William Lee

(Pasquotank County)

Featured Character – A Soldier's Life


"Yankee Peddler"

Courtesy of John Ehninger, 1858, Newark Museum

Born in 1843, William Lee came from the lower echelons of Albemarle society.  His father, known only as D. Lee, worked as a mariner.  The family lived in a house valued at only $500 by the census taker in 1850.  The 1860 Census lists his wife Ellen as head of the house, implying that D. Lee no longer lives.  In an age of ever increasing property values, the Lee’s home decreased, to only $300.  The 1860 Census lists William Lee’s occupation as “peddler.”  In the antebellum South, the majority of traveling salesmen entered the profession because they found no other suitable work, usually due to either a physical disability or ailment.  Due to his later experience in the Confederate army, this adage probably applies to William Lee.  On November 16, 1861, William Lee joined the 5th North Carolina Infantry as a private.  The enlistment officer listed his occupation as “huckster,” a nickname for peddlers.  After filling its ranks, the regiment joined the Confederate Army massing in northern Virginia.  William Lee’s service in the frontline defense of the Confederacy proved short-lived, however.  On December 21, 1861, he received a discharge for “general disability.”  William P. Lee does not appear in the 1870 Census, an indication of his possible death.  A Bible given to William Lee at his enlistment by the ladies of Elizabeth City passed through the hands of his sister’s family.