On this day in history, on February 27, 1766, four brothers of the Lee family of Virginia signed the Leedstown Resolves in reaction to the British Parliament’s Stamp Act of 1765. This act in Leedstown, Virginia occurred approximately one year before the Lee brothers’ uncle, Philip Ludwell III, died in London. One of those brothers, William Lee, would marry Ludwell’s oldest daughter Hannah in 1769, and another, Richard Henry Lee, would introduce the resolution for Independence from Great Britain in Philadelphia in July 1776.
So what were the Leedstown Resolves? And for that matter, where was Leedstown?
Leedstown in Tidewater Virginia
Leedstown is a small town on the northern bank of the Rappahannock River in Tidewater Virginia. The Tidewater land north of the Rappahannock is known as the Northern Neck, and the land south of it is the Middle Peninsula. This was prime real estate in colonial Virginia.
Like many towns of the day, Leedstown was a place to ship tobacco from the Virginia colony to the mother country. In colonial times, a river ferry operated between Leedstown on the north bank and Layton’s Landing on the south bank of the Rappahannock. In fact, you can still drive on Layton’s Landing Road today.
It remains a quiet area of the country, with farms dotting the landscape, although these days you’re more likely to see soybeans and corn growing than tobacco. You can get an idea of the religious life of the colonists in those days by visiting the historic – and still used – Vauter’s Episcopal Church, just up Route 17 from Laytons.
The Leedstown Resolves
The Leedstown Resolves were authored by Richard Henry Lee and are recognized as a precursor to the revolutionary activity ten years later. This resolution declared allegiance to the sovereign but also the rights of the British (Virginia) subject, that “he cannot be taxed, but by consent of a Parliament.”
As we know it to be the Birthright privilege of every British subject (and of the people of Virginia as being such) founded on Reason, Law, and Compact; that he cannot be legally tried, but by his peers; that he cannot be taxed, but by consent of a Parliament, in which he is represented by persons chosen by the people, and who themselves pay a part of the tax they impose on others.
Article 5 of the Resolves stated that “Each associator shall do his true endeavor to obtain as many signers to this association, as he possibly can.” More than 100 men signed the resolution, including four brothers of George Washington. The Lee brothers were Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee (both future Signers of the Declaration of Independence), Thomas Ludwell Lee, and William Lee.
The Lees and Ludwells of Tidewater Virginia
The four Lee brothers who signed the Leedstown Resolves were, in fact, Ludwells as well. Their mother, Hannah Ludwell Lee, was an older sister of Philip Ludwell III. Richard Henry was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 and would have spent time at his uncle Phil’s houses at Green Spring Plantation and what is now known as the Ludwell-Paradise House in Williamsburg while on government business.
The two youngest brothers, William and Arthur, studied in Britain while their uncle Philip Ludwell lived in London with his three daughters, starting in 1760. A Lee sister, Alice Lee, lived with her three Ludwell cousins in London. As Alice’s biography on the Stratford Hall website states: Alice sold her “prospective inheritance to brother William for 40 pounds sterling, and left America in May 1760 to live with her maternal uncle, Philip Ludwell III, in England.” Alice’s future husband, William Shippen, would later become a Director General of Hospitals of the Continental Army.
The port town of Leedstown was representative of the life of Tidewater Virginia in those days, with intermarriage, travel, and commerce happening across the three peninsulas of Virginia. The Lees lived on the Northern Neck, families like the Ludwells lived on the southernmost Virginia Peninsula, and Arthur Lee would later live on the Middle Peninsula in the river town of Urbanna. Philip Ludwell III’s grandmother, Lucy Higginson, lived in the 1600s on the southern end of the Middle Peninsula and is buried at a church similar in style to Vauters.
William Lee, the Leedstown signer and son-in-law of Philip Ludwell III, and his cousin Lucy Ludwell Paradise, who lived most of her life in London, ended their days in the Williamsburg area. Both were buried in the graveyard of Jamestown Church on the Virginia Peninsula with their Ludwell grandparents, Philip Ludwell II and Hannah Harrison Ludwell, years after the independence that the Leedstown Resolves had prefigured had been achieved.