Posted on May 18, 2021

This Man Says He’s Related to Robert E. Lee. There’s No Evidence.

Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 14, 2021


The Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, known as Rob, has, since 2016, parlayed his ancestry on behalf of what many may regard as a noble cause — removing Confederate statues and memorials. The pastor stood with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam when the governor announced last June, in the wake of the George Floyd protests, that a statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond would be removed.

“There are members in my family who are shaking in their boots. I’m sure my ancestor Robert E. Lee is rolling in his grave, and I say, let him roll,” Lee told a crowd.


There is a Robert E. Lee V, great-great-grandson of the general, who works at the Potomac School in McLean. He speaks rarely about the debate over historical monuments. Meanwhile, Rob Lee has made numerous public appearances, including on “The View” and the MTV Video Music Awards. At a House committee hearing in 2020, he was introduced by then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as a “descendant of the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee.” {snip}

But there is no evidence that Rob Lee, who was born in North Carolina, is related to Robert E. Lee, according to The Fact Checker’s review of historical and genealogical records. {snip}

The Facts

On his website, Rob Lee describes himself as “a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.” At an appearance in Tulsa in 2020, he suggested that he was connected to Robert E. Lee because he is a direct descendant of Lee’s older brother, Charles Carter Lee.


In his 2019 book “A Sin by Another Name,” Lee says that for as long as he can remember, there was a painting of Robert E. Lee on his grandmother’s den wall. {snip}


The family referred to Robert E. Lee as “Uncle Bob,” Lee writes.


For Rob Lee to be a descendant of Charles Carter Lee, who lived in Powhatan County, near Richmond, one of Charles’s five sons would need to be his great-great-great grandfather: George Taylor Lee, 1848-1933; Henry Lee, 1849-1901; Robert Randolph Lee, 1853-1940; Williams Carter Lee, 1855-1882 (who died unmarried in a railroad accident); and John Penn Lee, 1867-1924.

But when we traced the genealogy, the trail quickly ran cold. None of the direct descendants of these Virginians led us to Rob Lee.

Instead, when we worked backward from Rob Lee’s family — the various Robert W. Lees — we ended up in Alabama, not Virginia. {snip}


In tracing the lineage of Rob Lee’s family, we need to start our story with William Lee of Alabama.

He has no apparent relationship to the Lees of Virginia, who first arrived on the shores of the Americas in 1639. The origins of this William Lee are obscure, but in the 1880 census, his son reported he was born in England — which would be in the 1700s, at least 100 years later than the first Virginia Lee.


{snip} He died sometime around 1823 — the exact date is unknown — not long after a son, named Robert Scothrup Lee, was born in 1822.

This Robert S. Lee, a farmer and a carpenter, fought for the Confederacy late in the Civil War and earned a Civil War pension from Alabama. He lived a long life, until 1916, when he was regarded as the oldest native Alabamian. When he died, the Greenville Advocate reported that “nearly all his friends throughout the county” called him “Uncle Bob.”

He also appears to be Rob Lee’s great-great-great grandfather.

“Uncle Bob” and his wife had nine children, one of whom was John Osborne Lee, born in 1865. The records show this is Rob Lee’s great-great grandfather.


John and Nettie bestowed one of their sons with her maiden name: Robert Wright Lee, born in 1902.

So now we are in Iredell County, just north of Charlotte, where Rob Lee was born. John and Nettle’s son, who died in 1998, became known as Robert Wright Lee Sr. He is Rob’s great-grandfather. The trail continues to Robert W. Lee Jr., Robert W. Lee III and finally Robert W. Lee IV, all born in Iredell County.


Family tales and memories can often be inaccurate. Rob Lee may have firmly believed he was somehow related to Robert E. Lee, based on stories he heard at home about “Uncle Bob.”

Instead, he appears to be a descendant of Robert S. Lee, also known as “Uncle Bob,” who served in the Confederate forces — but was not a general.