Normally I post here on Thursdays but I am too excited to wait that long to share my news. I have just finalized a deal with Thomas Nelson/ HarperCollins to publish a biographical novel about the extraordinary friendship between Mrs. Robert E Lee and Selina Gray, a slave at Arlington House.
Selina was just eight years old in 1831 when Mary Anna Randolph Custis married the dashing Lt. Robert E Lee, widely regarded as the handsomest man in the army. During Mary’s long stays at Arlington House, her childhood home, while her husband was posted elsewhere, Mary and Selina formed a strong bond. Selina has been variously described as the head housekeeper at Arlington House, and as Mrs. Lee’s personal maid. But the two forged an unusually intimate friendship. According to family lore, when Selina told Mrs. Lee she wanted to marry Thornton Gray, Mrs. Lee arranged for the wedding to take place in the same parlor at Arlington where she and the future General Lee were married, and by the same clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Keith.
Mrs. Lee and her daughters, Mary ( Called “Daughter” to distinguish her from her mother) Annie, Agnes, and Mildred taught Selina and numerous other Arlington slaves to read and write. They did a wonderful job in Selina’s case–the few examples of her writing that survive are nearly perfect in spelling, grammar and sentence structure.
Mary, by virtue of her marriage to General Lee, the most beloved figure of the Old South earned her place in history. Selina earned hers in a more dramatic way. When Mary and her children were forced to flee Arlington at the start of the Civil War, Mary handed the house keys to Selina and with them, the responsibility for the home Mary loved. When Union soldiers began pillaging the mansion, Selina intervened with the general in charge, and saved many of the treasures of Arlington House, treasures that had once belonged to President Washington. Even though Selina would not be free until the end of 1862, her affection for the Lee family and her extraordinary loyalty to Arlington House led her to stare down the interlopers with a warning, “Don’t you touch Miss Mary’s things.”
I can’t wait to write this story, due out early next year. I hope you will enjoy it.