George Washington Parke Custis

George Washington Parke Custis

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George Washington Parke Custis (April 30, 1781 – October 10, 1857), the step-grandson of United States President George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, was a nineteenth-century American writer, orator, and agricultural reformer.

Family



George Washington Parke Custis's mother, Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart
Eleanor Calvert
Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart was a prominent member of the Calvert family of Maryland. Upon her marriage to John Parke Custis, she became the daughter-in-law of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington and the stepdaughter-in-law of George Washington...

, descended from Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore
Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore
Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore, 2nd Proprietor and 6th and 9th Proprietary Governor of Maryland , inherited the colony in 1675 upon the death of his father, Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore. He had been his father's Deputy Governor since 1661 when he arrived in the colony at the age of 24...

 and of Henry Lee of Ditchley
Henry Lee of Ditchley
Sir Henry Lee KG , of Ditchley, was Master of the Ordnance under Queen Elizabeth I of England.-Life:Lee became Queen Elizabeth I’s champion in 1570 and was appointed Master of the Royal Armouries in 1580, an office which he held until his death...

. His father, John Parke Custis
John Parke Custis
John Parke Custis was a Virginia planter, the son of Martha Washington and stepson of George Washington.-Childhood:...

, was the son of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington through her marriage to Daniel Parke Custis
Daniel Parke Custis
Daniel Parke Custis was a wealthy Virginia planter whose widow, Martha, married George Washington.He was the son of John Custis , a powerful member of Virginia's Governor's Council, and Frances Parke Custis...

. Martha and George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 raised John Parke Custis at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon
The name Mount Vernon is a dedication to the English Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon. It was first applied to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, the first President of the United States...

 after Martha was widowed and married Washington.

George Washington Parke Custis was born on April 30, 1781, at his mother's family home at Mount Airy, whose restored mansion is now in Rosaryville State Park
Rosaryville State Park
Rosaryville State Park is a state park in Greater Upper Marlboro, Prince George's County, Maryland. It includes the restored Mount Airy Mansion, an event facility that Pineapple Alley Catering, Inc. operates...

 in Greater Upper Marlboro
Greater Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Greater Upper Marlboro is a census-designated place in Prince George's County, Maryland, United States that completely surrounds Upper Marlboro, the county seat...

, Prince George's County, Maryland
Prince George's County, Maryland
Prince George's County is a county located in the U.S. state of Maryland, immediately north, east, and south of Washington, DC. As of 2010, it has a population of 863,420 and is the wealthiest African-American majority county in the nation....

. He initially lived with his parents and sisters, Elizabeth Parke Custis
Elizabeth Parke Custis Law
Elizabeth Parke Custis Law was a granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Washington and the step-granddaughter of George Washington. She was a social leader of the District of Columbia and a preserver of the Washington family heritage.-Early life:Elizabeth Parke Custis was born on 21 August 1776...

, Martha Parke Custis
Martha Parke Custis Peter
Martha Parke Custis Peter was a granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Washington and the step-granddaughter of George Washington.-Early life:Martha Parke Custis was born on 31 December 1777 in the Blue Room at Mount Vernon...

 and Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis
Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis
Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis , known as Nelly, was the granddaughter of Martha Washington and the step-granddaughter of George Washington.-Childhood:Nelly was the daughter of John Parke Custis and Eleanor Calvert Custis...

 (Nelly Custis), at the Abingdon Plantation
Abingdon (plantation)
Abingdon was an 18th- and 19th-century plantation that the prominent Alexander, Custis, Stuart, and Hunter families owned. The plantation's site is now located in Arlington County in the U.S...

 (partially now at Ronald Reagan National Airport), which his father had purchased in 1778. However, six months after Custis was born, his father died of "camp fever" at Yorktown
Siege of Yorktown
The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, or Surrender of Yorktown in 1781 was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces led by General George Washington and French forces led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis...

, shortly after the British army surrendered there. George and Martha Washington then brought Custis and Eleanor to their home at Mount Vernon. Custis' two oldest sisters, Elizabeth and Martha, remained at Abingdon with their widowed mother, who in 1783 married Dr. David Stuart
David Stuart (Virginia)
David Stuart was an associate and correspondent of George Washington. When Washington became President of the United States, he appointed Stuart to be one of the three commissioners that were in charge of siting and designing the nation's new capital city.-Private life:Born in Scotland, Stuart...

