By Katie Hall
On Saturday, I had both good weather and opportunity to go on one of the trails Stratford offers. After either being rained out or having to travel on previous weekends, the universe finally granted me a trail day.
Being up for a challenge and curious, I went down Mill Pond Trail, a moderate level hike that curves around its namesake. My shoes only got a little muddy, but it was worth braving the bugs and (occasional) poison ivy for all the unexpected sights: dozens of baby North American toads (no bigger than a dime) hopping through the underbrush, Indian pipes poking out of the ground, and a golden eagle and great blue heron taking flight together from the water.
Five weeks in already—time flies!—I believe I have now transcribed just over seventy letters from Robert E. Lee and his family. Most of those letters have been published on the Lee Family Digital Archive; a handful are queued and will be uploaded soon.
One thing I’ve learned is you never know quite what to expect when starting a new document. The other day, I came across a poem written by Margaret Junkin Preston, known in her time as Poet of the Confederacy, or Poetess of the South. Rather sadly, it was an elegy for Eleanor Agnes Lee, who died in 1873 from what appeared to have been typhoid fever.
Margaret Preston was friends with the Lee family. They met in Lexington, Virginia, after Margaret moved from Pennsylvania with her family when her father, Reverend George Junkin, accepted the presidency of Washington College in 1848.
Not everything is so serious (although lesson #2 is to expect at least one dire circumstance in a day of transcription). When reading personal letters, you realize some aspects of life cross easily over time. A favorite letter of mine is one from Robert E. Lee, Jr., dated 1866 February 8, in which he is writing to his sister Agnes. Then a bachelor, Rob describes to her, quite proudly, how well he is taking care of himself on the Romancoke property he inherited. By his account, he tidies his own room, makes his own bed, and even prepares his own eggs and oysters in the kitchen—I wonder how many brothers would be able to honestly claim that!
I am looking forward to July 4th at Stratford next week. My family is coming over to visit and have fun during the annual Lees and Independence: Family Fun Festival. They have also been excited to go down to the beach and try their luck at fossil hunting, so I can’t wait to show them all the neat things they can find.