Stratford Hall

483 Great House Road, Montross, Westmoreland County, Virginia

Completed in 1738, for Colonel Thomas Lee (1690-1750), Governor of Virginia, and his wife Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701-1750). Lee owned over 16,000-acres in Virginia and Maryland. In 1717, he purchased this plot on which he built Stratford Hall - a spectacular position high on the ancient cliffs overlooking the Potomac River in the Northern Neck of Virginia. It is perhaps best remembered as home to six generations of the Lee family and the birthplace of the Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate Army, General Robert E. Lee, but a series of scandals saw it sold out of the family in 1822, before passing into the hands of the very same woman whose name had consistently been at the center of each scandal! Today, Stratford is open to the public....

This house is best associated with...

Thomas Lee

Colonel Thomas Lee, Governor & President of the Council of Virginia


Philip Ludwell Lee

Colonel Philip Ludwell Lee, of Stratford Hall, Virginia


Matilda Ludwell Lee

Mrs "Divine Matilda" (Lee) Lee, of Stratford Hall, Virginia


Henry Lee III

Major-General "Light Horse Harry" Lee III, 9th Governor of Virginia


Henry Lee IV

Major "Black Horse Harry" Lee IV, of Stratford Hall, Virginia


William Clarke Somerville

Major William C. Somerville, of "Montalbino" Maryland; U.S. Minister to Sweden


Henry Dent Storke

Henry D. Storke, of Stratford Hall, Virginia


Elizabeth McCarty

Mrs "Betsy" (McCarty) Storke, of Stratford Hall, Virginia


Richard Henry Stuart

Dr Richard H. Stuart, M.D., of Stratford Hall, Westmoreland Co., Virginia


Lydia Ann Marmaduke

Mrs Lydia Annie (Marmaduke) Stuart


Work started on Lee’s Georgian "Great House" (as it was traditionally called) in 1730. On its completion some eight years later, the mansion stood over two stories, constructed of red brick and set in an ‘H’ plan surrounded on each of its four corners by attending outbuildings, a coach house, and stables. The bricks used in the construction were made on site by slaves and the timber came from the surrounding virgin forests.

The house is comprised of 18-rooms with 16-fireplaces. The Great Hall which connects the two sides of the ‘H’ is considered to be one of the greatest surviving rooms from the American Colonial era. Authentic and unusual furnishings still seen today include “a horse-hoof foot” table in the Dining Room; a 17th century clock with only an hour hand (clearly quite sufficient for the day-to-day needs of the Colonial plantation owner!); and, the hand-carved crib of General Robert E. Lee found in the “Mother’s Room” where four generations of the Lee family were born - and in which he was born in 1807.

After Thomas Lee died in 1750, Stratford was inherited by his eldest son, Colonel Philip Ludwell Lee, who expanded the plantation to 6,600-acres. He replaced the wooden stairs leading to the entrances with stone staircases, and the door on the river side of the house now opened up onto a porch where dinner guests could dance under the stars. Philip was an enthusiastic host and had a band made up of slaves and indentured servants. He also had a passion for racehorses (importing ‘Dotterel’ from England) and enlarged the stables.

"The Divine Matilda" & "Light-Horse Harry"

After Philip’s death in 1775, Stratford was taken over by his eldest daughter, Matilda Ludwell Lee (1764-1790), known as “the Divine Matilda” for her reputed beauty. She married her second cousin, Major-General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III, 9th Governor of Virginia. But barely six-years later - at the tender age of 26 - she died and left her husband a life interest in the Stratford Hall plantation.

Three years after Matilda's death, Harry married Anne Hill Carter (1773-1829) of the Shirley Plantation and they were the parents of the famous General Robert E. Lee who was born at Stratford in 1807. But, by that time, Harry was in financial difficulties and soon after the future General was born, he was forced to serve a two-year term in debtor’s prison and in the winter of 1810 his wife and children left for Alexandria, Virginia.

