Plaque Honoring Robert E. Lee’s Horse Removed At Washington & Lee University
Chuck Myers/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Washington & Lee University, initially named Augusta Academy, then Liberty Hall Academy before being renamed for America’s first president George Washington and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, has removed the plaque honoring Lee’s famed steed Traveller.

The plaque was mounted over Traveller’s gravesite outside Lee Chapel, which is a National Historic Landmark. It read, “The last home of Traveller. Through war and peace the faithful, devoted and beloved horse of General Robert Lee. Placed by the Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy.” Last month, the university removed plaques from the room where Lee took his oath of office when he was inaugurated as president of the school in 1865 and his office from 1865-68.

“Traveller was a beloved part of the campus story,” Kamron Spivey, president of Students for Historical Preservation, told The College Fix. “People like to hear tales about animals because they do no wrong. That is how Traveller has been immortalized in campus history. He was a faithful horse whose beauty and loyalty Robert E. Lee said would inspire poets. Until this month, very few people seemed bothered by the horse.”

“Due to a misappreciation of Lee’s contributions and positive legacy as an educator, university officials think any reference to the man is detracting from student enrollment. Rather than confront the issue directly, they are trying to secretly hide their history from the world,” Spivey continued. “The university should keep the original markers. If the goal is to contextualize a historic site, there is no better place than the original location they were erected.”

Augusta Academy was founded in 1749 and moved several times before being renamed Liberty Hall Academy in 1776 as a tribute to the American revolutionaries. By 1796 the school was having financial trouble; U.S. President George Washington donated 100 shares of James River Canal Company stock — a huge donation at the time — which he had received as a gift from the Virginia General Assembly for recognition of his service to Virginia. It still contributes to the university’s operating budget.

The grateful trustees changed the name of the institution to Washington Academy. Washington responded, “To promote Literature in this rising Empire, and to encourage the Arts, have ever been among the warmest wishes of my heart.” In 1813, Washington Academy became Washington College.

Four months after Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, the Washington College board of trustees invited Lee to become president of the college. Over the next five years, Lee “incorporated the local law school; instituted undergraduate courses in business and journalism; introduced modern languages and applied mathematics; and expanded offerings in the natural sciences,” the university’s website states, adding, “Lee also endorsed a lasting tradition of student self-governance, putting the students in charge of the honor system that the faculty had previously overseen.”

After his death in 1870, the faculty asked for the college to be renamed in Lee’s honor, thus creating Washington and Lee University.

The University’s Board of Trustees wrote in 2021, “Our community holds passionate and divergent opinions about our name. The association with our namesakes can be painful to those who continue to experience racism, especially to African Americans, and is seen by some as an impediment to our efforts to attract and support a diverse community. For others, our name is an appropriate recognition of the specific and significant contributions each man made directly to our institution.”

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