Memoirs of William B. Lee

From Barbara Anderson of Las Vegas, NV.

From the Journal of William B. LEE (1897) “When I commenced to write this it was for my own entertainment, but as I progressed I thought I would write a short sketch of my forefathers, my early ancestors, my parents, and our immediate family. What I have written has been done in the evenings after a hard day's work. If I have not done justice to those mentioned, I hope those now living will overlook the mistakes and omissions. As for those now passed into the other world, I know they will find no fault with me! Fully aware of my own insufficiency, but desiring to set down tradition, as it was given to me when a mere child, by my old Grand Uncle Brownlee and other relatives regarding our ancestry. Had I ever thought I would write this modest sketch, I would have listened more attentively to old Uncle Brownlee in Ireland when I was a boy of nine to twelve years, and could have gained more interesting information that would, doubtless have made these pages more interesting. Now I am growing old and the spirit for work such as this is not present all it might have been in younger days. However, what I have begun may act as a stimulus for some of my family to develop into a really interesting book with characters drawn from the family of Lee, and so I now leave it for someone else.

It was in the year 1832, on the 13th day of November, that I opened my eyes to look upon the world for the first time. What my thoughts were, it would be hard for me to tell. I suppose everything seemed strange to my young mind. As time rolled on I saw things more clearly. When ten years had passed over my head and my studies included books relating to the persecutions in the days of Knox, Cameron, Rerwick and many others, the scenes depicted therein made a lasting impression upon my mind. I read the account of the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, of the gallant band unfurling the Banner of Christ and fighting for His cause. Of the praying band that stood on the marshy banks of the Drumclog and listened to the noble Hamilton call upon God to “spare the green and take the ripe”, and of the flashing swords of Burly and Thomas Brownlee who, in the thickest of the battle in which they were victorious and routed the cruel General Claverhouse, had been sent to enforce certain stringent laws that had been enacted against the Scottish Covenanters. I often asked my old Grand Uncle John Brownlee who the Thomas Brownlee was. His answer was “One of my forefathers whose grandchildren migrated to Ireland at the time King William of Orange came to England to aid the Protestant cause, joined the army and fought through the wars of Ireland, and for such service, received grants of land in the County Tyron”.

So my story begins with the Brownlees of Bothwell, Scotland. Three grandsons of Thomas Brownlee, Earl of Bothwell, held high positions in King William's army. When peace had been restored they made their homes in Ireland, where they and their children became famous as stock raisers and fruit growers. Living as they did in a place where fish and game were plentiful, they could gratify their desire for hunting and fishing, almost the only recreation of those days. Were I to write of all their exploits and daring deeds I might fill many pages, but a few is all I will attempt, lest I make the reader of these pages weary with the reminiscence of an old man.

On the 24th day of June, in the year 1712, two brothers of the Brownlees were returning home from a distant town, when they were surprised by a mob of several hundred. As it was the custom of the times to go armed the brothers felt safe, mounted as they were upon their splendid steeds and carrying by their sides, swords their ancestors had frequently worn in victorious battle.

At this time, a bitter feeling existed between the Protestant and Catholic peasantry, so the brothers knew they must fight for their lives and said to one another, “We will show them that a Brownlee is not a coward.” The mob was well armed with stones and clubs, and when the two horsemen charged, they were set with a shower of stones, then flashed their swords and blows fell thick and fast; in a short time they were masters of the field and around them lay some twenty men, bleeding and thoroughly disabled. As the attack took place upon a bridge, it has to the present time been known as Bloody Bridge.

The history I have of the Brownlee's was related to me by a bachelor Brother of my Grandmother who was very fond of me and still more fond of telling of what his ancestors had done. Well he might be, for they were a noble people. As time went on they took a lively part in the struggle for the liberty of the Irish people. They were patriots of the noblest kind and many of them lost their earthly possessions, and even their heads for resisting the government of tyrannical England.

Well do I remember my old Grand-uncle telling me of the bonfires he, with others, kindled on the highest neighboring hills, whenever word was received of an American victory over the British, and scarcely drawing my breath while my young heart drank in his sentiments of patriotism. Little did I then think that one day I would be a citizen of the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

I will pass over a great deal of the doings of the Brownlees, although it gives me pleasure to dwell upon them as among my early forefathers. They were “Scotch-Irish” generous, kind and noble, but of a hasty temperament, as, the saying “a word and a blow”. They were fond of fishing and hunting, and I must have taken after them in that respect.

You will see, as I will have occasion to mention some of my hunting on the great plains of the west where so much large game roamed unchecked in the early days, and the footprint of the white man was unknown.”

Chart 10001 - Torfoot Brownlee

See also Early History of Brownlee, Nebraska

William B. Lee, who died at the home of his daughter at Douglas, Wyoming, July 1, was the last of the band of pioneers who came to Fremont, Nebraska, in 1856. Mr. Lee had resided at Fremont for sixty-two years, and his body was brought back to the old home for burial. Mr. Lee was a native of Ireland and came to America when a young man. He was 85 years old at the time of his death. Two daughters, Mrs. John Flynn and Mrs. A. R. Merritt, of Douglas, Wyoming, and two sons, Ed. of Brownlee, Nebraska, and Frank, of Oregon, are the close surviving relatives.

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