Sully was the country home of Richard Bland and Elizabeth Collins Lee. It was built in 1794 on land inherited by Richard's father, Henry Lee II. The house was situated on what was originally a 3,111-acre tract between Cub and Flatlick Runs, then part of Loudoun County, Virginia.
In 1789, Lee was elected to represent Northern Virginia in the first Congress of the United States. For the next five years, he spent a good deal of his time in New York and Philadelphia, where the delegates convened. By the end of 1793, construction began on the manor house and its associated buildings, which eventually replaced the log house that was Richard Bland Lee's bachelor residence.
From Philadelphia, Lee ordered the necessary supplies and forwarded building instructions to his agent in Virginia. Nails, plaster of Paris, linseed oil, window weights and ropes, and two marble hearths were among the cargoes shipped by sloop to the port of Alexandria and transported by wagon the remaining 20 miles to Sully. "The colors I directed were slate for the Roof and Stone for the Body inside and out," Lee wrote. "Urge the painter to lose no time in his work."
Two-and-a-half stories high and three bays wide, Sully bears a resemblance to the townhouses of Philadelphia, the city where Lee met and married Elizabeth Collins. She was the daughter of a Quaker merchant. Stephen Collins, visiting his daughter's Chantilly home in September 1794, wrote to assure his wife that Sully was "a clever house, has an elegant hall 12 feet wide and two very pretty rooms on the first floor....There are two large and one small Chamber in the second story, and one handsome and large chamber in the third or garret story and another good lodging room besides..."
The Lee home was, by design, a fit residence for a man of Lee's station and a comfortable dwelling place for his wife.
Sully was built during the nation's Federal Period (1790-1820). Outside, the clapboard siding conceals mortared brick set between the studs of the frame. Inside, the floor plan presents one half of a center hall configuration in keeping with Lee's initial plans to build a second full wing at a later date.
Sitting rooms and living quarters open onto the first floor hall and second floor passageway. Lee's cousin, Thomas Shippen, a house guest from Pennsylvania in 1794, reported to his father, "I would fain give you some idea of the elegance in which this kinsman of ours has settled himself...This house (is) lately furnished from Phila. with every article of silver plate, mahogany, wilton carpeting, and glassware that can be conceived... Parlours and chambers completely equipped with every luxury as well as convenience."
Lee began to collect furnishings for his small but stylish manor house while still living in his log home. Eventually, a sideboard, two dining tables and a pair of card tables were placed in the new residence alongside mahogany chairs, a desk and 'handsom' knife cases. Blue and white Chinese export porcelain, glass tumblers and decanters, a silver plated urn and flatware having "green Ivory handles of the best sort, the handles of the finest and largest sizes" adorned the dining table.
Richard Bland Lee sold Sully in 1811. Financial reverses played a part in the decision, and it is likely, too, that Elizabeth Lee cared more for the advantages of city life for herself and her children. At the same time, her husband was drawn to offices of public service which kept him away from his country estate. For whatever reasons, Sully was offered for sale and quickly sold to a cousin, Francis Lightfoot Lee.
Richard's 1787 inheritance from his father included land, livestock and the ownership of 29 enslaved people. Among them were Sam, the blacksmith; John, a manservant; Prue, the mother of several children; Thornton, a male cook; and Caine and Eave, who had lived and worked at Sully since 1746. These men and women, along with four tenants, provided the essential labor and artisan skills upon which the family depended. Their activities encompassed every aspect of operating the farm.
A smokehouse and its twin, a small square building whose original purpose and location are still unknown, stand at opposite ends of Sully house. In the smokehouse, meats were hung overhead to cure on wooden pegs that are still visible.
Two feet thick at the base and 25 feet tall on its highest side, the dairy may have been the only quarried stone building on the property. Probably constructed with some labor of the enslaved people, its inner and outer walls were insulated with a mixture of earth and straw to insure relatively cool temperatures for the storage of milk, cheese and butter. During the summer months, eggs, fruits and vegetables would have been kept there. The second floor "elegant apartment," as Lee noted in a description of his dairy, may have served as living quarters for an overseer or enslaved workers in the house, but there are no references to actual tenants during the Lee residency.
Additional structures supporting farm activities and the quarters that housed the enslaved community would have been an integral part of the Sully landscape. In 1794, Stephen Collins described slave "huts... as different from such as I have sen for that purpose in the lower part of Virginia..." Based on available data, archaeologists have determined that one slave quarter was located approximately 300 yards from the main house adjacent to the farm building area and near the south lane bridge that crossed Cain's Branch.
Other Sully Owners
After 1811, several more families called Sully home. All suited the house to their particular needs and worked the land in a variety of ways. Their efforts contributed to the survival of the estate, particularly during the Civil War when both Union and Confederate armies camped across the county.
Francis Lightfoot Lee, 1811 - 1838
William Swartwort, 1838 - 1842, Speculator
Amy Haight Jacob and Amy Haight
Alexander Haight, 1842 - 1852
James and Marie Haight Barlow, 1852 - 1869
Stephen and Conrad Shear 1869 - 1910
William Eads Miller 1910 - 1919, Real Estate Agent
King and Rebecca Poston, 1919 - 1939, Dairy Farmers
Walter Thurston, 1939 - 1946, United States Diplomat
Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., 1946 - 1958, United States Diplomat