Biography of Robert Ives Lee

Robert Ives Lee. In the death of Robert Ives Lee, which occurred at Chicago, Illinois, December 19, 1911, there passed away one of the most prominent horsemen of the Middle West. He was born May 5, 1846, at Boston, Massachusetts, and was a son of the late Brev.-Brig.-Gen. William Raymond Lee III, U. S. V., A. M., A. A. S., and Helen Maria (Amory) Lee, of Amory Street, Boston, the former of whom was descended from Henry and Mary Lee.

Henry Lee, the founder of the Lee family of Marblehead, Massachusetts, died at Manchester, that state, in 1675, and was perhaps the nephew of Sir Harry Lee, Bart, and grandson of Sir Robert Lee, Knight, of Hulcote, Bucks, and descended from the Lees of Lea Hall, Cheshire. Col. Richard Lee, the founder of the Lee family of Virginia, had a brother, Judge and Dr. Henry Lee, whose wife’s name was Marah, but it is unknown whether Henry Lee of Manchester was the Henry Lee of Virginia, although it was so believed by Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was a classmate at West Point and close friend of Gen. William Raymond Lee. His son, Thomas, was a member of the Canadian expedition of 1690. Henry Lee’s son, Samuel Lee, Esq., 1667-1754, was a well known merchant of his time, owned the largest vessels of his town, among them the Swallow (1692), a number of slaves, and was a deacon of the Congregational Church, and a justice of the peace. He married Rebecca Masters, the granddaughter of the Worshipful Mr. John Masters. His son, Justice Samuel Lee, Esq., 1694-1753, was a great merchant and celebrated architect of Marblehead, Massachusetts. In 1732 he was the commissioner of the famous “Dogtown” (Gloucester) dispute. He owned many slaves and ships, had a fine library, and journeyed to England a number of times. He left $500 to educate the poor and served his town in various offices for many years. Justice Lee married Mary, the daughter of Gen. John and Abigail (Abbott) Tarring. His son, David, Harvard 1744-47, was at the siege of Louisburg. Justice Lee’s son, Col. John Lee, 1716-1789, was a very prominent merchant and owned many ships, six houses, and a number of slaves, as well as much silver, and was “for many years a representative to the legislature and one of the municipal magistrates of the county.” He was chairman of the local committee of inspection, 1774, and correspondence, 1775, and one of the delegates to the Essex County Conventions, 1774, 1776. He was a zealous patriot and marched to Salem at the head of his regiment to defend the town against Colonel Leslie, and also to Beverly when the British vessel Falcon fired upon the town in 1775. He married Joanna Raymond, granddaughter of Capt. William Raymond, a noted French and Indian fighter.

The son of Col. John Lee, Col. William Raymond Lee, 1745-1824, was captain and major of Col. John Glover’s famous Marblehead regiment, brigade-major, 1776, and colonel of Lee’s regiment, 1777. He was personally in charge of the crossing of the Delaware. He was chief in command of Lord Burgoyne, and invented a new kind of cartridge box used during the Revolution, and was later appointed adjutant general of Washington’s army, but declined that position. He was collector of the Port of Salem from 1802 to 1824, and head of the firm of Will R. Lee & Company, as well as a representative to the Legislature in his state. Gen. H. A. S. Dearborn wrote his life. He was also an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati, 1789. He married Mary, daughter of Dr. Joseph and Hannah (Swett) Lemmon, Harvard, 1735. His daughter married Gen. H. A. S. Dearborn, member of Congress, and a son of the famous Maj.-Gen. Henry Dearborn.

