- Virginia Johnson
On Sunday, April 24, 2005, the parade of 19th-century-era coaches came again to historic Stratford Hall, once home to two signers of the Declaration of Independence, a Revolutionary War hero, and Robert E. Lee. The triennial event is a major fundraiser for the National Historic Landmark in Westmoreland County.
Rain or shine, from 9 to 5, the coaches came as they have every three years for the past thirty. The 2005 program included some interesting sidelights: a tilting ring competition, an 18th-century style colonial hunting exhibition by the Rappahannock Colonial Heritage Society (not mounted), demonstrations by the Ashland Bassets and the Farmington Beagles, a Windsor furniture-making exhibit, and special appearance by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales. Stratford's Great House was also open for tours.
To add to the fun, there was a tailgate competition with awards in three categories: "Most Elegant," "Most Tempting Cuisine," and "Most Humorous." Visitors were able to purchase food and drink on the grounds, and free refreshments were provided for the Friends of Stratford in a tent on the Oval.
Stratford is fortunate to own two carriages that were used by the Marquis de Lafayette during his triumphal American tour in 1825. The yellow landaulette, made by the coach maker Leslie in London c. 1800, was imported by the Patroon of Albany as a wedding present for his daughter. Its coat of arms, three fish and three crowns, are reputed to be those of the Visscher family. It was used by Lafayette during his time in Albany.
The green coach was owned by General John Hartwell Cocke of Bremo in Fluvanna County and was given to Stratford by his descendents. As the Marquis traveled from county to county, he changed coaches frequently so that many distinguished citizens might have the honor of escorting him. Lafayette rode the green coach through part of Virginia on his last visit to Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. General Cocke is said to have dashed across Fluvanna at such a speed that the next delegation was unprepared to meet him. He sometimes drove four spirited black stallions and was not altogether sympathetic to his more timid passengers' misgivings. Their great age and historical significance make it unwise to put them to use these days, but both coaches are on display in Stratford's Coach House.
In the 19th century, before the coming of railroads, stage coaches were the only public means of transportation overland. 19th-century Fredericksburg had a coach factory, and the 1885 business directory lists three harness makers. After trains became established, coaching became more of a sport for the affluent than a necessity. There many excellent details, including anecdotes and engravings, to be found in Stage Coach and Tavern Days by Alice Morse Earle. This account, which traces to colonial times, feels less removed than modern histories perhaps because it was written in 1900 when coaches were still in use in remote areas.
If you are new to the world of horse-drawn vehicles, this list of coaching terms may demystify some of its terminology:
Clydesdale: a heavy draft breed developed in 19th-century Scotland. Known for its high-stepping often white "feathered" legs, Clydesdales are strong, gentle, agile, and can be used for coaching, farm work, or dressage.
Dog Cart: used for informal driving in the country. May have two or four wheels.
Hackney: a high-stepping breed of horse or pony, specifically bred to perform well in harness. Developed in 18th-century England.
Meadowbrook Cart: a type of two-wheeled road cart built on Long Island
Park Drag: a private coach, similar in design to the road coach, but made of lighter materials. Its rear seat was used by grooms in livery rather than passengers. Used for pleasure driving, often to racecourses, polo matches or used today at meets of the Coaching Club.
Phaeton: first appeared in France in the 18th century. These sports cars of four-wheeled carriages were used for pleasure driving.
Road Coach: a public vehicle that carried passengers or mail on a scheduled, appointed route. Of heavy, sturdy construction, the better to tackle indifferent to awful road conditions, the road coach was often named and would have its destinations posted on the outside. Drawn by four horses.
Wagonette: a light horse-drawn wagon with two lengthwise seats facing each other behind the driver's seat
The Whip: another name for the skilled coach driver
About Stratford and the Lees and Their Horses
Stratford Hall was built by Thomas Lee, a justice of Westmoreland, a member of the House of Burgesses, and a naval officer of the Potomac who later served as acting Governor of Virginia, shortly before his death in 1750. He and his wife, Hannah Ludwell, had eight children who lived remarkable lives that were intertwined with the history of the new nation.
Philip Ludwell Lee, Thomas Lee's son, was an enthusiastic horseman. In the 1750s, he built a barn that could accommodate 22 horses. He kept a small chaise, landau, and chariot. His English coachman, Thomas Bentley, ran away from his indenture. Although Philip Ludwell Lee described him as impudent, he did offer a reward for his return. Lee's interest in horses extended to an interest in the Sport of Kings. He purchased the gray racehorse Dotterel in 1766 and put him at stud for ten years. In the 1930s, a modest attempt was made to restore the thoroughbred breeding program at Stratford.
Philip Ludwell Lee married his young ward, Elizabeth Steptoe, and their daughter Matilda inherited Stratford. She married her cousin, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, a Revolutionary War hero and good friend of George Washington. He purchased the Arabian horse Magnolio from the General for 5,000 acres of land in Kentucky. Magnolio was described in the Virginia Journal, 24 March 1785, as "a chestnut colour, near sixteen hands high, finely formed, and thought by all who have seen him to be perfect. He was got by the Ranger Arabian, his dam by Othello son of Crab, her dam by Morton's Traveller, and her dam was Selima by the Godolphin Arabian."
"Light Horse Harry" authored the famous Washington eulogy: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." He served as governor for three terms, but his fortunes declined rapidly. His second wife, Ann Hill Carter of Shirley Plantation, was the mother of Robert Edward Lee, the famous Confederate general. When his son was only a toddler, "Light Horse Harry" was carried off to debtor's prison in Montross.
Robert Edward Lee grew up in genteel poverty and was the last of the Lees to be born and raised to maturity at Stratford. He chose West Point instead of following his elder brother to Harvard at least partially due to finances. He became an engineer and his brilliance as a cavalry leader during the 1840s Mexican War became apparent. He was offered leadership of the United States Army in 1861, but would not accept it for "...though opposed to secession and a deprecating war, I could take no part in the invasion of the Southern States."
His favorite war horse, Traveller, accompanied him to his retirement at Washington College, later known as Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia.
The Central Rappahannock Regional Library has several books on the Lees of Stratford Hall. Click here for the complete listing. This article could not have been written without the gracious help of Judy Hinson, Director of Research & Collections at Stratford Hall. Stratford has its own excellent research facility, the Jessie Ball duPont Memorial Library which offers educational adventures for students and seminars for teachers. The library is open on weekdays, by appointment, from 9 to 5.
Calhoun, Jeanne A. "Philip Ludwell Lee of Stratford: An Eighteenth Century Virginia Gentleman Entrepreneur." Stratford: Robert E. Lee Memorial Association. April 1992.
Cheatham, B.F. "The Blue Bloods of the Northern Neck." The Horse, May-June 1938.
Royster, Charles. Light Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1981.
Washington, George. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Edited by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976-1979.