Thomas Findley Lee was the son of Nancy Lee Bannister, born abt 1825 and Thomas Findley II, born abt 1800 identified in the 1810 Virginia Census. We believe that he was born free in 1859 on the Custis Plantation in Arlington, now Arlington National Cemetery; albeit modified U.S. census records note a Chesterfield County birth. He recalled to offspring that he was born on the same day that John Brown was hanged 2 December 1859, and the fact that his mother Nancy was employed by the Robert E. Lee family prompts us to believe Thomas was born at Arlington. His most vivid memory from childhood was that of his "Grandma Rose" which encourages us to believe that her visits with him either occurred in the Arlington/Alexandria area where she died in 1864 or the Richmond area where she had apparently lived when married to James Banister.
Along with the Custis-Lee family of Robert E. Lee in 1861, Thomas was relocated from Arlington (called the Arlington White House) with his mother and a few of the other household servants to Richmond, Virginia where he lived until the surrender of Confederate rebels in April of 1865; and subsequent relocation/settlement that spring of his mother and siblings in vicinity of coal-mining village of Midlothian (westward outskirts of Richmond). Functionally, with the great celebration of African-Americans of all colors that RICHMOND is Fallen, youth like Thomas were essentially "born again" in personal liberty to labor and learn albeit his earliest tasks, like most six year old boys of that era and later, was learning how to be helpful and useful in errands to his own mother, rather than that of a slave-owner. Under the ante-bellum culture prior to its demise, all slaves and servants to an estate owner and master, were presented at age six for his review and assignment of duty. And, to men like Robert E. Lee duty mattered more than personal relationships of Nancy Lee and he most assuredly would have assigned Thomas, if Nancy dared bring him to her place of duty, some servant work to do. Both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington in their stories told of being taken by their mother to the master's house for presentation and assignment of child duties. But, Thomas at age six was learning to read and hear stories about his hero Frederick Douglass, in memory of whom he would later name his youngest son Frederick Douglass Lee, born 1908.
His mother Nancy began teaching him at an early age how to recognize and count money, and his reading lessons were the old fashioned method that his mother had learned to use: learning his letters first via pages in the bible, and then building words and confidence about matters of interest to him that he could observe such as horses and mules. There was no school for non-White youth in Midlothian until around 1877 when Thomas was 18 years of age; and working as an accomplished stable hand moving animals and materials to and from the mines to shipment and storage locations. I am proud to recall that Grandpa Lee learned a marketable skill, almost exactly like my other grandfathers Lee Lowry, born 1863 and Madison Hemings Jefferson, born 1805 both of whom had to be inspired and motivated to learn means and methods to earn a living, not simply survive hand to mouth.
Thomas' Lee characteristic interests and attention to horses and mules likely gained him a job at the coal fields where such animals were used; and boys his age often hired to feed and water them. There were outside and inside stables at the coal mines. On the outside along with the stable were usually a separate hay barn, corn crib and feed sheds. Also located nearby would be the blacksmith shop and the harness repair shop. These buildings in most all cases would be separate to cut down on the danger of fire. This same case would apply to the inside stables, along with a few other dangers not applied to the outside stables.
All hay going to the inside stables had to be transported in compact bales. Once inside, they had to be stored in a separate built room and not in the stable itself. The stables and hay storage rooms underground were right at the shaft or slope bottom, this for a reason the layperson would hardly think of: First, in case of fire or explosion to quickly evacuate the animals. Secondly, horse manure if not removed entirely from the mine can produce gas.
Thomas Lee moved from Virginia to Ohio with his mother Nancy Banister Lee after the Midlothian coal mine disaster of 1882. As a young man in year 1883 he married Mary Elizabeth Hemings Butler who was the grand-daughter of Madison Hemings and great grand-daughter of Sarah (Sally) Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Findley Lee owned a horse and mule livery business in the most concentrated agricultural county in Ohio. His business of transport and hauling for Fayette County farmers from 1883 to 1923 proved very successful and allowed him to buy a home and support his growing family.
