April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
|Succeeded by||Abigail Adams|
|Born||June 2, 1731
Chestnut Grove, New Kent County, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||May 22, 1802 (aged 70)
Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Daniel Parke Custis (1750-1757)
George Washington (1759-1799)
|Relations||John Dandridge and Frances Jones|
|Children||Daniel Parke Custis, Jr., Frances Custis, John Parke "Jacky" Custis, Martha Parke "Patsy Custis|
|Occupation||First Lady of the United States|
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (June 2, 1731 – May 22, 1802) was the wife of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States. During her lifetime, she was known as "Lady Washington".
Born Martha Dandridge on her parents' plantation Chestnut Grove on June 2, 1731, at 10:29 a.m., she was the oldest daughter of Virginia planter John Dandridge who immigrated from England (1700–1756) and Frances Jones (1710–1785) of English, Welsh and French descent. Martha was the eldest of three brothers and five sisters, the others being John Dandridge (1733-1749), William Dandridge (1734-1776), Bartholomew Dandridge (1737-1785), Anna Marie "Fanny" Dandridge Bassett (1739-1777), Frances Dandridge (1744-1757), Elizabeth Dandridge Aylet Henley (1749-1800), and Mary Dandridge (1756-1763). Her younger illegitimate half-sister (date of birth unrecovered) was a slave, Ann Dandridge Costin, who was one-quarter African, one-quarter Cherokee Indian, and half-white; there is further evidence of an illegitimate half-brother Ralph Dandridge (date of birth unrecovered), who was probably white.
At the age of 18, she married Daniel Parke Custis, a rich planter two decades her senior. They lived at White House Plantation on the south shore of the Pamunkey River, a few miles upriver from Chestnut Grove. She had four children by Custis. A son and a daughter, Daniel (1751–1754) and Frances (1753–1757), died in childhood, but two other children, John (Jacky) Parke Custis (1754–1781) and Martha ("Patsy") Parke Custis (1756–1773) survived to young adulthood. Daniel Custis' death in 1757 left Martha a rich widow, with independent control over a dower inheritance for her lifetime and trustee control over the inheritance of her minor children.
Martha Dandridge Custis, aged 27, and George Washington, aged nearly 27, married on January 6, 1759 at her estate, known as the White House, on the Pamunkey River northwest of Williamsburg. It seems likely that Washington had known Martha and her husband for some time. It is not known why Washington had waited until such a relatively advanced age for his first marriage. In March 1758 he visited her at White House twice; the second time he came away with either an engagement of marriage or at least her promise to think about his proposal. She was, at the time, also being courted by the immensely rich planter Charles Carter.
Their wedding was a grand affair. The groom appeared in a suit of blue and silver with red trimming and gold knee buckles; the bride wore purple silk shoes with spangled buckles. After the Reverend Peter Mossum pronounced them man and wife, the couple honeymooned at White House for several weeks before setting up housekeeping at Washington's Mount Vernon. Their marriage appears to have been a solid one, untroubled by infidelity or clash of temperament.
Martha and George Washington had no children together, but they raised Martha's two surviving children. Her teenaged daughter, also named Martha, died during an epileptic seizure, which led John to return home from college to comfort his mother. John later served as an aide to Washington during the siege of Yorktown in 1781. John died during this military service, probably of typhus. After his death, the Washingtons raised two of John's children, Eleanor Parke Custis (March 31, 1779 - July 15, 1852), and George Washington Parke Custis (April 30, 1781 - October 10, 1857). They also provided personal and financial support to nieces, nephews and other family members in both the Dandridge and Washington families.
Content to live a private life at Mount Vernon and her homes from the Custis estate, Martha Washington nevertheless followed Washington into the battlefield when he served as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. She spent the infamous winter at Valley Forge with the General, and was instrumental in maintaining some level of morale among officers and enlisted troops. She opposed his election as President of the newly formed United States of America, and refused to attend his inauguration (April 30, 1789). As the First Lady, Mrs. Washington hosted many affairs of state at New York and Philadelphia (the capital was moved to Washington D. C. in 1800 under the Adams administration).
