Lee, William, 1739–95, American Revolutionary diplomat, b. Westmoreland co., Va.; brother of Arthur Lee, Francis L. Lee, and Richard H. Lee. He opened a business house in London in 1768 and later was a political supporter of John Wilkes and became (1775) an alderman of London. He accepted appointment by the Continental Congress as an agent for the newly created United States, and later attempted unsuccessfully to obtain recognition from both Austria and Prussia. He and a Dutch merchant made a draft of a possible U.S.-Dutch commercial treaty. The draft, which had no official sanction at all, Lee sent back to America. A copy of it, seized by the British when they captured Henry Laurens, was used as a cause for warfare between Great Britain and the Netherlands.
See his Letters 1766–83, ed. by W. C. Ford (3 vol., 1891; repr. 1971); B. J. Hendrick, The Lees of Virginia (1935).