Biography of William Henry LEE…


The Life of Ben Franklin1935 Book owned by William Henry LeeWilliam Henry LEE (WHL) was born on 8 Aug 1798. His place of birth is unknown … many of the available census records contradict each other. The 1850 census, the only census taken during his lifetime which recorded place of birth, says he was born in South Carolina. Other secondary sources say he was born in Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia. WHL can definitely be placed in Clinton County, Ohio on 5 Feb 1818, where he married Rebecca SEWELL. Rebecca was the daughter of John SEWELL and Priscilla HENDRICKS.
Marriage ConsentWe believe that William Henry LEE’s mother was named Elizabeth. In 1818, when WHL married Rebecca SEWELL, consent was given by his step-father Richard CAST … leading us to conclude that WHL’s mother was alive and married to Richard CAST at the time. We also have deeds from before and after WHL’s marriage (1815, 1823, and 1838) which list Richard’s wife’s name as Elizabeth. The only problem we have is that the 1830 Vernon Township, Clinton County, Ohio census does not list an older female in Richard’s household. This set of facts supports two wives named Elizabeth, the first being WHL’s mother (having died between 1823 and 1830). But this is in turn contradicted by the fact that no marriage record for a Richard CAST to the second Elizabeth (or anyone else) can be found in Clinton Co. or neighboring Warren Co. So we are asked to either believe the census, or to believe the local marriage records.
The second Elizabeth (b. 31 May 1772) died on 15 Sep 1838 shortly after arriving in Vermilion Co., Illinois, and is buried in McFarland Cemetery. If the 1830 census turns out to be wrong, this could end up being WHL’s mother. Her middle initial is given as ‘C’, which could be a clue to her maiden name. Other possible clues are the unusual names of several of WHL’s grandchildren … RYLAND, CLARKSON, and several CAREYs.
Sources show that Richard CAST had an even earlier wife, possibly named Rebeckah, and had seven known children (born between 1797 and 1815) … some of whom could be half-siblings to our William Henry LEE.
It has been rumored that this LEE family is related to that of Robert E. LEE, the famous Confederate general. Even more specifically, it has been stated that our WHL may have been a nephew of Robert E. LEE. However, DNA tests on a direct male descendant of WHL prove that these LEE families are not related.
William’s wife, Rebecca SEWELL, was born 7 Jun 1797 in Virginia. It is said that Rebecca’s sister, Hannah, “was born on the farm famous for the site of the hanging of John Brown, near Harper’s Ferry”. I have not confirmed this information, but other records suggest that the SEWELLs were originally from the area near Berkeley and Loudoun Counties in Virginia (now West Virginia), supporting a possible Harper’s Ferry connection.
Rebecca SEWELL’s siblings were…
  1. Mary (m. James SMITH)*
  2. Hannah (m. William SAILOR)*
  3. David (m. Rebecca MIRANDA, Elizabeth CAPELTINE, and Mrs. Elizabeth VANCE)
  4. Elizabeth (m. William HARDIN)*
  5. Sarah/Sally (m. James DALBEY)*
  6. Priscilla (m. William HUGHES)
  7. Jane (fate unknown)
  8. Abigail (m. Arsasus KIBBEY)
  9. Aaron (m. Tamzen LAWRENCE and Nancy ???)
  10. Miriam (m. John McCARTY)*
Those marked * later moved from Clinton County, Ohio to Vermilion County, Illinois, and most are buried in Davis Cemetery. As a matter of fact, Priscilla SAILOR, the daughter of the above mentioned William and Hannah Sewell SAILOR, married Henry OAKWOOD. Henry is, of course, the namesake of Oakwood Township, Vermilion Co., Illinois. Abigail SMITH, Henry’s first wife, was the daughter of the above mentioned James and Mary Sewell SMITH.
In the 1820 census, William Henry LEE is enumerated in Vernon Township, Clinton County, Ohio.
1829 Deed for WHLOn 25 Oct 1827, WHL bought 107 acres from A. Fitzhugh & wife. William and Rebecca sold this land to Wm. Haines on 1 Oct 1829. This transaction was witnessed by James DALBY (Rebecca’s brother-in-law) and David SEWELL (Rebecca’s brother).
The description of the property reads…
“Beginning at the stake in the line of John (or Isham) Michel thence S8E78 poles to two red oaks Aaron ??????’s (possibly Carnahan’s) line thence ??2W1?? poles to two ?????? elms and maple thence N47W150 poles to an elm red oak and maple thence thence N45E55 poles to four elms ?????? (maybe corner?) to John Sanderson thence east 103 poles to a forked white oak in the county roads thence N25E18 poles to a hickory inside Michel’s line thence east 30 poles to the beginning containing one hundred and seven acres and one hundred and thirty four poles be the same more or less.”
This property appears to be in (or on the border of) Marion Township.
William Henry LEE and family moved to Vermilion County, Illinois in 1829. It seems that many families from Clinton County, Ohio (and other neighboring counties) made the trip to Vermilion County at about this time. Besides those previously mentioned, they include CAST, LONGSTRETH, OAKWOOD, STEARNS, SMALLEY and VILLARS.
In the 1830 census, WHL is enumerated in Vermilion County, Illinois. He made his home in what later became Vance Township. There were several William H. LEEs living in Vermilion County at this time, so care must be taken to keep them straight. To the best of this author’s knowledge, our WHL is not related to the family of Squire LEE.
Our WHL is mentioned in the following quotation from Beckwith’s History of Vermilion County, Illinois
“The Goshen Baptist Church was organized about 1832, and services were held in the Davis school-house and the Stearns school-house, at private houses, and wherever most convenient, until 1835, when a church edifice was built, as before stated, on the ground occupied by Samuel Beaver’s house.  Elder Freeman Smalley and Elder G. W. Riley, as in nearly all the other churches of this denomination in the county, were the leaders in this, and Benjamin Smalley preached here with more less regularity for some years.  The building was frame, 30 X 40.  Harvey and Luther Stearns, William Lee and James Elliott, were the leading men in this organization, and it was largely through their instrumentality that the church was built.”
Abigail LEE (said to be b. 2 Jan 1829, d. 3 Mar 1850, bur. Davis Cemetery) is often listed as a daughter of William Henry and Rebecca LEE. However, she is not on the list of known burials at Davis Cemetery. I suspect that she has been confused with her cousin, Abigail SMITH (dau. of James SMITH and Mary SEWELL). Abigail SMITH (b. 31 Jan 1829, d. 2 Mar 1850, bur. Davis Cemetery) was the first wife of Henry OAKWOOD.
The first 4 generations of descendants of William and Rebecca are listed here. Click here for a descendant chart.
Tombstone of William Henry LeeWilliam Henry LEE died intestate on 14 Jan 1855 (Alvin STEARNS administered his estate). His wife Rebecca Sewell LEE died 18 Jun 1881. They are both buried at Davis Cemetery (near Fairmount, Illinois).


Tombstone of Rebeca Lee[Special thanks to Don Claypool of the Oakwood Township Historical Society for his help in compiling this information.]

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