On October 18th, I am going to a lecture in Alexandria, Va., by Dr. Lee Shepard of the Virginia Historical Society, who will speak about the “Lee trunks.” Apparently the lecture is sold out now, having been mentioned yesterday in the Washington Times. From an old news release, one can get the gist of the story here about the lost trunks, a pretty neat tale…
Two steamer trunks full of travel journals, family photographs and letters belonging to Robert E. Lee’s oldest daughter have been found in an Alexandria bank vault. The trunks, which sat in the vault for at least 84 years, are believed to have accompanied Mary Custis Lee, the last surviving child of the great Confederate commander, on her trips abroad from 1870 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
In 2002 the trunks were found in the silver vault of the Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Co. on South Fairfax Street, where Miss Lee left them for safekeeping sometime before she died in 1918. For the past three years, VHS archivists have been inventorying and cataloging the contents of two wooden trunks. These trunks, discovered by Robert E. L. deButts, Jr., and E. Hunt Burke, contained letters, legal papers, journals, travel souvenirs, financial records, and smaller artifacts that were collected by Mary Custis Lee, the eldest daughter of General Robert E. Lee.
Examples of materials found in the Mary Custis Lee trunks include: a 1694 letterbook copy of a note from John Custis II; accounts from the 1760s and 1770s kept by George Washington concerning the his step-children; an 1824 letter from George Washington Parke Custis, the builder of Arlington House; an 1860 letter to Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, from Robert E. Lee concerning relations between Mexico and the United States; an 1872 letter from former Arlington House slave Selina Gray to Mary Randolph Custis Lee; a list of 266 African American slaves owned by John Parke Custis in 1766; and an 1863 order from Robert E. Lee, in his own hand, announcing the death of Civil War General Stonewall Jackson.
A photo of the trunks is at the VHS website, which absolutely forbids (!) anyone from posting the image on their website without specific permission, etc.