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A Review of Lady of Arlington: The Life of Mrs. Robert E. Lee

This biography is marked by numerous quotations from her prayer journal. Her writings show her to be a sinner saved by grace, who longed to see the Gospel spread to blacks and whites.

  • Byron Snapp,
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When a spouse takes a marriage vow to remain married in riches or in poverty, for better or for worse, one never knows where the road of God's providence will lead in the course of that marriage.

This is certainly true of Mrs. Mary Lee. She was the great granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington, a widow with children when she married Colonel George Washington in 1759. Mary Custis was born in 1808 into a family of wealth and grew up not knowing the want of anything. Although her father did not like slavery, the family owned numerous slaves who worked the large family landholdings and took care of many inside tasks as well.

Her mother was a strong Christian who taught not only her daughter but also slaves about Christ. Her father was much more into financial mismanagement and displaying the former possessions of George Washington to the public who were always welcomed at Arlington, Mary's home.

Although pursued by Sam Houston, young Mary had no interest in him. Instead she fell in love with a distant cousin, Robert E. Lee.

Their marriage in 1831 led to great changes in his bride's life. Shortly before their marriage God's Spirit brought a deeper commitment to Christ in her life. The entire marriage greatly troubled her because she saw no heart love for Christ in the man she married. Additionally she left the Arlington landscape and lifestyle to set up house in two rooms on a dirt floor in Ft. Monroe, VA.

Future years brought many more adjustments and trials. Her husband was a man of orderliness and punctuality. Mrs. Lee was not adept at either particularly in the early years of their marriage. In his military duties, Lee spent months away from home. He missed the births of some of his children. His wife was left with the raising of the children which ultimately numbered seven. By her own admission she was a poor disciplinarian which brought more stress into the home. Additionally as early as the birth of their second child, Mary began to have health problems that worsened as she aged.

In the midst of these trials Mrs. Lee was buoyed up by meditating on God and the glory of heaven. For example during the many separations from her husband she was comforted by meditating on heaven where there will be no separations. She could be comforted in this because she saw increasing evidence of God's saving work in Robert's life.

The onslaught of the war brought additional trials to the Lee family. Although opposed to secession, Lee was committed to his native state and willingly entered the confederate army, after hours of prayer and thought. Being a faithful helpmate, Mary told her husband that she would support him no matter what his decision was.
Their stand proved to be very costly but unregretted. In the early days of the war. She fled Arlington and never lived there again. In fact she never owned another home in her life. The years of the war saw her rheumatism increasing and her moving from home to home. She had to endure the loss of a daughter, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren as well as the imprisonment of her injured son by Federal soldiers. She had letters of comfort from her husband who had all too few days to be with her. Above all she continually rested in God's will and gloried in His mercy.

Through the trials and resulting tears her trust in the Lord remained steadfast, but not stoic. She used her time and drawn hands to faithfully knit socks for soldiers in the army, rather than growing bitter.

After the war she moved to Lexington as her husband accepted the office of president of Washington College.

Her Christian witness in the midst of ongoing trials continued to be manifested in her words and labors in that town. Mrs. Lee died in 1873, little more than three years after her husband's death.

This biography is marked by numerous quotations from her prayer journal, which has itself never been published. Her writings show her to be a sinner saved by grace. She longed to see the Gospel spread to blacks and whites.

The author provides the reader with a book that is well researched and also very readable. His research has corrected misrepresentations of Mrs. Lee that remain in vogue in our day. She was not a whiner nor did she oppose the vocational calling God had given her husband. At the same time he shows her to be an imperfect individual.

Readers of this biography will come most likely to have a better appreciation and an increased admiration for its subject. More importantly they will see a godly lady who grew in the Lord in the midst of long lasting trials. This is far more than a book about the War Between the States. It is a book about God's covenantal work. For this reason all Christians can be encouraged and profit from the reading of this volume.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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