William Mack Lee — Body Servant of General Robert E. Lee

From slave to heir
Cook to hero
Servant to parade leader
Illiterate to learned

I can only imagine the trust,
conversations and stories they had.

He stayed with General Lee throughout the war and until the day Lee died in 1870.

Mack said of General Lee after his death “I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than General Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.”

General Lee left Mack $360 in his will, which Mack used to go to school and started 14 churches. He became an ordained Missionary Baptist minister in Washington, DC

William Mack Lee was born a slave at Stratford Hall Plantation, in Westmorland County, Virginia, on June 12th, 1835. His master was Robert E. Lee, the brilliant tactician who led the Confederate forces during the Civil War. He was Lee’s body servant, and referred to him as “Marse Robert”. He had a close relationship with General Lee, which he described in his autobiography as being “raised by one of the greatest men in the world”.

When war erupted between the states, he accompanied his master on campaign as his cook and body servant.  He served throughout the war, from the outset in 1861 to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in April of 1865. He prepared meals for Lee and his generals at his various headquarters and at dozens of battle sites.  On July 12th, 1863, he sustained shrapnel wounds to his head and hip. This injury caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. 

At the end of the conflict, he returned to a Lee family estate where he remained a resident for the next 18 years.  2 years prior to the war, he had begun a career as an unofficial preacher amongst his fellow slaves. The return to peace gave him an opportunity to pursue this calling once again, but his illiteracy made it a difficult task. When General Lee died in 1870, he left $360 to his former servant for the purpose of education.  Although largely illiterate at the end of hostilities, Rev. Lee used this money to enroll in school and learned to read. 

In 1881, he was ordained as a missionary Baptist minister. His first endeavor was to found two churches in Washington, DC. Next, he became the pastor of a church in Cantorsville, Maryland. In 1912, he resigned this pastorate and founded a church in Norfolk County. It was located in a small town 6 miles from the city known as Churchland (now part of Portsmouth). The church had a brick structure with a stone front, built at cost of $5,500. His connection to General Lee made him a popular figure in the South, and he was often celebrated at Confederate memorial parades. This fame enabled him to fund much of his church construction through donations. Rev. Lee was married around 1855. His wife died in 1910. They had 8 daughters and 21 grandchildren. 

History of the Life of Rev. Wm. Mack Lee
Body Servant of General Robert E. Lee Through the Civil War:
Cook from 1861 to 1865: 
Electronic Edition.

Painting: Virginia Historical Society, Richmond VA 

Richmond Daily Disputes Man’s Claim He Was Gen. Lee’s Cook
New Journal and Guide (1921-2003); Nov 19, 1932;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Norfolk Journal and Guide (1921-2003)
pg. 1

The Melting Pot 
New Journal and Guide (1921-2003); Nov 26, 1932;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Norfolk Journal and Guide (1921-2003)
pg. 6

Taps Sound For Familiar Figure
New Journal and Guide (1921-2003); Nov 19, 1932;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Norfolk Journal and Guide (1921-2003)
pg. 1

Biographical information provided by Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries.

Visitor Information 

Visitor Hours: Sunrise to Sunset

Office hours: Monday to Friday 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM 
Saturday 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM

Free parking inside cemetery.

Admission Cost: Free 

Address: 1600 St. Julian Ave., Norfolk, VA 23504 

Official web site for more information: www.norfolk.gov/cemeteries 

Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation Web Site:


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