Tag Archives: Declaration of Independence

Reflection on Menokin Sleepover Conference by descendant of Northern Neck Enslaved

GUEST BLOGGER: TOM DUCKENFIELD, MENOKIN TRUSTEE
Menokin Trustees Tom Duckenfield and Ro King at the Menokin Sleepover Conference.

Last weekend, 23-24 September 2017, I had the fortune to partake in the Menokin Sleepover Conference from the unique perspective of a Menokin Trustee, as well as from the various perspectives of a descendant of Virginia Northern Neck African American slaves, free African Americans, and White slaveholders.

Featuring facilitators Frank Vagnone (One Night Stand) and
Joseph McGill (The Slave Dwelling Project) in their first joint project, the Conference fostered an incredible amount of dialogue and reflection about Menokin, the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife, Rebecca Tayloe Lee of Mount Airy Plantation.

After an authentic mid-19th century open-fire meal, Vagnone and McGill facilitated a lantern-lit discussion among the Conference participants about Menokin’s historic inhabitants; its current stewards; its mission, its intrepid melding of colonial architecture and modern glass structural building techniques; and its potential role as a catalyst of racial understanding, reconciliation, and unification.

Following the riveting discussion, several participants and I emulated Vagnone and McGill by pitching tents amidst the Menokin House ruins or in the nearby sward where the former Menokin slave dwellings once stood.  At first, my immediate impression was that I was just experiencing a familiar camping-out experience under a clear star-spangled sky, not unlike those of past scouting trips, school outdoor adventures, Army bivouacs, or family mountain getaways.

Tents pitched on the site where Menokin slave dwellings once stood.

As I gazed at the twinkling constellations and reacquainted myself with camping accoutrements, it suddenly dawned on me that this was not an ordinary camping experience at all.  Rather, the purpose was to contemplate what it would have been like to be an inhabitant or visitor in a Menokin slave dwelling or in the Menokin House.

Accordingly, via a time and memory conduit constructed by interlacing the “rings” of my family tree with www.ancestry.com DNA dendochronology, I traveled back in time to 1792 — the penultimate year of the second term of Northern Neck son President George Washington – and I began to imagine what several of my Northern Neck ancestors might have been doing then at Menokin.

Portion of Richmond County, Virginia 1818 “List of Free Negroes and Mulattoes” enumerating John Newman, emancipated in 1791 by Robert Carter III.

First, I conjured up the image of my 4th great-grandfather John Newman, who was born a slave in 1770 at Nomini Hall in neighboring Westmoreland County and freed in 1791 by Robert Carter III (1727-1804) as part of the latter’s manumission of more than 500 of his slaves.  There are references in peripatetic tutor Philip Vickers Fithian’s Diary about Robert Carter III and his visits to Menokin.

Still savoring his newly acquired freedom, my ancestor John Newman may very well have spent many nights visiting friends and relatives in the Menokin slave dwellings, an example of how many ante-bellum African American families — similar to today’s mixed status immigrant families — had members of mixed free and slave status.

Second, I thought of my fifth great-uncle Moses Liverpool, who was born in 1773 as a slave of Lt. Col. William Fauntleroy (1716 – 1793) on his “Old Plantation” in Naylors Creek, a short paddle ride up the Rappahannock River from Menokin, which is located along the shoreline of Cat Point Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock River.

Because Moses was described by the Fauntleroy family as “… a very smart, smiling fellow, who is a good cooper, a house carpenter, and  ‘a little acquainted’ with the ships’ carpenter business,” I imagined Moses might have spent a few night in the Menokin slave dwellings, perhaps having been hired out to Francis Lightfoot Lee to create or repair Menokin House’s interior woodwork or, alternatively, to build or repair the ships, casks, barrels, and hogsheads used to transport commodities produced at Menokin.

Third, I contemplated how my White slave-holding ancestor Henry Lee III (1756-1818) — my 2nd cousin, 8x removed and known as

Maj. Gen. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee.

“Lighthorse Harry” because of his daring in the Revolutionary War — might have spent an evening with his cousin Francis Lightfoot Lee.  Henry III’s great-grandfather, Henry Lee I, was a brother of Governor Thomas Lee (1690-1750), the builder of Stratford Hall in neighboring Westmoreland County, Virginia, and Governor Thomas Lee was the father of Francis Lightfoot Lee of Menokin.  Henry Lee III married his distant cousin Matilda, granddaughter of Governor Thomas Lee, niece to Francis Lightfoot Lee, and heiress to Stratford Hall.

