"THE BEARER COMES FOR THE 4 POUNDS OF TEA YOU PROMISED": RARE AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED AND DATED APRIL 13, 1769 BY FOUNDING FATHER RICHARD HENRY LEE, SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND FAMED AUTHOR OF THE JULY 2, 1776 LEE RESOLUTION
LEE, Richard Henry. Autograph letter signed. Chantilly, [Virginia]: April 13, 1769. Original ivory leaf of laid paper (4-1/2 by 7-1/2 inches folded), manuscript on recto and integral address leaf. $5200.
Rare April 13, 1769 autograph letter signed by Founding Father Richard Henry Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence, revolutionary leader, and author of famed Lee Resolution of July 2, 1776 that declared America “free and independent… absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown"—two days before the Declaration of Independence—prompting John Adams to call July 2nd, not July 4th, “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.” In his letter Lee writes a local merchant to request he give the bearer “the 4 pounds of tea you promised… and I will pay you your money the next time I have the pleasure of seeing you… [signed] Richard Henry Lee.”
Founding Father and Revolutionary leader Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, "won enduring fame as the man who introduced the [Lee] Resolution in Congress that declared American independence" (Alden, History, 67). Lee "brought to the patriot cause an early and unwavering commitment to American independence… With a 'deep and melodious voice,' Lee, according to contemporaries, played Cicero to Patrick Henry's Demosthenes" (Broadwater, George Mason, 56). "High on the list of America's forgotten founders… Lee served as a member of the House of Burgesses, House of Delegates and the United States Senate. He also represented Virginia at the two Continental Congresses and served as president of Congress in 1784" (Encyclopedia Virginia). This rare April 13, 1769 autograph letter signed and dated by Lee is written from his Virginia home, Chantilly-on-the-Potomac. In it Lee asks the recipient, a Leeds merchant, to provide the letter's bearer with "the 4 pounds of tea you promised to put by for me—Be pleased to let him have them, and I will pay you your money the next time I have the pleasure of seeing you. I am your most humble Servant Richard Henry Lee."
Two years later, on June 7, 1776, an impassioned Lee rose to his feet in the State House in Philadelphia and the chamber grew still. "The importance of the moment was understood by everyone in the room. 'Resolved [Lee began]… That these United Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved'" (McCullough, John Adams, 118). The delegates were electrified by what is now known as the Lee Resolution, and fierce debate followed. Finally, "on July 2, the Congress, by the unanimous vote of 12 colonies… solemnly sanctioned the Resolution. America was to go her own way" (Alden, 241). To John Adams, American independence was defined not by passage of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence two days later, but by the passage of the Lee Resolution. Writing Abigail Adams on July 3, he proclaimed "Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never has nor will be decided among men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony, 'that these United Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, independent states…' The second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary" (McCullough, 54). It was only after voting on the Lee Resolution, that Congress moved on to consider Jefferson's draft of the declaration of independence. After years of dedicated public service, Lee passed away in 1794 at his beloved Chantilly-on-the-Potomac.
The letter reads: "Chantilly 13th April 1769, Sir, The Bearer comes for the 4 pounts of Tea you promised to put by for me—Be pleased to let him have them, and I will pay you your money the next time I have the pleasure of seeing you. I am Sir your most humble Servant [signed] Richard Henry Lee." With integral leaf addressed: "To Mr. Strother, Merchant in Leeds"—likely Leedstown, Virginia, in the same country as Chantilly.
Inked text and signature clear and dark, light wear at faint foldlines, mild soiling to near-fine letter.