Written by Christopher Hendrix. Research conducted by the staff of Manatee Village Historical Park and the Manatee County Historical Resources Library. All sources are available upon request.
Research into the Lee family is ongoing and this article may be updated as new information is uncovered.
Born in Middlebury, Vermont on July 7, 1809, Edmund Lee was diagnosed with Consumption, known today as Tuberculosis, at the age of 27. At the time, a common treatment for Consumption was to move to a warmer climate. Taking this advice, Edmund moved to Savannah, Georgia where he ran a school and became an ordained Presbyterian Minister. Prior to this move, or during a return visit, he married his first wife, Electa Arcotte, in Vermont in 1843.
Edmund and Electa likely moved to Tampa soon after their wedding, when Edmund claimed land in present day Brandon under the Armed Occupation Act. Not long afterwards, he was appointed Circuit Court Judge of Hillsborough County by 1844 and their only daughter, Sarah, was born in 1846, probably in Tampa. By the end of 1847, Edmund had moved the family to the Village of Manatee.
In Manatee, the Lee family first resided in the home of Josiah Gates, one of the first white settlers of Manatee. In 1850, Edmund purchased land from Gates family, to add to the land he had already acquired, and constructed his own residence, complete with a small general store attached. Judging by the location of the family cemetery, this residence was probably in the vicinity of what is now the 300 block of 17th St. E in Bradenton. To supply his general store, Edmund dug a small canal from the Manatee River to his house with the intention to float supplies and goods down the canal. The canal did not work out as planned, and became known as “Lee’s Folly.”
In 1850, Dr. Joseph Braden, who owned a large sugarcane plantation on the banks of the Manatee and Braden Rivers, hired Edmund Lee and another local settler, Ezekiel Glazier, to oversee the construction of his grand residence, which became known as the Braden Castle.
Around that time, Electa opened the first school in Manatee. This school, called the Dame School for Boys, was held on the second floor of the Lee residence, and cost $5 per semester. Being educated individuals, Edmund and Electa apparently brought with them a personal library, and would lend books to other settlers of the area. Today, Electa is recognized as the first school teacher in Manatee County’s history and Electa Lee Middle School was named in her honor.
On January 9, 1855, Manatee County was established out of the southern portion of Hillsborough County. While it is believed Edmund was the first Clerk of Circuit Court in Manatee County, the earliest recorded instance that we could find of him in that position was in October of 1859. Before that the Clerk is mentioned but not by name in the records.
At the onset of the Third Seminole War, in 1856, Edmund joined the local militia – John Parker’s Company. Manatee did not see a lot of action and this group of militia is not known to have participated in much of the fighting. Edmund was believed to be friendly with the local Seminoles, and it is thought Holata Micco (also known as Billy Bowlegs) visited the Lee residence several times before the war.
The Third Seminole War did not draw Edmund away from his family for any lengthy period of time, but the Civil War did. In 1861, he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He served as the Chaplain of the 7th Florida Company K Volunteer Infantry, and later with an unknown unit in Savannah, GA. Sometime towards the end of the war, Lee was discharged in Savannah, GA, and he returned home to Manatee. He walked most of the way, until he was picked up by a friend on a wagon, some 60 miles from his destination.
While Edmund was away during the war, Electa cared for the family, the general store, the school, and the boarding house. She frequently updated Edmund on matters pertaining to his life in Manatee in the letters they exchanged.
After the Civil War, Edmund and Electa adopted two young surviving children of a local family that was decimated by Yellow Fever in 1868. Mary Guerrero, an infant, did not live long, and was buried in a plot on the Lee family homestead. Soon, others would join her in what became the Lee Family Cemetery. Christopher Guerro was raised by Edmund and Electa and at some point changed his name to Edmund Miguel Guerro Lee, or E. M. Lee.
Sometime between 1870 and 1872 (sources differ), Electa Lee passed away from dysentery, and was buried in the Lee Family Cemetery. Lee re-married a widow named Adeline Frierson on September 26, 1872, and adopted her three children. She passed away in June 1873, and Lee continued to raise her children.
Edmund and Electa’s daughter, Sarah, and James C. Vanderipe were married on July 17, 1872. The ceremony was officiated, and the marriage certificate signed, by Rev. Edmund Lee himself. In August 1878, Sarah passed away a month after giving birth to their third child. No reason for her death is known, however, it was likely due to complications from childbirth. Sarah is buried in the Lee Family Cemetery. Seven months later, James passed away. In his will, dated just weeks before his death, he stated he was ill, although no more details are known. It is believed Edmund refused to allow James to be buried next to his wife in the Lee Family Cemetery, so he was buried alone in what has become knowns as, "the Lonesome Grave.". The true nature of James’ relationship with Edmund is unknown, but it is believed Edmund disapproved of debts James had, and the two frequently argued over this.
In 1875, Lee married his third wife, Elizabeth Odell. Lee and Elizabeth donated some of their land to construct a schoolhouse in 1876. This schoolhouse was called Manatee Academy, and was the county’s first advanced school.
Edmund Lee passed away in 1892 in Manatee, and is buried in the Lee Family Cemetery. He outlived two of his three wives, his only daughter, several adopted children, and several of his grandchildren. His third wife, Elizabeth, passed away the following year, and is buried beside him.
Edmund Lee, unknown date
Mrs. Edmund Lee, possibly Electa, c. 1860's, courtesy of the Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection
Sarah Lee, c. 1868, courtesy of the Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection
Lee Family Cemetery Historical Marker, courtesy of Historical Marker Database