Robert E. Lee lap desk
After the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee, the army's beloved commander, returned to his family in Richmond to face an uncertain future. A few months later the trustees of Washington College in Lexington asked him to serve as the school's president. Lee reluctantly accepted the position and moved with his family to the Valley town in September 1865. For the next five years he worked tirelessly to educate a generation of newly reunited Americans. During Lee's presidency the small college witnessed a dramatic rise in student enrollment as well as an increase in financial support from southern and northern sources. Less than a month into the new school year in 1870, Lee suffered a massive stroke and two weeks later, on October 12, he died in his home on the college campus.
The Virginia Historical Society acquired from Lee family descendants this portable lap desk that belonged to Robert E. Lee while he lived in the president's house at Washington College. Made by "Toulim & Cale—Sise Lane City and New Bond Street, London, England," the desk contains stationery and envelopes embossed with the Lee family crest; ivory instruments; slots for a leather-bound "Diary" and "Cash" book, the latter with handwritten entries in ink by R. E. Lee recording quarterly payments of his salary as president; and three ceramic erasable memos, the left one still inscribed "Sep. 95/Recd this desk this day from Custis, R. E. Lee [Jr.]." The desk is on display in the society's long-term exhibition The Story of Virginia, an American Experience.
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