, an Alexandria
Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2009, the city had a total population of 139,966. Located along the Western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately six miles south of downtown Washington, D.C.Like the rest of northern Virginia, as well as...

 physician who was an associate of George Washington. The Stuarts subsequently had 16 children while living at Abingdon, Hope Park
Hope Park
Hope Park was an 18th and 19th-century plantation in Fairfax County in the U.S. state of Virginia. Hope Park was the residence of Dr. David Stuart , an old friend and associate correspondent of George Washington, and second husband of Washington's former stepdaughter-in-law, Eleanor Calvert Custis...

 and Ossian Hall
Ossian Hall
Ossian Hall was an 18th-century plantation in Annandale, Fairfax County, Virginia. Ossian Hall was one of three large residences, along with Oak Hill , and Ravensworth , owned by the Fitzhugh family in Fairfax County....

 in Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia consists of several counties and independent cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in a widespread region generally radiating southerly and westward from Washington, D.C...

.

Life



George and Nelly were 8 and 10, respectively, when brought to New York City in 1789 to live with the Washingtons in the first presidential mansion
Samuel Osgood House (New York City)
The Samuel Osgood House, also known as Walter Franklin House, was a house at 1 Cherry Street in Manhattan. It served as the first Presidential Mansion, housing George Washington, his family, and household staff, from April 23, 1789 until February 23, 1790, during the 21 months that New York City...

. Following the transfer of the national capital to Philadelphia, the original "First Family
First Family
A First Family is an unofficial title for the family of the head of state or head of government of a country .A First Family usually consists of:*The head of state or head of government*The First Lady or First Gentleman...

" occupied the President's House
President's House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The President's House in Philadelphia at 524-30 Market Street was the third Presidential mansion. It was occupied by President George Washington from November 1790 to March 1797 and President John Adams from March 1797 to May 1800....

 from 1790 to 1797. Custis attended but did not graduate from the Germantown Academy in Germantown (now Philadelphia) PA, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

) and St. John's College
St. John's College, U.S.
St. John's College is a liberal arts college with two U.S. campuses: one in Annapolis, Maryland and one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded in 1696 as a preparatory school, King William's School, the school received a collegiate charter in 1784, making it one of the oldest institutions of higher...

 in Annapolis, Maryland. Upon Custis' return to Mount Vernon after only one term at St. John's, George Washington sent him to his mother and stepfather at Hope Park saying, "He appears to me to be moped and stupid, says nothing, and is always in some hole or corner excluded from the company." It appears that Custis was a reluctant student throughout his learning years. George Washington repeatedly expressed in his diaries and correspondence concern and frustration about Custis and his own inability to improve Custis.

Upon reaching his majority in 1802, Custis inherited large amounts of money, land and property from the estates of his father and grandfather, as well as through bequests from Martha and George Washington. Almost immediately, he began constructing Arlington House
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, is a Greek revival style mansion located in Arlington, Virginia, USA that was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It overlooks the Potomac River, directly across from the National Mall in Washington,...

 on land inherited from his father that was located on a hill that is now directly across the Potomac River
Potomac River
The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The river is approximately long, with a drainage area of about 14,700 square miles...

 from the National Mall
National Mall
The National Mall is an open-area national park in downtown Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The National Mall is a unit of the National Park Service , and is administered by the National Mall and Memorial Parks unit...

 in Washington, D.C. Custis took 16 years to complete the mansion, which he intended to serve as a living memorial to George Washington.

On July 7, 1804, Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis was an Episcopal lay leader in Alexandria County...

. Of their four children, only one daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis
Mary Anna Custis Lee
Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee was the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.-Biography:Mary Anna Custis Lee was the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington's step-grandson and adopted son and founder of Arlington House, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, daughter...

, survived. She married Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

 at Arlington House on June 30, 1831; Lee's father, Henry Lee, had famously eulogized Pres. George Washington at the Dec. 26, 1799 funeral.