Martha Washington and her husband both died at Mount Vernon, with Martha dying on May 22, 1802, slightly over two years after her husband. In 1831, her remains were moved from their original burial site a few hundred feet to a brick tomb that overlooks the Potomac River.
Martha Washington was raised in a time when chattel slavery was legal in all the American colonies. No record exists of her questioning the ethical or moral foundations of the "peculiar institution".
Following the 1757 death of Martha's first husband, the widow received a "dower share", the lifetime use of (and income from) one third of his estate, with the other two-thirds held in trust for their minor children. The full Custis Estate contained plantations and farms totaling about 27 square miles (70 km2), and 285 enslaved men, women, and children attached to those holdings. In 1759, Martha's dower share included at least 75 slaves.
Upon his 1759 marriage to Martha, George Washington became the legal manager of the Custis Estate, under court oversight. In actuality, estate records indicate that Martha Washington continued to purchase supplies, manage paid staff, and make many other decisions. Although the Washingtons wielded managerial control over the whole estate, they received income only from Martha's "dower" third.
Washington used his wife's great wealth to buy land, more than tripling the size of Mount Vernon (2,650 acres in 1757, 8,251 acres (33.39 km2) in 1787). For more than 40 years her "dower" slaves farmed the plantation alongside his own. The Washingtons could not sell Custis land or slaves, which were held in trust for Martha's only surviving child, John.
Seven of the 9 slaves that President Washington brought to Philadelphia (the national capital, 1790–1800) to work in the executive mansion were "dowers". Pennsylvania had begun an abolition of slavery in 1780, but non-residents were allowed to hold slaves in the state for up to 6 months. The Washingtons rotated the President's House slaves in and out of the state before the 6-month deadline to prevent their establishing residency (and legally qualifying for manumission). Washington reasoned that should the "dowers" attain their freedom due to his negligence, he might be liable to the Custis Estate for the value of those slaves.
Martha Washington was personally upset when her lady's maid Oney Judge, a "dower" slave, fled the Philadelphia household during Washington's second term. According to interviews with Oney in the 1840s, the First Lady had promised the young woman as a wedding gift to granddaughter Eliza Custis. Oney hid with free-black friends in the city, and then traveled to the north. Patricia Brady, in her 2005 biography of Martha Washington, writes:
In March 1797, during the Washington family's last week in Philadelphia, their chief cook Hercules also fled slavery, leaving a daughter at Mount Vernon who told a visitor that she was glad her father was free.
By 1799 the number of "dower" slaves was 153, the number of Washington slaves was 124, and at least a dozen couples had intermarried. In Washington's will he resolved to free his own slaves following his death, but his hope of purchasing the "dowers" from the Custis Estate and freeing them too, or of setting up a system by which the "dowers" would be rented out and gradually work themselves out of slavery came to nought. To spare Martha the spectacle of witnessing slave families torn apart, Washington directed in his will that his slaves not be freed until after her death.
Martha freed Washington's slaves on January 1, 1801. Abigail Adams visited Mount Vernon two weeks earlier, and wrote: "Many of those who are liberated have married with what are called the dower Negroes, so that they all quit their [family] connections, yet what could she do?" Adams cited a sinister motive for Martha freeing Washington's slaves early: "In the state in which they were left by the General, to be free at her death, she did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, many of whom would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her–She therefore was advised to set them all free at the close of the year.–" (A. A. to Mary Cranch, 21 December 1800)
Following Martha's 1802 death, the "dower" slaves were inherited by her four grandchildren (the children of Jacky Custis). She bequeathed the one slave she owned outright, Elisha, to her grandson George Washington Parke Custis.
