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Francis Lightfoot Lee, the fourth son of Thomas Lee, was born on the fourteenth day of October, 1734. His father for several years held the office of president of the king’s council of the provincial government of Virginia. He had several sons, all of whom were highly distinguished for their talents, and for the services which they rendered their country. Philip Ludwell, a member of the king’s council; Thomas Ludwell, a member of the Virginia assembly; Richard Henry, as the champion of American freedom; William, as a sheriff and alderman of London, and afterwards a commissioner of the continental congress at the courts of Berlin and Vienna; and Arthur as a scholar, a politician, and diplomatist.
Francis Lightfoot, the subject of the present memoir, was perhaps not less distinguished, although he had not the advantages, which were enjoyed by the eldersons, of an education at the English universities. His advantages, however, were not of a moderate character. He was placed under the care of a domestic tutor of the name of Craig, a gentleman distinguished for his love of letters, and for his ability to impart useful knowledge to those of whom he had the care. Under such a man, the powers of Francis Lightfoot rapidly unfolded. He acquired an early fondness for reading and mental investigation, and became well acquainted with the various branches of science and literature.
The fortune bequeathed him by his father rendered the study of a profession unnecessary. He, therefore, devoted himself for several years to reading, and to the enjoyment of his friends. He was a man, however, in whom dwelt the spirit of the patriot, and who could not well be neglected, nor could he well neglect his country, when the political troubles of the colonies began.
In 1765, he was returned a member of the house of burgesses from the county of Loudon, where his estate was situated. In this situation, he proved himself to be a gentleman of strong good sense and discriminating judgment; and to this office he was annually re-elected until 1772; when having become connected by marriage with a daughter of Colonel John Taylor, of the county of Richmond, he removed to that county, the citizens of which soon after elected him a member o[ the house of burgesses.
In 1775, Mr. Lee was chosen a member of the continental congress, by the Virginia convention. This was an eventful period in the annals of America. It was the year in which was shed the first blood in the revolutionary struggle. It was emphatically the year of “clouds and darkness,” in which indeed the hope of better days was indulged, but in which, notwithstanding this hope, “men’s souls were tried.”
Mr. Lee continued a member of congress until the spring of 1779. During his attendance upon this body, he seldom took part in the public discussions, but few surpassed him in his warmth of patriotism, and in his zeal to urge forward those measures which contributed to the success of the American arms, and the independence of the country. To his brother, Richard Henry Lee, the high honor was allotted of bringing forward the momentous question of independence, and to him, and his associates in that distinguished assembly, the not inferior honor was granted of aiding and supporting and finishing this important work.
As already noticed, Mr. Lee retired from congress in the year 1779. It was his wish to be exempted from public care, and in the pleasures of home to seek those enjoyments which were consentaneous to his health and happiness.
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This seclusion, however, he was not permitted long to enjoy. The internal condition of Virginia, at this time, was one of much agitation and perplexity. His fellow citizens, justly appreciating the value of such a man, summoned him by their suffrages to represent them in the legislature of Virginia. Although reluctantly, he obeyed the summons, and took his seat in that body. He was fond of ease, and of the pleasures of domestic life; still he was conscious of his obligations, and most faithfully discharged them. While a member of the continental congress, he had been characterized for integrity, sound judgment, and love of country. In his present office, he was distinguished for the same virtues.
He could not content himself, however, long in this situation. He became wearied with the duties of public life; and at length, relinquished them for the pleasures of retirement.
In this latter course of life, he not only enjoyed himself highly, but contributed greatly to the happiness of many around him. The benevolence of his disposition, and the urbanity of his manners, recommended him both to the old and the young, to the gay and the grave. The poor shared in his benevolence and advice. In his intercourse with his particular friends, he was uncommonly pleasing and instructive.
Mr. Lee, having no children to require his care and attention, devoted much of his time to the pleasures of reading, farming, and the company of his friends. His death was occasioned by a pleurisy, which disease about the same time, also, attacked his beloved wife, and terminated the life of both, within a few days of each other. It is said, that he had embraced the religion of the gospel, and that under its supporting hope and consolation, he made his exit in peace from the world.