turner & Archd Randolph are well calculated for the cavalry & ought to command troops. Aylette Lee would make an excellent Captain if reformed; rejected as he was by the senate he had become melancholy & melancholy brought him to the bottle—I beleive he may be considered as restored now.2

I mentioned to Captain Thornton the report which reached yr ears with a hope of arresting his progress in a course which must lead to his ruin—His respect for you will I hope ⟨illegible⟩ the tendency which has been attached to his character by rumour.3 with the highest respect & regard I remain yr sincere friend & ob. st

H. Lee


1The “conversation” was held when Lee was at Mount Vernon on 9 May; its subject was Lee’s inability to make his payments on the Dismal Swamp land that he had bought from GW (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:346; see also Lee to GW, 28 Feb. 1799, n.2).

2Byrd is probably Col. Francis Otway Byrd (1756–1800), collector of the port of Norfolk who had been a lieutenant colonel of dragoons during the Revolution. In the list of Virginia officers that James McHenry sent to GW on 21 May, James Baytop of Gloucester County is listed as a major in the 7th and William Campbell as a major in the 8th Infantry Regiment. For reference to the appointment for Thomas Turner, see GW to Bushrod Washington, 5 May 1799, n.1. For Archibald C. Randolph, see GW to James McHenry, 7 April (second letter), 23 April, and to Daniel Morgan, 10 April. Lee wrote GW from Richmond on 11 July to make another recommendation: “Mr Wm Randolph [born c.1769] of Cumberland son to the late Colo. Thomas M[ann] Randolph & son in law to the late governor [Beverley] Randolph [1739–1797] is desirous of being accepted as Captain of Cavalry in the eventual army. His capacity to discharge the dutys of that office I beleive will be universally acknowledged his attachment to govt has been manifested on every occasion which has presented an opportunity & especially in the late elections, & his personal courage is indubitable” (DLC:GW). Capt. William Aylett Lee was the son of Thomas Ludwell Lee and Mary Aylett Lee. Lee did not receive an appointment at this time. For Lee’s court-martial several years earlier, see GW to Henry Knox, 14 July 1794 (DLC:GW).

3When writing on 12 Aug. 1799 to Presly Thornton, whom at GW’s request Charles Cotesworth Pinckney had made an aide-de-camp, GW betrays no awareness of Thornton’s having problems.

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