Author Henry Wiencek, in his 2003 book An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, writes that Martha Washington owned her own mulatto half-sister, a slave named Ann Dandridge, who had a child by Martha's son (and therefore Ann's nephew), John Parke "Jack" Custis. He bases his assertion on original documents he discovered in the files of Mount Vernon and the Virginia Historical Society, and states that previous historians ignored the documentary evidence that this sister existed. According to Wiencek, this incident was among several that led George Washington to call slavery repugnant, and probably influenced Washington's decision late in life to free all his slaves. The existence of a slave named Ann Dandridge is recognized in Helen Bryan's 2001 Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty. However this book draws upon Wiencek's research. Bryan stated that the "shadow sister" was close to Martha's age and had been with her since they were children.
Brady, in a brief bibliographical note at the end of her book (page 256), denies the existence of Martha Washington's half sister and asserts that Wiencek and Bryan accepted "family mythology" and "lore" as fact. Brady does not offer a review of the documentary evidence discovered by Wiencek in the Virginia Historical Society and in the Washington, D.C., archives where Ann Dandridge's manumission is recorded–Land Records, Liber H., #8, p. 382; Liber R, #17, p. 288. In assessing the documents that have survived on this question, Wiencek notes that Ann Dandridge was omitted from the Custis estate records and the records of slaves at Mt. Vernon. Having studied plantation families for many years, Wiencek observes that family ties between slaves and slave owners were often kept hidden.
Mrs. Washington had a row galley named in her honor, the USS Lady Washington. It holds the distinction of being the first U.S. military ship to be named in honor of a woman and for a vessel named while the person was still alive (see also List of U.S. military vessels named after living Americans). It has a number of other distinctions as well, as the first ship named after a (future) First Lady and one of the few active vessels in the U.S. Navy named in honor of a woman (see also USS Hopper).
In 1902, Martha Washington became the first American woman to be commemorated by a U.S. postage stamp. It was an 8 cent stamp. In 1923, a second stamp was issued in her honor, a 4 cent. The third Martha Washington stamp, of 1½¢ denomination, was issued in 1938.
Martha Washington is the only woman whose portrait has appeared on the face of a U.S. currency note. It appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896. An 1856 national banknote carried The baptism of Pocahontas on its reverse face.
The First Spouse Program under the Presidential $1 Coin Act authorizes the United States Mint to issue 1/2 ounce $10 gold coins and bronze medal duplicates to honor the first spouses of the United States. Martha Washington's coin was released on June 19, 2007, and was sold out in just hours.
Obverse (bronze medal)
Reverse (bronze medal)
|New title||First Lady of the United States
|Sidney Lanier composed this poem in Baltimore, Maryland in 1875. It was written for the “Martha Washington Court Journal”.|
Down cold snow-stretches of our bitter time,
When windy shams and the rain-mocking sleet
Of Trade have cased us in such icy rime
That hearts are scarcely hot enough to beat,
Thy fame, O Lady of the lofty eyes,
Doth fall along the age, like as a lane
Of Spring, in whose most generous boundaries
Full many a frozen virtue warms again.
To-day I saw the pale much-burdened form
Of Charity come limping o’er the line,
And straighten from the bending of the storm
And flush with stirrings of new strength divine,
Such influence and sweet gracious impulse came
Out of the beams of thine immortal name!
|Martha Dandridge ‡|
|Birth||June 2, 1731 in "Williamsburg, Virginia"|
|Death:||May 22, 1802 in "Mount Vernon, Virginia"|
|Father:||John Dandridge (1700-1756)|
|Skill(s):||First Lady of the United States|
|Husband:||Daniel Parke Custis (?-?)|
|Husband (2):||George Washington (1732)|
Martha Dandridge was born 2 June 1731 to John Dandridge (1700-1756) and died 22 May 1802 at the age of 70 years of unspecified causes. Martha married Daniel Parke Custis 1749 .
Martha "Patsy" Dandridge
Martha Dandridge is the daughter of John Dandridge (1700–1756) and Unknown (?-?).
For a detailed biography, see the Biography tab.
no offspring with George.