By Katie Hall
I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July celebrations last week. I spent a lovely day with my parents and fellow barn-mate and friend, Amy, who is the Collections intern this summer. We all had a nice time at Stratford’s family fun festival. I particularly enjoyed listening to the period band Colonial Fare inside the Great House and seeing how delighted all the kids were to be driven around in Treakle’s colorful barrel train. Afterwards, we toured George Washington’s birthplace, where we saw two bald eagles; it was a rather patriotic day, complete with watching fireworks on Colonial Beach.
Adventures resumed on the weekend once more, as Amy and I wound through the terraced East Garden to find Elizabeth McCarty Storke’s grave (located near the brick wall in the garden, not far from the fountain) and wandered the grounds behind the Great House to the orangery, Payne cabin, and spring houses. Not wanting to retreat to the barn just yet, we decided to visit Westmoreland Berry Farm and picked blackberries.
As for transcription activities, I have finally reached the point where I’m starting to wrap up another folder of Robert E. Lee papers. For the past couple weeks, I have been steadily making my way through a decent stack of photocopied letters, the originals of which remain housed as part of a collection in Duke University’s Rubenstein Library. The full collection spans from 1749 to 1975 (including clippings and other printed materials after Lee’s death), although the folder of letters I transcribed were mostly from the late 1850s and early 1860s, during which times Lee had been stationed in Texas and then began his service in the Civil War.
Perhaps I won’t know for certain, but reading letters from Lee while he was in Texas, I sometimes got the impression it wasn’t his favorite place to be. Some of his hesitations, at least, grew from mounting concerns over his wife’s health and assuming management of the Arlington plantation after his father-in-law–George Washington Parke Custis–died in 1857. Lee cared a great deal about his family and their well being. Living so far away from them and unable to closely attend matters which affected their comfort and livelihood was difficult at times.
This is, however, not to say Lee’s letters were depressing or without intrigue. Lee served under Colonel A. S. Johnston in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Camp Cooper from 1855 onward. Lee and the other troops were tasked with protecting settlers braving the harsh frontier. Occasionally, accounts of attacks on settlers by marauders and Apache and Comanche Indians were discussed in his letters.
In keeping with the spirit of new frontiers and exploration, I have been given multiple friendly reminders there is a kayaking trip on the Potomac this Saturday at Stratford. I might relent and give it a try. See you there?