In 1799, Custis was commissioned as a cornet
Cornet (military rank)
Cornet was originally the third and lowest grade of commissioned officer in a British cavalry troop, after captain and lieutenant. A cornet is a new and junior officer.- Traditional duties :The cornet carried the troop standard, also known as a "cornet"....

 in the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 and aide-de-camp
Aide-de-camp
An aide-de-camp is a personal assistant, secretary, or adjutant to a person of high rank, usually a senior military officer or a head of state...

to general Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Charles Cotesworth “C. C.” Pinckney , was an early American statesman of South Carolina, Revolutionary War veteran, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He was twice nominated by the Federalist Party as their presidential candidate, but he did not win either election.-Early life and...

. During the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, Custis volunteered in the defense of Washington, D.C., at the Battle of Bladensburg
Battle of Bladensburg
The Battle of Bladensburg took place during the War of 1812. The defeat of the American forces there allowed the British to capture and burn the public buildings of Washington, D.C...

.

In 1825, Lafayette and his son Georges Washington de La Fayette
Georges Washington de La Fayette
Georges Washington de La Fayette was the son of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, the French officer and hero of the American Revolution, and Adrienne de La Fayette. Lafayette named his son in the honour of George Washington, with whom he fought in the Revolutionary War.-Life:From 1783, La...

 visited him at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon
The name Mount Vernon is a dedication to the English Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon. It was first applied to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, the first President of the United States...

.

In 1853, the writer Benson John Lossing
Benson John Lossing
Benson John Lossing was a prolific and popular American historian, known best for his illustrated books on the American Revolution and American Civil War and features in Harper's Magazine. He was a charter trustee of Vassar College.-Biography:Lossing was born February 12, 1813 in Beekman, New York...

 visited Custis at Arlington House.

Custis was notable as an orator and playwright. Two addresses delivered during the War of 1812 had national circulation, Oration by Mr. Custis, of Arlington; with an Account of the Funeral Solemnities in Honor of the Lamented Gen. James M. Lingan (1812) and The Celebration of the Russian Victories, in Georgetown, District of Columbia; on the 5th of June, 1813 (1813). Two of Custis's plays, The Indian Prophecy; or Visions of Glory (1827) and Pocahontas; or, The Settlers of Virginia (1830), were published. Other plays include The Rail Road (1828), The Eighth of January, or, Hurra for the Boys of the West! (ca. 1830), North Point, or, Baltimore Defended (1833), and Montgomerie, or, The Orphan of a Wreck (1836). Custis wrote a series of biographical essays about his adoptive father, collectively entitled Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, which was posthumously edited and published by his daughter.

Dispositions of Properties to the Family of Robert E. Lee


Custis died in 1857 and was buried at Arlington alongside his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis was an Episcopal lay leader in Alexandria County...

. Custis's will provided that:
  • Arlington plantation (approx. 1100 acres) and its contents, including Custis's collection of George Washington's artifacts and memorabilia, would be bequeathed to his only surviving child Mary Anna Custis Lee
    Mary Anna Custis Lee
    Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee was the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.-Biography:Mary Anna Custis Lee was the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington's step-grandson and adopted son and founder of Arlington House, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, daughter...

     (wife of Robert E. Lee
    Robert E. Lee
    Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

    ) for her natural life, and upon her death, to his eldest grandson George Washington Custis Lee
    George Washington Custis Lee
    George Washington Custis Lee , also known as Custis Lee, was the eldest son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee...

    ;
  • White House plantation
    White House (plantation)
    White House, an 18th-century plantation on the Pamunkey River near White House in New Kent County, Virginia, was the home of Martha Dandridge Custis and Daniel Parke Custis after they were married in 1750. They had four children, two of whom survived childhood...

     in New Kent County and Romancoke plantation
    Romancoke, Virginia
    Romancoke is an unincorporated community in King William County, Virginia, United States....

     in King William County (approx. 4000 acres each) would be bequeathed to his other two grandsons William Henry Fitzhugh Lee
    William Henry Fitzhugh Lee
    William Henry Fitzhugh Lee , known as Rooney Lee or W.H.F. Lee, was the second son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis. He was a planter, a Confederate cavalry General in the American Civil War, and later a member of the U.S. Congress.-Early life:Lee was born at Arlington House in...

