WARSAW – Menokin was the home of patriot Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife Rebecca Tayloe Lee, of nearby Mount Airy. The Menokin Foundation owns the 500-acre property, more than half of which is in the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
At Menokin, you will experience an 18th century house like never before – feel hand wrought nails; observe how joists, girders and posts fit together to create the framing; and look behind the interior woodwork to see the construction techniques of the 18th century artisans. You can also enjoy the property’s scenic beauty by hiking on its trails to Cat Point Creek.
Before the Menokin plantation was ever developed, this area along Cat Point Creek (also called Rappahannock Creek) was home to the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. In 1608, Capt. John Smith recorded 14 Rappahannock towns on the north side of the River and its tributaries. The general plantation site was referred to as “Menokin” by the Rappahannock, which likely translates to “He gives it to me” in the tribe’s Algonquian-based language. Francis Lightfoot Lee kept the name for his home
Menokin was built c. 1769 on the occasion of the marriage of Francis Lightfoot Lee and Rebecca Tayloe. Rebecca was the daughter of John Tayloe II, who built neighboring Mount Airy. John Tayloe II gave the couple the large plantation on Cat Point Creek, approximately five miles upstream from the Rappahannock River, and financed construction of the two-story stone Menokin and its dependencies. Soon after, Francis Lightfoot Lee joined the cause of American independence, serving in the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1779 and signing the Declaration of Independence together with his brother Richard Henry Lee and the Articles of Confederation.
Both Francis Lightfoot and Rebecca Tayloe Lee died in the winter of 1797. Menokin was then owned by Rebecca’s nephew John Tayloe III, who lived at Mount Airy and later built the Octagon House in Washington, D.C. Between 1809 and 1819, John Tayloe Lomax lived at Menokin with his family. Lomax would later become the first Professor of Law at the University of Virginia. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Menokin passed hands several times and went into serious decline around 1935 when it lay, for the most part, vacant before coming into possession of The Menokin Foundation in 1995.
The full story of Francis Lightfoot Lee, and the mark that he made on both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the developing United States of America has not been told. Bits and pieces come from many sources – his letters, letters about him, comments by friends and relatives, and the fact that he was a signer of both the Westmoreland Resolves (Feb. 27, 1766) and the Declaration of Independence (1776). He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, first from Loudon, and then from Richmond County. He was in Philadelphia in 1776 as a Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congress, returning to Virginia in 1779. He served briefly in the Virginia Senate after that, but for the most part he was content to be at home at Menokin with his books and his farm and his beloved wife, Becky Tayloe. Research concerning the life and work of Francis Lightfoot Lee is an ongoing project of the Menokin Foundation.
Although Menokin is now in ruin, a remarkable collection of Colonial architectural elements remains. Approximately 80 percent of Menokin’s original materials have survived, including: original stones, brick and mortar; queen posts and dragon beams; intact framing assemblages; and the interior woodwork. In 1940, while the house and one outbuilding were still standing, the Historic American Buildings Survey produced detailed photography and comprehensive measured drawings of the property. In 1964, the original pen and ink presentation drawings for Menokin were discovered among some Tayloe family papers in the attic of Mount Airy . Four years later, as the house was in serious trouble of collapsing, the interior woodwork was removed by the owner and put into storage. The surprisingly intact woodwork is back at Menokin and can be viewed at the Foundation’s King Conservation and Visitors Center . Menokin’s dining room paneling is on loan to the Virginia Historical Society where it is now on display. In 1971, Menokin was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.