Fayette County was a huge farming location with large farms averaging over 400 acres or more, some being more than a thousand acres. Busy farming, most farmers did not like to use valuable time hauling farm products and supplies; and, welcomed the energetic Thomas Lee who contracted with them as their livery agent. He worked the sun-up to sun-down hours typical and comfortable for farmers. And, as his family grew, so did the sons that in due time were able to help him grow the livery business into a very thriving enterprise: using horses, mules and wagons as he gradually acquired motorized trucks during World War I.
... but the new automotive licensing and regulation processes by the majority would deliberately exclude men of African-American heritage. The tremendous development of motor transport during and after World War I gave rise to regulations in most states by newly established Public Utilities Commissions; and, federal regulations dealing with meat packing, stockyards, radio communications and aviation. And, without exceptions, African-Americans were not afforded licenses necessary to operate.
Thomas Lee was a livery specialist and like many thousands of African-American men, enjoyed self-employment in the horse and wagon days before the great World War; and conscription of his two eldest sons in the fight for liberty in Europe that for the most part glorified and romanticized military conquests and warfare. For him and his kind in America and rest of the world, the so-called war to end all wars did not end in 1918 but rather a mere prologue for the coming of World War II by men and women determined to be superior human beings to others on earth.
The ideologies of many 19th century Europeans, including some immigrants to the Americas and Caribbean, ... was unfortunately cemented in the factors of greed and ruthlessness rationalized as somehow good, ... ends justify the means. And, these ideologies engulfed the entire world in war. Thomas Findley Lee, like most other African-American men prior to World War II could not obtain a Public Utility granted license for livery services. Ohio's governor had made it clear in his election campaign that such licenses would not be granted to African-Americans.
In 1913, the name was changed to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The PUCO took on comprehensive motor bus line regulatory duties in 1921 and two years later received jurisdiction over the motor transportation of property.
Alvin Victor Donahey (also known as A. Victor Donahey, A. Vic Donahey, Vic Donahey, A. V. Donahey, or Honest Vic Donahey) (July 7, 1873 – April 8, 1946) was a Democratic Party politician from Ohio. He was the 50th Governor of Ohio and a United States Senator from Ohio. Competition with White men was absolutely forbidden in the minds of many of America's policy-makers, north, south, east and west.
Pennsylvania was an exception wherein a cousin in the Pittsburgh region named Temple Lee had been able to secure a trucking license to haul coal for the mines but also to generate wealth to help others, both Black and White.
January 8, 1923 – January 14, 1929
And, to his great regret, one of the White owned businesses that he helped establish in the coal livery business successfully conspired with mine owners to force him out of the business and into bankruptcy.
Indeed, the story of Temple J Lee, born 1907
Temple Lee helped motivate his cousins in Ohio and Virginia to keep hope alive that African-Americans could earn a living in the livery businesses flourishing across the country. And, believe it or not, .... the struggle to obtain race-free licenses as livery and taxi operators was not won until era of Mayor Marion Berry in Washington, D.C. who as mayor in the 1970s decided that Black men ought to be worthy to own their own taxi licenses.
The Lee men, in both slavery and freedom within Virginia and Ohio, long before the American Civil War had worked as livery men, using horses and mules, to earn a living. But, in the early 20th century civil injustices by the newly established Public Utilities Commissions in Ohio and most other states: denied them and other African-Americans the necessary licenses to own and operate motorized carriers in competition with White Americans.
So, Thomas Findley Lee did what he had to do, and became a dirt farmer in Ohio to support his family. But all of his sons, not surprisingly went into the livery industry working for the United States Postal Services in war and peace; with the exception of my father who worked for Gulf Oil Corporation in the nation-wide distribution of their famed travel maps. Thomas Lee lived long enough to see his family rise up from the dust and grime of his years up from the ante-bellum years.
He and my grandmother loved and lived to see their grand-children that included me made all the more determined to honor them by remembering they mattered in the Living Christ they believed in.
with questions or comments about this web site.