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Signers of the Declaration
Biographical Sketches

Francis Lightfoot Lee
Francis Lightfoot Lee

No less a patriot than his dynamic elder brother Richard Henry and his gifted younger brothers Arthur and William, Francis Lightfoot Lee preferred the uneventful life of a country squire to the public spotlight and chose to follow rather than to lead. Despite his shyness and weakness as a speaker, he exercised extensive political influence, took an active part in the Revolution, and signed both the Declaration and the Articles of Confederation.

Lee, a member of one of the most famous families in Virginia and U.S. history and the sixth son and eighth child of planter Thomas Lee, was born in 1734 at the family estate, Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Va. He was educated by a private tutor and never attended college. In 1750, upon the death of his father, he inherited Coton, an estate in Fairfax County. Seven years later, newly created Loudoun County absorbed Coton. At that time, the colonial legislature nominated him as Loudoun lieutenant. The next year, he moved to Coton and became trustee of the newly incorporated village of Leesburg, named after him or his brother Philip Ludwell, both local landowners. For the next decade, Francis Lightfoot represented the county in the House of Burgesses.

In 1769 Lee married socialite Rebecca Tayloe of Richmond County. The newlyweds resided at Mount Airy estate with Rebecca's parents for a few months until Menokin, a new home that Colonel Tayloe was building nearby for them, was completed. From then until 1774, Lee sat again with the burgesses.

Lee had joined the Revolutionary movement at an early date. From the time of the Stamp Act (1765) until the outbreak of war a decade later, he participated in most of the Virginia protests and assemblies. He rarely debated on the floor in Congress (1775-79), but often opposed the position of his brother Richard Henry, and served on the military and marine committees as well as that charged with drafting the Articles of Confederation.

In 1779, weary of office and longing for the peace and quiet of Menokin, Lee left Congress. Except for a few years in the State legislature, he abandoned public service altogether and lived quietly. In 1797, only a few months after the death of his childless wife, at the age of 62 he succumbed. Burial took place in the Tayloe family graveyard at Mount Airy.

Drawing: Detail from the lithograph "Signers of the Declaration of Independence," published in 1876 by Ole Erekson, Library of Congress.

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004