On the canvas of my mind, I painted a picture of Henry Lee III dining at Menokin in 1792 with his cousin Francis Lightfoot Lee and Francis’ brother Arthur Lee (1740-1792), a physician and opponent of slavery in Virginia, who served as an American diplomat during the American Revolutionary War.  I considered that, among other topics, these cousins may have debated slavery and the tension and cognitive dissonance between the institution of slavery and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, which expresses:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Taken together, the fervent and introspective discussions of the Menokin Sleepover Conference participants, my own musings concerning how some of my racially diverse ancestors may have inter-related with Menokin, and the social, political, and economic issues revolving around it, Menokin occupies a singularly unique position.

Menokin can not only be the focal point and catalyst for preserving and rebuilding a national historic landmark, but also be the focal point, catalyst, and host of future conferences – a la the Aspen Institute — to foster discussions that can promote understanding and reconciliation to dissipate the long shadow of slavery by actualizing the shining ideals of the Declaration of Independence signed by Francis Lightfoot Lee and 55 other American patriots.

2017 Menokin Speaker Series – The Official Schedule

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MARCH 16

An American Silence: Walker Evans and Edward Hopper – documentation of common people their lives and places
Speaker: Jeffrey Allison
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

The photographer Walker Evans and painter Edward Hopper were part of the generation of American artists who tore themselves away from European ideals at the start of the 20th century. Join Jeffrey Allison as he explores these artists who celebrated America without filter focusing on common people in common lives and places. Within those scenes lie a powerful silence in which directness creates a visual anxiety as we wonder what has just happened and what will happen next.


APRIL 13

Geology of Menokin and Formation of the Chesapeake Bay
Speaker: Dr. Christopher “Chuck” Bailey, W&M
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

Chuck Bailey

Curiosity about the origins of the iron-infused sandstone of which Menokin is built has led Dr. Bailey on a deeper exploration of the geologic history of the Northern Neck and how it relates to the formation of the Chesapeake Bay.

 


MAY 18

Mapping the Indigenous Cultural Landscape

Speaker: Scott Strickland, St. Mary’s College, MD
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

Scott Strickland

The project was undertaken as an initiative of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay office to identify and represent the Rappahannock Indigenous Cultural Landscape between Port Royal/Port Conway and Urbanna. It was administered by the Chesapeake Conservancy and the fieldwork undertaken and report prepared by St. Mary’s College of Maryland.


JUNE 8

The Archaeology of Menokin
Speaker: David Brown, Fairfield Foundation
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

David Brown

Dr. David Brown and his colleague, Thane Harpole, have been the archaeologists of record at Menokin for over a decade. This session will incorporate an outdoor “Adventures in Preservation” program as well as an indepth look into the past, present and future archaeology at Menokin.


JULY 18

The Virginia Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Speaker: Robert Teagle, Historic Christ Church
11:45 – 1:45 | $25*

This lecture examines the history of the Declaration of Independence and its seven Virginia signers. How did the Declaration come to be written and what ideas did it express? What Enlightenment philosophers and theories influenced Jefferson as he crafted this remarkable document? What were the differences between Jefferson’s original manuscript and the one Congress adopted? Who were the seven Virginians who signed it, and what role did they play in the creation of the new nation? And how has the meaning and commemoration of the Declaration evolved since 1776?

Robert Teagle has been the Education Director & Curator at the Foundation for Historic Christ Church since 2000. He received an M.A. in American History from Virginia Tech and a B.A. in History from William and Mary.

*This lecture will take place at Ingleside Winery in Westmoreland County. Lunch is available by reservation and is included in the cost of the ticket.


AUGUST 17

Trees Up Close: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets
of Everyday Trees*
Speaker: Nancy Ross Hugo
4:00 – 6:00 | $15

Nancy Ross Hugo

Nancy Ross Hugo describes the joy of discovering unfamiliar features of familiar trees and how carefully observing seeds, catkins, flowers, resting buds, emerging leaves, and other small phenomena of ordinary backyard and roadside trees can provide insight into tree biology and reveal a whole new universe of tree beauty. She also shares what decades planting and observing trees has taught her about which trees make the best landscape investments and the importance of planting long-lived, legacy trees.

