George Fairfax Lee
Life 1754 - 1804
Admission year 1772
Place connected Virginia, North America
Born in Virginia in 1754, George was sent to school in Islington, London, and then went to Christ's, where he resided for at least one year. He returned to Virginia, where he later died in 1804.
Connection to enslavement
George Fairfax Lee was the son of George Lee (the Elder) of Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, Virginia, and Anne Fairfax Washington.¹ ²
George (the Elder) was born in London in 1714, and moved to Virginia in 1737/1738, where he married his first wife, Judith Wormeley. After she died in 1751, George married Anne Fairfax, the widow of Lawrence Washington (the elder half-brother of George Washington, the first President of the USA).²
At his death in 1761, George (the Elder) left the land on which his home was built, in addition to 'three several tracts or parcels of land', to George Fairfax Lee.³ As a condition for receiving these lands, George had to allow the enslaved people bequeathed to his younger brothers William and Lancelot to work on these lands until they each reached the age of 21.³ The fact that George owned enslaved people is demonstrated by his father's reference to 'his [i.e., George Fairfax Lee's] own negroes' working alongside those left to his younger brothers.³
George Fairfax Lee was left 34 enslaved people, while 22 enslaved people were bequeathed to his younger brothers (to be divided equally between them at the age of 21).⁴ Notably, George (the Elder) specified that all three of his sons were to be 'suitably maintained and educated', 'out of the profits of the whole of the negroes … working on the said Land', with any additional profit given to George Fairfax Lee.³ Indeed, he stated it was his 'earnest will and desire' that the executors of his estate promptly 'send my son George Fairfax Lee to England … to receive his education there'.⁴ He left the decision about whether to send his younger two sons to England to be educated to the discretion of his executors.⁴
One letter George sent while at Christ's in November 1772 is recorded: in it, he thanks the recipient, William Lee, for sending 'hampers of wine &c.', and asks that William approve him procuring a tutor at College 'before they are all engaged' as it would be 'a thing impossible for me to do without one, during the lectures'.⁵
Though George's will made no explicit reference to enslaved people, he deeded two enslaved people to his only daughter, Louisa Lee, in 1786 (leaving the majority of his estate to his brother Lancelot).⁵
George Fairfax Lee's father died in 1761, when George was only seven years of age. His father's will indicates not only that George inherited enslaved people: it also provides an unusually explicit account of the proceeds of enslavement being used to finance George's education in England (including studying at Christ's for at least one year).
George Fairfax Lee appears to have been the second cousin of Philip Thomas Lee, another Christ's alumnus appearing on this database,⁵ as they shared a great-grandfather, Colonel Richard Lee (1647-1714).⁶
A note about race
Anne Fairfax, George Fairfax Lee's mother, may have been mixed race. Her mother, Sarah Walker (who was thus George Fairfax Lee's grandmother), was born in Nassau, The Bahamas, in 1700, to a woman who may have been a free person of colour.⁷ Sarah's race was mentioned by her daughter-in-law Sally Cary Fairfax (therefore the sister-in-law of Anne Fairfax), who recorded that there existed 'an impression that my husband’s mother was a black woman'.⁸
In a letter to his mother, William Fairfax, Anne's father, described his eldest son as a 'West India boy' who nonetheless had 'the marks in his visage that will always testify his parentage': the academic Mario Valdes characterises this as a 'smoking gun', definitively implying (when considered in context) that Sarah was not a white woman.⁹
As for all the other Christ's alumni appearing on this database, no explicit allusion to George Fairfax Lee's race appears in material generated at the College or in documents such as wills. Nevertheless, one can speculate that mixed race heritage would have been a point of difference with the other financial beneficiaries of enslavement identified, albeit with the caveat that it is unknown to what degree George Fairfax Lee was conscious of that heritage, and to what degree it was part of his identity (if at all).
¹ Venn, J.A., ed. (1947) "Lee, George Fairfax". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part 2). Vol.4, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive. ² Lee, Edmund Jennings, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee (Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1895), p. 140. ³ Lee, Edmund Jennings, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee (Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1895), p. 141. ⁴ Lee, Edmund Jennings, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee (Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1895), p. 142-143. ⁵ Lee, Edmund Jennings, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee (Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1895), p. 302-304. ⁶ Lee, Edmund Jennings, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee (Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1895), p. 74-75. ⁷ Torry, Emma, 'Anne Fairfax Washington', 2021 https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/61d2d102984143ab8ccf25e0219b957d [accessed 22nd August]. ⁸ Bartlinski, J., 'A Brief Account of Sarah Walker Fairfax, the Mother of Sarah Fairfax Carlyle', Carlyle House Docent Dispatch, Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, 2009 https://www.novaparks.com/sites/default/files/pdf/6-June%202009-%20A%20Brief%20Account%20of%20Sarah%20Walker%20Fairfax,%20the%20Mother%20of%20Sarah%20Fairfax%20Carlyle.pdf [accessed 22nd August]. ⁹ Valdes, Mario, 'The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families: The Fairfaxes and George Washington', 1998 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/washington.html [accessed 22nd August].