Menokin Visitors Guide

Timeline

Mark Twain Essay on Francis Lightfoot Lee

Quotes about Francis Lightfoot Lee

Watch a video to learn more about the history of Menokin


Native American Settlement
Before the Menokin plantation was ever developed, this area along Cat Point Creek (also called Rappahannock Creek) was home to the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. In 1608, Capt. John Smith recorded 14 Rappahannock towns on the north side of the River and its tributaries. The general plantation site was referred to as "Menokin" by the Rappahannock, which likely translates to "He gives it to me" in the tribe's Algonquian-based language. Francis Lightfoot Lee kept the name for his home. For more information on the Rappahannock Tribe, visit www.rappahannocktribe.org.

Construction of Menokin and Subsequent Decline
Menokin was built c. 1769 on the occasion of the marriage of Francis Lightfoot Lee and Rebecca Tayloe. Rebecca was the daughter of John Tayloe II, who built neighboring Mount Airy . John Tayloe II gave the couple the large plantation on Cat Point Creek, approximately five miles upstream from the Rappahannock River, and financed construction of the two-story stone Menokin and its dependencies. Soon after, Francis Lightfoot Lee joined the cause of American independence, serving in the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1779 and signing the Declaration of Independence (together with his brother Richard Henry Lee) and the Articles of Confederation. Both Francis Lightfoot and Rebecca Tayloe Lee died in the winter of 1797. Menokin was then owned by Rebecca's nephew John Tayloe III, who lived at Mt. Airy and later built the Octagon House in Washington, D.C. Between 1809 and 1819, John Tayloe Lomax lived at Menokin with his family. Lomax would later become the first Professor of Law at the University of Virginia. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Menokin passed hands several times and went into serious decline around 1935 when it lay, for the most part, vacant before coming into possession of The Menokin Foundation in 1995. Read more about the Foundation's plans for the conservation of Menokin.

Francis Lightfoot Lee
The full story of Francis Lightfoot Lee, and the mark that he made on both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the developing United States of America has not been told. Bits and pieces come from many sources – his letters, letters about him, comments by friends and relatives, and the fact that he was a signer of both the Westmoreland Resolves (Feb. 27, 1766) and the Declaration of Independence (1776). He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, first from Loudon, and then from Richmond County. He was in Philadelphia in 1776 as a Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congress, returning to Virginia in 1779. He served briefly in the Virginia Senate after that, but for the most part he was content to be at home at Menokin with his books and his farm and his beloved wife, Becky Tayloe. Research concerning the life and work of Francis Lightfoot Lee is an ongoing project of the Menokin Foundation. Read more in this short history of Francis Lightfoot Lee.

Architectural Significance
Although Menokin is now in ruin, a remarkable collection of Colonial architectural elements remains. Approximately 80 percent of Menokin's original materials have survived, including: original stones, brick and mortar; queen posts and dragon beams; intact framing assemblages; and the interior woodwork. In 1940, while the house and one outbuilding were still standing, the Historic American Buildings Survey produced detailed photography and comprehensive measured drawings of the property. In 1964, the original pen and ink presentation drawings for Menokin were discovered among some Tayloe family papers in the attic of Mount Airy . Four years later, as the house was in serious trouble of collapsing, the interior woodwork was removed by the owner and put into storage. The surprisingly intact woodwork is back at Menokin and can be viewed at the Foundation's King Conservation and Visitors Center . Menokin's dining room paneling is on loan to the Virginia Historical Society where it is now on display. In 1971, Menokin was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Read more about Menokin's interior woodwork.


Timeline


Mark Twain Essay on Francis Lightfoot Lee

From The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, I, no. 3 (1877).
Reprinted in Charles Neider, ed., "Mark Twain: Life as I Find It" (New York, 1961) .

Francis Lightfoot Lee
by Mark Twain

This man’s life-work was so inconspicuous, that his name would now be wholly forgotten, but for one thing – he signed the Declaration of Independence. Yet his life was a most useful and worthy one. It was a good and profitable voyage, though it left no phosphorescent splendors in its wake.

A sketch of Francis Lightfoot Lee can be useful for but one purpose, as showing what sort of material was used in the construction of congressmen in his day; since to sketch him is to sketch the average congressman of his time.

He came of an old and excellent family; a family which had borne an unsullied name, and held honorable place on both sides of the water; a family with a reputation to preserve and traditions to perpetuate; a family which could not afford to soil itself with political trickery, or do base things for party or for hire; a family which was able to shed as much honor upon official station as it received from it.

He dealt in no shams; he had no ostentations of dress or equipage; for he was, as one may say, inured to wealth. He had always been used to it. His own ample means were inherited. He was educated. He was more than that – he was finely cultivated. He loved books; he had a good library, and no place had so great a charm for him as that. The old Virginia mansion which was his home was also the home of that old-time Virginian hospitality which hoary men still hold in mellow memory. Over their port and walnuts he and his friends of the gentry discussed a literature which is dead and forgotten now, and political matters which were drowsy with the absence of corruption and “investigations.” Sundays he and they drove to church in their lumbering coaches, with a due degree of grave and seemly pomp. Week-days they inspected their domains, ordered their affairs, attended to the needs of their dependents, consulted with their overseers and tenants, busied themselves with active benevolences. They were justices of the peace, and performed their unpaid duties with arduous and honest diligence, and with serene, unhampered impartiality toward a society to which they were not beholden for their official stations. In short, Francis Lightfoot Lee was a gentleman – a word which meant a great deal in his day, though it means nothing whatever n ours.

Mr. Lee defiled himself with no juggling, or wire-pulling, or begging, to acquire a place in the provincial legislature, but went thither when he was called, and went reluctantly. He wrought there industriously during four years, never seeking his own ends, but only the public’s. His course was purity itself, and he retired unblemished when his work was done. He retired gladly, and sought his home and its superior allurements. No one dreamed of such a thing as “investigating” him.


Quotes About Francis Lightfoot Lee

.....He did no brilliant things, he made no brilliant speeches; but the enduring strength of his participation was manifest, his fearlessness in confronting perilous duties and compassing them was patent to all, the purity of his motives was unquestioned, his unpurchasable honor and uprightness were unchallenged (Mark Twain on Francis Lightfoot (Frank) Lee)

......that band of brothers, intrepid and unchangeable, who, like the Greeks at Thermopylae, stood in the gap, in the defense of their country, from the first glimmering of the Revolution in the horizon, through all its rising light, to its perfect day ( John Adams on Richard Henry, Thomas, Francis Lightfoot, William, and Arthur Lee)

...this is not a time for men of abilities with good intentions to be only spectators, if we can't do all the good, we cou'd wish, let us at least endeavour to prevent all the mischeif in our power. (FLL to Col. Landon Carter, October 21, 1775)

....is it possible that in the infancy of our rising Republic, two brothers (William and Arthur) of one family should represent...these United States at four of the principal Courts of Europe; and that two others of the same family (Richard Henry and Frank) should exercise the greatest acts of sovereignty in our great Council? (Robert Treat Paine of Massachusetts in 1779)

....He was calmness and philosophy itself (Arthur Lee of brother Francis Lightfoot Lee)

...The world seems crazy and we old people must scuffle with it as well as we can for our few days of existence (Francis Lightfoot Lee to brother William Lee in 1795)

....Thou sweetest of all the Lee race/ That ever adorned our shore ( niece Nancy Shippen of Francis Lightfoot Lee)

 


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