By Katie Hall
Katie again. I can’t believe I am starting my third week already with the Lee Family Digital Archive; I feel like I just arrived at Stratford the other day. Time often seems to move peculiarly in the summer, though.
The work continues transcribing Lee family letters, but I find it engaging and enjoyable, if only occasionally tedious when I get stuck on a word. I liken it to puzzle-work; sometimes you have to stare at a word a really long time until it makes sense—or ask for help. Mostly at this point I am still going through correspondence from Robert E. Lee, although this is by no means a complaint. One recent and notable departure, however, was a letter from Lavinia Randolph Deas Mason to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee on the matter of the unexpected death of Charlotte Wickham Lee—the first wife of William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee—in December 1863. Fitzhugh was being held as a prisoner of war by Union soldiers during the time.
Two months after his wife’s death, in February 1864, Fitzhugh was finally released through a prisoner exchange. He had spent eight months imprisoned in New York, having been captured in Hickory Hill, Virginia while recovering from an injury sustained at the Battle of Brandy Station.
Among the documents I have looked at so far, I have found the letterbook photocopies of the Lee Family Papers from the Virginia Historical Society to be some of the more interesting in terms of diversity of content. The letterbook chronicles weekly, sometimes daily, letters written by Robert E. Lee and copied by his secretary. Their content ranges from rather innocuous subjects, such as responding to requests for opinions on literature, to speaking of tragedies among families and acquaintances, or the impoverishment “borne in silence” in Virginia and the Southern States after the war.
In other news, over the weekend, I attended Dr. Robert Weems’ lecture “Stratford under our Feet” on the rich paleontology one finds at Stratford Cliffs by visitors and geologists alike. I had read about the uniqueness of Stratford Cliffs for its geologic cache of marine and land animals dating from the Miocene era, but I had no idea over 90 species have so far been discovered!
After the lecture, everyone headed to the beach for the field portion of the event. We were incredibly fortunate with the weather, as it only began storming mid-afternoon; just enough time for everyone to come away with neat treasures. I had a blast, and I am happy to say I finally fulfilled my childhood mission of finding sharks’ teeth on a beach. I also came away with highlights of a scallop shell-imprinted rock and fossilized shark vertebra. Not bad for a first time.