*This lecture will take place off-site due to the Smithsonian WaterWays Exhibit in the Menokin Visitor’s Center. Location TBD. A tree walk at Menokin will take place at the conclusion of the lecture.


SEPTEMBER 23-24

Menokin Sleepover Conference
Speakers: Frank Vagnone (One Night Stand) and Joseph McGill (The Slave Dwelling Project)

These two innovative and well-known historians and speakers will converge at Menokin for an extraordinary weekend of historical reflection, discourse and lessons on new ways to explore and experience historic places and the people who inhabited them.

More details about related programming will be shared as plans are solidified.

The best 2.5 minutes you will ever spend watching a video.

Have you watched this video? It doesn’t take long. Saving Menokin is important. This video tells you why. (Here’s a hint: there’s something in it for all of us.)

Don’t Forget Why We’re Celebrating This Weekend

Thanks, Frank.

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Menokin Road view of a summer sky

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Wheat field at Menokin
Wheat field at Menokin

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Silent wilderness
Silent wilderness

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

The grave of Francis Lightfoot Lee
The grave of Francis Lightfoot Lee

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The New “Descendants” of Francis Lightfoot Lee

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Menokin, home of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, served as a most fitting backdrop for this large gathering of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Francis Lightfoot Lee and his wife, Rebecca Tayloe Lee died without children of their own.  However, the newly chartered Rappahannock Chapter of the Virginia Society | Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) has changed all of that, claiming Frank as its honorary ancestor.

The Rappahannock Chapter is the first SAR chapter to be formed in

Michael Rawlings
Michael Rawlings
Virginia in 20 years. The intention of its organizer, Michael Rawlings of Tappahannock, VA, was to fill a void in this region where the closest practicing chapters are quite a distance away.

Over one hundred people attended the ceremony, with SAR leaders from both the state and the national level on hand to participate. There were also several members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Children of the American Revolution (CAR) present.

Menokin is pleased and honored to have been the host of this momentous occasion.

Thirteen men were inducted with a total of 17 initial charter members – and more than 40 additional men, many of whom were in attendance yesterday  are working on their research and applications.

New inductees to the Rappahannock SAR Chapter include: Back row:
New inductees to the Rappahannock SAR Chapter include:
Back row: Carl Strock, Clem Rawlings, Nathan Parker IV, Nathan Parker III, Mathew Parker | Front Row:  John Garrett, Luther Derby, William Croxton, Gregory Burkett, Wright Andrews

 

A Family Squabble on a Revolutionary Scale

Leedstown Resolutions Sowed Seed of Revolution
by Frank Delano

A spirited sibling squabble will highlight The Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society’s annual commemoration of the 1766 Leedstown Resolutions on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 10 a.m. at historic Yeocomico Church near Kinsale in Westmoreland County.

The famous resolutions were the first protest of “taxation without representation” and were directed to the British monarchy.  The document was a forerunner of the Declaration of Independence ten years later.

This year’s observance will feature interpreters portraying the disparate brothers Philip Ludwell Lee and Richard Henry Lee and their outspoken sister Hannah Lee Corbin — all of whom would have attended Yeocomico Church.

Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry (1732-1794) was the author of the Leedstown Resolutions.  Prior to their signing, he burned effigies of British tax officials at the Westmoreland courthouse.  Ten years later, he introduced the bill that became the Declaration of Independence.

Philip Ludwell Lee
Philip Ludwell Lee

Richard Henry’s oldest brother Philip (1727-1775) was no fan of insurrection. He was more interested in the profits from his thousands of acres, his race horses and entertaining his friends at Stratford Hall, which he beautifully renovated and expanded.

Hannah Corbin Lee
Hannah Corbin Lee

The Lee brothers’ sister Hannah (1728-1782) was known as an informed and outspoken activist.  After her first husband’s death, she lived happily unmarried to another man to avoid losing property left by her first husband. She was a staunch supporter of the Revolution.

There is no known record of a spirited conversation between these three strong-willed Lees, but it could have occurred after a service at Yeocomico Church or at Hannah’s nearby home.  (Their peace-making brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee, would probably have been trying to mediate his hot-tempered siblings!)