The son of Col. William Raymond Lee, Lieut. William Raymond Lee II, 1774-1861, was a merchant of Salem and Boston, and a member of the firm of Will R. Lee & Company. During the War of 1812 he was aide-de-camp on the staff of Maj.-Gen. Henry Dearborn, and was in the battle of Lundy’s Lane. He married Hannah Tracy, daughter of the noted patriot, Hon. Nathaniel Tracy and Mary Lee. Nathaniel Tracy, A. M., A. A. S., Harvard 1769, was a great merchant, fitted out the first privateer of the Revolution, and was perhaps the richest man of his day, being worth over $6,500,000 in 1780. He was one of the charter members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was given the honorary degree of A. M. by Princeton. He married “the greatest beauty of her day,” Mary Lee, daughter, of “the illustrious patriot, Col. Jeremiah Lee, of Marblehead,” who was a brother of Col. John Lee and a son of Judge Samuel Lee. Colonel Lee was chairman of the Essex County Convention, of the Marblehead delegates to the Provincial Congresses, 1774-1776, member of the famous Committee of Public Safety and Supplies with Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and elected to the first Continental Congress. His son, Joseph, Harvard 1769, was a captain in the Revolution.

Lieutenant Lee’s son was Gen. William Raymond Lee III, 1807-1891, who was educated at Norwich University and the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1825-29. He was a civil engineer by profession, was sent in 1830 to Texas, then a province of Mexico, to develop many thousand acres of land, was a veteran of the Florida war, was sent by the United States Government to Canada during the Canadian Rebellion, was appointed in 1850 to adjust the difficulties between the City of Wheeling and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and was the first superintendent of the Boston & Providence Railroad, superintendent and president of the Vermont Central, superintendent of the New York, Ogdensburg & Champlain Railroad and chairman of the board of directors of the Burlington & Vermont Railroad and its president. He was the first railroad man in the United States to burn coal in engines instead of wood.

When the Civil war broke out, General Lee was commissioned colonel of the Twentieth Massachusetts or Harvard Regiment. Among the officers of his regiment were his kinsmen, Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., of the United States Supreme Court, (lieutenant colonel); Lieut. James Jackson Lowell, Lieut. William Lowell Putnam, etc. He was taken prisoner at Ball’s Bluff, led his regiment through the Peninsular Campaign, was at Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Glendale, Malvern Hill and Antietam, and commanded a brigade for some weeks. He was brevetted brigadier general for conspicuous bravery at Antietam. He served as chief engineer to the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia with the rank of brigadier general, his cousin, Henry Lee, Jr., of Lee, Higginson & Company, being a colonel on the governor’s staff. He prepared the plans for a system of obstructions at the entrance to Boston Harbor. He was the author of many letters, many reports in regard to railroads and scientific monographs on the comparative cost of wood and coal, etc., as well as of a memoir of Gen. Paul J. Revere. Harvard gave him the honorary degree of A. M. in 1851, and he was a fellow of the American Academy and a member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. He married Helen Maria Amory, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Bowen) Amory, who was descended from the Hon. Jonathan Amory, treasurer of the Province of South Carolina, speaker of the assembly, 1693, speaker of the Provincial Parliament, 1695, Advocate of Admiralty, 1697, and Advocate General. Mrs. Lee’s grandfather, Dr. William Bowen, was given an honorary degree by Brown University, about 1801. One son, Arthur Tracy, graduated at West Point in 1865 and died as an officer of the United States army, while aide-de-camp to the President. His daughter, Elizabeth Amory, married Gen. Oswald Herbert Ernst, U. S. A., and their daughter, Elizabeth Lee Ernst, married Maj. William Morton Grinnell, U. S. V., nephew of Vice President Levi P. Morton, Assistant Secretary of State, and chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France.

