Christina’s Review: The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Semsch


The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Hadfield Semsch
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on 2009-09-25
Genres: Biographical, Fiction
Pages: 646
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
Francis Lightfoot Lee is known in the annals of Virginia history as one of the colony's signers of the Declaration of Independence. Yet little is known of Lee's personal life, a void which novelist and long-time Virginian Suzanne Hadfield Semsch set out to fill with extensive research and a healthy dose of creativity without distorting historical fact. The result is The Lees of Menokin, a biographical novel documenting Lee's career as well as his courtship and marriage to Rebecca “Becky” Tayloe. A descendant of one of Virginia's “first families,” Lee was a staunch patriot and reputed ladies' man serving in the colony's House of Burgesses when he fell in love with Becky, who was half his age. From the early days at Menokin, their plantation home, through the turbulence of the Revolution, to the lean post-war years, readers will enjoy a glimpse into this formative period of early America. The Lees of Menokin is an engaging love story set against the chaotic backdrop of revolution.

Lees of MenokinI mentioned in my last post I had fallen behind on my reading and blogging because I was moving. I moved to Tappahannock, Virginia and now work in the Northern Neck at Menokin – the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of Virginia’s seven signers of the Declaration of Independence. I LOVE my job! We are working to preserve and interpret Menokin in a revolutionary way – by encasing the house in a glass shell.

I started seeking out new reads on Francis Lightfoot Lee and came across The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Semsch. I instantly bought it to read on my Kindle… how perfect! The book is a classic love story. It is fiction – important to keep that in mind – but is well researched and has a lot of information on Francis and Becky’s life and the revolutionary period. The story starts with Francis Lightfoot Lee, living in Loudon County, Virginia and heading to the Burgess in Williamsburg. During his time there in Williamsburg, he sees the daughters of John Tayloe in their garden and is enthralled by their beauty, especially Becky’s. They talk, they flirt, he woos her and she plays along… long story short, Becky and Francis fall in love and marry. As a wedding gift, Tayloe grants them approximately 1,000 acres of land and a house, Menokin, in Richmond County, Virginia.

From there, the story progresses through the love of Francis and Becky and the events that give the revolutionary period its name. Becky joins Francis when he is elected to the Second Continental Congress and moves to Philadelphia with him. They have to flee the city as the British come into town, alongside the other delegates fleeing. Politics have their ups and downs, and Semsch captures this. Francis and Becky are seen alongside other founding fathers, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Francis’ brother, Richard Henry Lee.

Semsch builds in conversations and events to connect the reader with the life of Francis and Becky. I felt a new, personal connection with this founding father who was such an influence in Virginia as he picked up that quill to sign the Declaration. He and Becky lived a passionate, loving life together… even though life did not always go their way. For those of you who do not know their story, I will not spoil any more.

It is important to know this book is a work of fiction. Not all of the events and characters are real. But it is a pleasant read and can make the reader feel connected to these important figures in history. It is also a long read… I started the book on my Kindle and regret that decision. I was getting Kindle-fatigue and took almost a month to get through the book (this is not typical for me!) I recommend buying the book itself if you feel you get Kindle-fatigued like I do.

As my final note about The Lees of Menokin, it is a book meant for the history-lover. It is filled with politics and conversations revolving the political nature of the colonies and the turn towards independence. It is long with pages of romance mixed in between the politics and travel. If you are interested in the period, I have other books (fiction and non-fiction) I could recommend. Any questions about the life of Francis Lightfoot Lee, Menokin, or if you want to talk about the book, comment or send us an email!

Happy readings!

pj - christina

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