Come hear what they might have said about the embers that led to a new country forged in the fire of Revolution.

Yeocomico Church
Yeocomico Church (click image for link to Google Maps)

Yeocomico Church is located at 1283 Old Yeocomico Rd. Kinsale, VA 22488. To reach Yeocomico Church from Cople Highway (Rt. 202) at Carmel Church, take Sandy Point Road (Rt. 604) about two miles north. Turn left on Old Yeocomico Road (Rt. 606) and go a mile to the church. For additional information, contact Steve Walker at 804-472-3291 or yeocomshan@yahoo.com.

Francis Lightfoot Lee – Forgotten Founding Father?

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This man’s life-work was so inconspicuous, that his name would now be wholly forgotten, but for one thing- he signed the Declaration of Independence. Yet his life was a most useful and worthy one. It was a good and profitable voyage, though it left no phosphorescent splendors in its wake.– Mark Twain on Francis Lightfoot Lee, 1877

Excerpted from introduction to Francis Lightfoot Lee: Forgotten Revolutionary by Sarah L. Jones, Yale University (Class of 2006), 2004.

Francis Lightfoot Lee is what one might call a “forgotten revolutionary.” Described by his niece as the “sweetest of all the Lee race” and as possessing a temper
“as soft as the dove’s,” Lee was far from being the inconspicuous man that Twain claimed he was. Lee, his memory now nearly hidden beneath the rubble of his Virginia mansion, had a life that was “most useful and worthy,” the life of a patriot of the American Revolution.

Mark Twain on Francis Lightfoot Lee
Mark Twain on Francis Lightfoot Lee

Over one hundred years after Twain wrote his sketch of Francis Lightfoot Lee, Lee has nearly become “wholly forgotten,” and, as Twain was correct to note, Lee is solely remembered for his signature on the Declaration of Independence. Yet Lee has not been granted his proper place in history, for his involvement with the founding of the country lays not only in his signature on a document, but with thirty years of an active political life, a life in which he opposed British measures, sought independence, and served the nation through a number of committees as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Second Continental Congress, and the Virginia State Senate.

Lee was certainly not an “inconspicuous” man, nor was he merely “soft as a dove.” Rather, Lee was a true patriot, not only according to standards held by his contemporaries, but also to his own.

Francis Lightfoot Lee was born in 1734 to Thomas and Hannah Ludwell Lee in Westmoreland County on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Lee was reared at Stratford Hall Plantation, and like most male children of the Virginia planter class, he was educated by a private tutor at Stratford Hall and was well read in Classical literature, history and law.

In 1758, he took his seat as representative of Loudoun County to the Virginia House of Burgesses, having moved there to maintain his lands inherited from his father. During his time as a Burgess, Lee remained attentive to the political scene of not only Virginia, but also of the colonies. He became an opponent to taxation without representation and other British offenses, which he protested not only through personal letters, but also in signing his support to important documents, including the Westmoreland Resolves of 1766.

As a member of a committee appointed to protest British policies toward the colonies in 1768, Lee maintained an active role in opposition to the British. In 1769, Lee was married to Rebecca Tayloe, daughter of planter John Tayloe II, and moved to Richmond County to the Menokin Plantation. Having settled at Menokin, Lee was elected representative of Richmond County to the House of Burgesses. Lee continued to serve as a Burgess from Richmond County until elected as a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress in August 1775.

 

continental-congress-hero-HLee fully supported American Independence throughout most of his political career, signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Lee remained a member of Congress until 1779, serving on a variety of committees including the Board of War, Committee of Secret Correspondence, and other ad-hoc committees.

In 1779, Francis Lightfoot Lee retired from the Second Continental Congress due to the three-year limit that had since been imposed by the Revolutionary Government. In 1780, Lee again entered Virginia politics, having been elected to serve as a member of the Virginia Senate, until 1782 when he retired from politics. He did, however, remain interested in the political scene, and is purported to have supported the ratification of the Constitution.

In a letter to James Madison, George Washington wrote:

Francis L. Lee on whose judgement the family place much reliance, is decidely[sic] in favor of the new form [the Constitution] under a conviction that it is the best that can be obtained, and because it promises energy, stability, and tht [sic] security which is, or ought to be, the wish of every good citizen of the Union.