Robert Ives Lee was born at the old Boston family mansion, May 5, 1846. He was educated at Saint Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire, in the class of 1864, where he was captain of the crew and of the cricket team and a noted athlete. Among his school friends were the late Nathaniel Thayer, financier of Boston, and Stephen Van Rensselaer Thayer. He was prepared there for Harvard, but never attended that institution. In 1869 he came to the West, first to Jefferson County, Kansas, and then to Topeka, with his uncle, Robert H. Ives, the noted financier of Providence and Newport, he having first gone in 1867 to Illinois with letters to the governor from General Lee’s friend, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts. Mr. Ives returned after a few months to Providence, but Mr. Lee remained in Topeka and handled for many months heavy investments for Mr. Ives in Kansas lands. Having inherited an interest in trotting horses, he determined to improve the very low grade of horses then found in Kansas, and made a start in 1871 by purchasing “Hiram Woodruff,” at Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1818 the first public trotting race was held in the United States and Mr. Hemenway’s “Boston Blue” won it in three minutes. Mr. Lee’s grandfather, William Raymond Lee, Jr., then matched his road horse, “Rat,” against Mr. Hemenway’s “Boston Blue,” with a $1,000 bet and $500 forfeit, and “Rat” won the race in the then unprecedented time of 2:50. In 1873, Mr. Lee purchased Prairie Dell Farm (320 acres), 3½ miles west of Topeka, which was the home of his race horses. Prairie Dell Farm was the site of the old Baptist Pottawatomie Indian Mission. In 1847 the Baptists built a large stone school upon that mission and this stone building, ninety-nine feet long, still remains as the oldest building in Shawnee County. On this site Governor Geary issued the first official Kansas Thanksgiving proclamation in 1856.

Mr. Lee saw the very advantageous position of this place and had rented it for several years before he bought it. While at Prairie Dell Farm, “Hiram Woodruff,” the first stallion purchased by Mr. Lee, sired “McW,” 2:12 1-2, and “Lucy Woodruff,” probably the greatest Kansas-bred brood mare, dam of “Silkwood,” 2:07, the world’s champion pacing stallion. On January 21, 1873, Mr. Lee bought for $780, a rough, ungainly two-year-old colt, who later became the famous “Robert McGregor,” known as the “Monarch of the Home Stretch.” This handsome chestnut stallion, by “Maj. Edsall,” 2:29, dam “Nancy Whitman,” by “Seely’s American Star,” was foaled at Goshen, Orange County, New York, May 9, 1871, and owned by Samuel Whitman, to whom Mr. Lee was introduced by the well known horseman, Gen. Guy Miller, Mr. Lee having carried letters to General Miller from Hon. Thomas Ryan.

“Robert McGregor” was in the stud in Topeka, 1874, also 1879 to 1884. From 1884 to 1890 Mr. Lee stood him in Lexington, Kentucky, and there sold him to John E. Madden, of Lexington, and William E. Spiers, of Glen Falls, New York, for $33,250 cash, the largest amount then ever having been paid for a horse. His stud book of forty mares at $500 each was full at the time of the sale. “Robert McGregor” was later sold to George J. Ketcham for $75,000, and died at Toledo, Ohio, in 1898, where a simple stone marks the burial place of one of the most famous horses ever bred in America. He was without question the greatest race horse that ever made its home in Kansas and did more toward improving the standard of trotting animals in the Middle West than any other horse. He made a record of 2:17 1-2 in the third heat of a hotly-contested race in late November, 1883, over a rough track and after a full season in the stud. This was the last race in which he ever started. It has been said that probably the only two horses of the period which could compare with him were “Maud S.” and “Jay Eye See.” These three horses were never matched. He earned his title as “Monarch of the Home Stretch” by the game way in which he always finished his races. He trotted fifty-three heats in 2:30 or faster. He was one of the first ten stallions to trot a mile in less than 2:20. “‘Robert McGregor’ was individually the most magnificent stallion of his day, the most superbly gaited and the fastest. He won many grand races. No horse ever lived that sired as high an average of splendid trotters. He was a wonderful speed getter. Though never really a popular sire, he had 108 standard performers to his credit, sixty-six producing sons and daughters who produced about 250 performers. He will live forever as a progenitor through siring “Cresceus,” still considered by many critics the greatest trotting race horse ever seen and the one stallion that has ever held the world’s trotting record. Many sons of ‘McGregor’ have sired notable trotters. Through his daughters, the blood of ‘Robert McGregor’ has been built into the trotting fabric as one of its enduring elements. One of the most successful trotting stallions of the present day (1916), ‘Jay McGregor,’ 2:07 1-4, and one of the most wonderful of living matrons, ‘Lady Brussels,’ are both from ‘McGregor’ mares.”

“Robert McGregor” was the only one of the first ten 2:20 trotting stallions who produced a 2:15 trotter, i. e., “Bonnie MGregor,” 2:13 1-2, who took a silver cup as the finest individual winner of the Grand Circuit. “Bonnie McGregor’s” son, “Planet,” 2:04 3-4, was the first Chamber of Commerce winner ($5,000), and long the holder of the world’s record for a six heat pacing race. His granddaughter, “Baldy McGregor,” 2:06 3-4, was the fastest three-year-old trotter of 1912, a colt of phenomenal speed. His most noted son, of course, was “Cresceus,” 2:02 1-4, the world’s champion, now exported to Russia, where he is achieving marked success as a sire.

Thirty-three sons of “Robert McGregor” have sired eighty-one trotters in the list and seven pacers in the 2:25 list. He was the sire of more 2:15 trotters, exclusive of pacers, than any horse, living or dead, for many years. Among Mr. Lee’s other noted horses was “Fergus McGregor,” a son of “Robert McGregor,” and of “Miss Monroe,” sister to “Monroe,” 2:27 1-2. “Fergus McGregor” stood at the head of all Kansas stallions for many years. “Aaron McGregor,” 2:14 1-4, his son, made the 1911 record for Kansas bred stallions over a half-mile track. “Fergus McGregor’s” most famous get was “Pansy McGregor,” who made a world’s record of 2:23 3-4 (1), 2:17 1-2 (2), as a yearling performer. Mr. Lee drove “Pansy McGregor” when she made that notable record which stood unequaled for over seventeen years. “Fergus” was also the grandsire of “Ding Pointer,” 2:04 1-4.

Among Mr. Lee’s other stallions was “Monroe,” 2:27 1-2, by “Iron Duke.” “Monroe” won in Denver, in one week, $2,300, five weeks after first coming to Kansas, and the following year won every race in which he started in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois circuits. He twice won the free-for-all champion Stallion Gold Medal in the Illinois Circuit. Other well known trotting sires which Mr. Lee maintained in the stud at Prairie Dell were “Aladdin,” “Coriander,” “Mountain Mist,” “McLeod,” “Evan Dhu,” “McCallummore,” “Flying Bird,” “Glenwood,” “Shamrock,” “Stanley,” “Grenada,” “Jack Daw,” “Arena,” “Scythian,” etc. “Coriander” was the sire of the dam of “Pansy McGregor,” world’s champion. “McGallummore,” who died after one season, was a younger son of “Robert McGregor” and sired “Mary,” (1) 2:36 3-4, (3) 2:20 1-4, a yearling record which was equaled by only two others when made. “Aladdin” sired “Mary’s” dam. “Arena” was the fastest trotting stallion owned in Kansas. He trotted halves in one minute flat.

Perhaps the best of all Mr. Lee’s later horses was “Jack Daw,” 14,297, with a four year record of 2:28 1-2, the sire of “Maxine,” 2:08 3-4, the fastest four-year-old trotter of 1902. He is the sire of over twenty in the list, and sired a faster trotter for age than any other stallion in Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Indiana and Pennsylvania. He was the son of “Jay Bird” and his dam was by “Robert McGregor.” He was the grandsire of “Allerdaw,” 2:04 1-4, and of “Walnut Grove,” 2:04 1-4, and was the greatest sire of extreme trotting speed in the Missouri Valley. He was the Kansas champion sire of trotters and was never beaten in the show ring.

For many years Mr. Lee maintained from five to twenty stallions and from fifty to 150 mares at Prairie Dell Farm. It has been said that more of the get of Prairie Dell Farm are in the 2:30 list than those of all other producing stock farms in Kansas put together. At one time Mr. Lee was the owner of the only stallion in Kansas to beat 2:18. He was the owner also of the first stallion foaled in Kansas to beat 2:30, of the first stallion foaled in Kansas to sire a 2:30 performer, and for years of the only stallion at any time foaled in Kansas to sire 2:30 performers. All of his most noted stallions, save “Hiram Woodruff,” were bred, foaled or raised at Prairie Dell Farm and made their initial season there. All 2:10 trotters sired by Kansas bred stallions are directly from Prairie Dell stock, and seven of the eleven Kansas bred sires of 2:10 pacers are of this blood or their 2:10 performers are (1908).

The Capital, of March 5, 1908, had the following to say concerning the last of the two disbursal sales of Prairie Dell stock in which Mr. Lee disposed of over eighty per cent of his standard bred horses: “Today will witness the passing of the most famous horse farm in Kansas, Prairie Dell Farm, and one of the most celebrated in the country. It was the home of ‘Paula,’ mother of ‘Gratton Boy,’ 2:08, ‘Pansy McGregor,’ the world’s champion, ‘Robert McGregor,’ sire of ‘Cresceus,’ 2:02 1-4, world’s champion, ‘Jack Daw,’ sire of ‘Maxine,’ the fastest four-year-old trotter of 1902, and many others.”

Perhaps it is not too much to say that Mr. Lee did more to improve the quality of trotting horses in Kansas, and, probably, in the entire Middle West, than any other man of his day. He was the pioneer breeder of trotting stock in Kansas. He organized the first horse fair in Kansas, which later became the present Kansas State Fair, at Topeka, was an active member of the executive committee of the Fair Association for many years, and was superintendent and general manager of the Fair on several occasions. It is worthy of note that during his administration no liquor or unclean shows were allowed upon the grounds.

Mr. Lee also owned large herds of cattle during the early part of his life in Kansas, and at the time of the great Chicago fire in 1871 had a very large herd destroyed there. He also owned a tract of several thousand acres in Texas and parties went to it nearly every year to hunt black bear. He made various foresighted investments in real estate in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as in Kansas City, Missouri, property. He was a member of various national, state and local breeders’ associations and was an officer of one of the first local good roads associations.

Mr. Lee was a well read student of American history, particularly in regard to the Revolution and Civil war. He wrote a number of popular papers on scientific methods of breeding horses and also “The Standard Bred Horse,” in the Stockbreeders’ Annual for 1905, page 35, and “Robert McGregor,” in Volume 17, 1899-1900, of the Twelfth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, page 271. He traveled in this country and abroad and was elected to the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. Among others, he was a descendant of Governor and Maj.-Gen. Thomas Dudley and Anne Dudley Bradstreet, the latter the first poetess of America, Governor Simon Bradstreet, Maj.-Gen. Daniel Gookin, the famous Anne Hutchinson, Governor Edward Hutchinson, Governor William Green, Rev. John Cotton and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. A fund has been pledged to the Washburn College Endowment Fund to found the “Robert Ives Lee Memorial Scholarship.”

Mr. Lee was married March 31, 1881, to Abbie Katherine Kimber, daughter of Henry and Jean (Henry) Kimber, of Kimberton, Pennsylvania, who came to Topeka, Kansas, in 1871. She was a granddaughter of Emmor Kimber, who founded the well known Kimber School for Young Ladies at Kimberton. The Kimberton Library was one of the first in Pennsylvania, and Emmor Kimber was one of the incorporators of the Reading Railroad. Mrs. Lee is descended from Col. Richard Kimber, an officer of Cromwell’s army. Mr. Lee is survived by his widow, his daughter, Helen Amory, who is the widow of William Henry Van Horn, of Chicago, who was educated at the University of Michigan, and has a son, Thomas Lee Van Horn; his daughter, Anna Louise, of Philadelphia, and his son, Thomas Amory Lee.

Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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