Robert E. Lee had only spent his first four years at Stratford Hall, yet he remembered it fondly for the remainder of his life. During the Civil War, he wrote to his wife,
In the absence of a home I wish I could purchase Stratford. That is the only place I could go to, now accessible to us, that would inspire me with feelings of pleasure and local love. You and the girls could remain there in quiet. It is a poor place, but we could make enough cornbread and bacon for our support and the girls could weave us clothes. I wonder if it is for sale and at how much.
Misfortune & Scandals of "Black Horse Harry"

In 1818, Light Horse Harry died of injuries sustained while trying to protect a friend during the riots in Baltimore that preceded the War of 1812. Stratford Hall now passed to his eldest son by the Divine Matilda, Major Henry "Black Horse Harry" Lee IV (1787-1837), who moved in with his wife, Anne McCarty. Even though Anne and her younger sister were considered to be the richest heiresses in Westmoreland County, financial woes still continued to plague the Lee family. Misfortune added to their misery when in 1818 their only child died aged-2 and to stave off the grief, Anne became addicted to morphine.

The bad situation was made significantly worse when in consequence of his wife's grief, it was discovered that Black Horse Harry was having an affair with her younger sister, Betsy, who was living with them as their ward. Not only that, Betsy had become pregnant with his child. Although there is no evidence that the child was born, that scandal - as if things weren't bad enough - was cranked up to another level when it transpired that Harry had misappropriated a portion of his ward's trust fund to pay for the upkeep of Stratford Hall! And, just as no-one thought matters could get any worse, it was revealed that in an attempt to conceal the misappropriation, Harry had attempted - albeit unsuccessfully - to have Betsy quickly married off to a thoroughly unscrupulous suitor!

The Shrewd Major Somerville

In the ensuing scandal and after legal action was taken against Black Horse Harry by the outraged McCarty family, Stratford was sold in 1822 to his friend, the shrewd Major William C. Somerville of "Montalbino" who had already won another plantation in a game of dice with his brother-in-law! But, for all his shrewdness, Somerville’s life was brought to an early end just two years later in 1824 while staying with the Marquis de Lafayette at the Chateau de la Grange-Bleneau in France. Stratford was then to be passed to his heirs, but they discovered gambling debts incurred by Black Horse Harry still encumbered the estate. Stratford was foreclosed in 1828 and then sold at auction for $11,000 to Henry Dent Storke (1796-1844), of ‘the respectable Storke family’ of Westmoreland County.

Betsy Storke & the Stuarts

That it fell into the hands of the Storke family was not a coincidence: Henry Storke had been persuaded to purchase Stratford by his wife, none other than the very same Betsy McCarty (1800-1879) who had been at the center of all the scandal that - through no fault of her own it would appear - brought down Black Horse Harry and his ancestral home! Widowed in 1844, it was Betsy who presided over Stratford throughout the Civil War (when General Lee had longed to live a simple life here) and she alone kept the plantation operational after peace was declared. She died here in 1879 and is buried here with her husband in a memorial in keeping with the architecture of the house.

Having no children of her own, in her will Betsy left Stratford to her grand-nephew, Dr Richard H. Stuart, who was married to Lydia Ann Marmaduke. In 1929, their son, Charles Edward Stuart, sold Stratford Hall to the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation. The house was extensively restored in the 1930s when it was lit electrically for the first time.

Stratford Today

Stratford Hall faces south and is approached by a 1,700-foot avenue of tulip poplars. The same entrance drive now leads to a large, modern visitor’s center and a museum containing artefacts belonging to the Lee family, including General Lee’s handwritten farewell orders to his Confederate forces. Oyster-shell paths in the garden lead to the furnished coach house and stables containing 18th and 19th century coaches. One of the trails leads to a spectacular cliff-top view over the Potomac River and a working mill where corn, barley, oats, and wheat are grown just as they were when Thomas Lee first built it. The house is open to the public all year round, except Christmas Day.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 27/11/2018 and last updated on 13/06/2021.


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Phillip's ancestor, Thomas Lee, owned Stratford Hall