     ("Rooney Lee") and Robert Edward Lee, Jr., respectively;
  • Legacies (cash gifts) of $10,000 each would be provided to his four granddaughters, based on the incomes from the plantations and the sales of other smaller properties; (Some properties could not be sold until after the Civil War and it was doubtful that $10,000 each was ever fully paid.)
  • Certain property in "square No. 21, Washington City" (possibly located between present day Foggy Bottom and Potomac River) to be bequeathed to Robert E. Lee
    Robert E. Lee
    Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

     "and his heirs."
  • Custis's slaves, numbered around 200, were to be freed once the legacies and debts from his estate were paid, but no later than five years after his death. (Fulfilled by Robert E. Lee, executor, in the winter of 1862.)


Custis's death had great effect on the careers of Robert E. Lee and his two elder sons on the cusp of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

, named as an executor of the will, took leave from his Army post in Texas for two years to settle the affairs. During the period Lee was ordered to lead troops to quash John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry
John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry
John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was an attempt by white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt by seizing a United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia in 1859...

. By 1859, Lee's eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, transferred to an Army position in Washington, D.C. so that he could care for Arlington plantation, where his mother and sisters were living. Lee's second son, Rooney Lee, resigned his army commission, got married, and took over farming in White House plantation and nearby Romancoke. Robert E. Lee was able to leave for Texas to resume his Army career in February, 1860.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, the 1100 acres (4.5 km²) Arlington Plantation was confiscated by Union forces for strategic reasons (protection of the river and national capital). A "Freedman's Village" was established there for freed slaves in 1863. In 1864, Montgomery C. Meigs
Montgomery C. Meigs
Montgomery Cunningham Meigs was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, construction engineer for a number of facilities in Washington, D.C., and Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army during and after the American Civil War....

, Quartermaster General of the US Army, appropriated some parts of Arlington Plantation be used as a military burial ground. After the Civil War, George Washington Custis Lee
George Washington Custis Lee
George Washington Custis Lee , also known as Custis Lee, was the eldest son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee...

 sued and recovered the title for the Arlington Plantation from the United States government. Congress subsequently bought the property from Lee for $150,000. Arlington Plantation is now Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery in the United States of America, established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Lee, a great...

 and Fort Myer
Fort Myer
Fort Myer is a U.S. Army post adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. It is a small post by U.S...

. Arlington House, built by Custis to honor George Washington, is now the Robert E. Lee Memorial
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, is a Greek revival style mansion located in Arlington, Virginia, USA that was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It overlooks the Potomac River, directly across from the National Mall in Washington,...

. It is restored and open to the public under the auspices of the National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

.

Ancestry


Custis descended from a number of aristocratic colonial families during the colonial era
Colonial America
The colonial history of the United States covers the history from the start of European settlement and especially the history of the thirteen colonies of Britain until they declared independence in 1776. In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major...

, as well as, through his mother, the British nobility
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 and, very distantly, from the royal House of Hanover
House of Hanover
The House of Hanover is a deposed German royal dynasty which has ruled the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg , the Kingdom of Hanover, the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

.



See also

  • Samuel Osgood House (New York City)
    Samuel Osgood House (New York City)
    The Samuel Osgood House, also known as Walter Franklin House, was a house at 1 Cherry Street in Manhattan. It served as the first Presidential Mansion, housing George Washington, his family, and household staff, from April 23, 1789 until February 23, 1790, during the 21 months that New York City...

     — First Presidential Mansion.
  • Alexander Macomb House (New York City)
    Alexander Macomb House (New York City)
    The Alexander Macomb House at 39-41 Broadway in Manhattan served as the second presidential mansion. President George Washington occupied it from February 23 to August 31, 1790, during the two-year period when New York City was the national capital....

     — Second Presidential Mansion.
  • President's House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
    President's House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
    The President's House in Philadelphia at 524-30 Market Street was the third Presidential mansion. It was occupied by President George Washington from November 1790 to March 1797 and President John Adams from March 1797 to May 1800....

     — Third Presidential Mansion.

External links