In 1829, just one year before Tom Lincoln, his wife and children made that now-famous move to Illinois, a man named William Henry Lee settled with his family here in Vermilion County. Both family names would soon be marked indelibly into the history books of America.
There were a lot of Lees on the early census rolls of Vermilion County. By 1860, William Henry Lee’s son, Squire Edward Lee, was a well-known and respected landowner and farmer with a family of his own. It was an election year, and Squire Edward voted for Tom Lincoln’s son, Abraham, who had spent a good deal of time in Vermilion County himself over the past 20-some years.
Little did either family know that this Western state they were calling home would one day be known as the “Land of Lincoln.” Or that one of the most respected officers in the United States Army, a third cousin of Squire Edward Lee, would soon lead the forces of a new Army for the Confederate States of America in what Lincoln would call a “great Civil War.”
Squire was Lee’s first name, not a title, even though the Lees were about as close to titled gentry as you could come in America. His line of the Lee family included two signers of the Declaration of Independence, an attorney general of the United States, two governors, and the Revolutionary War hero who would make the famous statement at George Washington’s funeral: “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Those were just some of the renowned Lee family members. The most famous Lee relative was just beginning to achieve his fame. Among his achievements, Robert E. Lee had been a hero of the Mexican War, engineered the port at St. Louis, Mo., and had led the capture of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry.