People who buy old houses are almost in for a few surprises — some good, some not-so-good.
The McCormack brothers – one a business owner, the other a developer — found a keeper in an old house they bought in Petersburg: a letter to a previous resident apparently from Gen. Robert E. Lee, granting permission for a leave of absence — presumably from Washington College.
"It just blew me away," said Tom McCormack, who owns Saucy’s Walk-up Bar.B.Q. in downtown Petersburg.
The letter hasn’t been authenticated. But it was found in the attic under floorboards along with other letters from that era, parts of a hoops skirt, a tiny bottle of scotch and the cover of a journal from the 1830s.
"To General Lee," the beautifully scripted letter reads. "I hereby make application for leave of absence from the 3{+h} of May. Very respectfully, W.B. Smith, Washington College, April 29th, 1868.
At the bottom of the letter is Lee’s signature where he writes, “Granted at the request of his father. R.E. Lee.”
Lee, who led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War, was president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, after the war.
School records show that Willis B. Smith was an assistant professor of mathematics at the school from 1868-1869 and was from Powhatan County. He also was a civil engineer, a lawyer and clerk of circuit court in Powhatan. McCormack dug up records showing he rented the house in the late 1800s.
McCormack and his brother, Dave McCormack, bought the two-story, wood-frame house, built circa 1790 to 1810, at 18 Perry St. as an investment four years ago.
They stabilized the house, replacing a wall that was caving in, and over the years, they cleaned out areas inside the house.
"But only (recently) did my brother make his way into the attic (where) under the floorboards he found a letter addressed to one of the original owners of the house from General R.E. Lee," Dave McCormack wrote in an e-mail.
He also found a letter from Smith’s grandmother explaining what life was like after the Civil War. One of her servants was still with her but some had left.
Tom McCormack said he is not sure what he and his brother will do with the Lee letter. It could be sold with the house, which has been on and off the market for a couple of years, and is now listed for $95,000.
"We are trying to find a buyer who will restore the house," McCormack said. "I think it’s important that all the stuff we found stays with house because they are part of the history of the house."

People who buy old houses are almost in for a few surprises — some good, some not-so-good.

The McCormack brothers – one a business owner, the other a developer — found a keeper in an old house they bought in Petersburg: a letter to a previous resident apparently from Gen. Robert E. Lee, granting permission for a leave of absence — presumably from Washington College.

"It just blew me away," said Tom McCormack, who owns Saucy’s Walk-up Bar.B.Q. in downtown Petersburg.

The letter hasn’t been authenticated. But it was found in the attic under floorboards along with other letters from that era, parts of a hoops skirt, a tiny bottle of scotch and the cover of a journal from the 1830s.

"To General Lee," the beautifully scripted letter reads. "I hereby make application for leave of absence from the 3{+h} of May. Very respectfully, W.B. Smith, Washington College, April 29th, 1868.

At the bottom of the letter is Lee’s signature where he writes, “Granted at the request of his father. R.E. Lee.”

Lee, who led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War, was president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, after the war.

School records show that Willis B. Smith was an assistant professor of mathematics at the school from 1868-1869 and was from Powhatan County. He also was a civil engineer, a lawyer and clerk of circuit court in Powhatan. McCormack dug up records showing he rented the house in the late 1800s.

McCormack and his brother, Dave McCormack, bought the two-story, wood-frame house, built circa 1790 to 1810, at 18 Perry St. as an investment four years ago.

They stabilized the house, replacing a wall that was caving in, and over the years, they cleaned out areas inside the house.

"But only (recently) did my brother make his way into the attic (where) under the floorboards he found a letter addressed to one of the original owners of the house from General R.E. Lee," Dave McCormack wrote in an e-mail.

He also found a letter from Smith’s grandmother explaining what life was like after the Civil War. One of her servants was still with her but some had left.

Tom McCormack said he is not sure what he and his brother will do with the Lee letter. It could be sold with the house, which has been on and off the market for a couple of years, and is now listed for $95,000.

"We are trying to find a buyer who will restore the house," McCormack said. "I think it’s important that all the stuff we found stays with house because they are part of the history of the house."

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