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Martha Washington

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Martha Washington

Martha Dandridge Parke-Custis Washington (June 2, 1731-May 22, 1802) served as the first First Lady of the United States when her husband, George Washington, served as the first President, from 1789 to 1797. Born near Williamsburg, Virginia, she first married Daniel Parke Custis at the age of 18. She had four children by Custis, two of whom survived to adulthood, John Parke Custis (1754-1781) and Martha "Patsy" Custis. She married George Washington on January 6, 1759, two years after the death of her first husband. Content to live a private life on Washington's Mount Vernon estate, she nevertheless followed him to the battlefield. She opposed his election as president and refused to attend his inauguration, but fulfilled her duties as the official state hostess nonetheless.

Martha and George Washington had no children together, but they raised Martha's two children. They also raised her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis (April 30, 1781 - October 10, 1857) after his father, John Parke Custis, was killed (while serving as an aide to Washington) during the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Historian Henry Wiencek Farrar, in his 2003 book An Imperfect God, revealed that Martha Washington owned her own mulatto half-sister, a slave named Ann Dandridge, who had a bastard child by her nephew, Martha's son, John Parke Custis. According to Farrar, this incident was among several that were instrumental in Washington's decision late in life to change his will and free all his slaves upon his death.

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Martha Washington died at Mount Vernon, Virginia, and was buried on May 22, 1802 at Mount Vernon. In 1831, her remains were moved from their original burial site a few hundred feet to a brick tomb that overlooks the Potomac River. The Custis estate was eventually confiscated from George Washington Parke Custis's son-in-law, Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, later becoming Arlington National Cemetery. In 1882, after many years in the lower courts, the matter of the ownership of Arlington National Cemetery was brought before the United States Supreme Court. The Court affirmed a Circuit Court decision that the property in question rightfully belonged to the Lee family. The United States Congress then appropriated the sum of $150,000 for the purchase of the property from the Lee Family.

In 1902 she was the first woman to be commemorated by a U.S. postal stamp.

External Link

White House biography (http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/mw1.html)


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Preceded by:
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First Ladies of the United States Succeeded by:
Abigail Adams
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