Martha Washington

Martha Washington

Overview
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (June 2, 1731 – May 22, 1802) was the wife of 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...

, the first president of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States is the title of the hostess of the White House. Because this position is traditionally filled by the wife of the president of the United States, the title is most often applied to the wife of a sitting president. The current first lady is Michelle Obama.-Current:The...

. During her lifetime, she was known as "Lady Washington".

Martha Dandridge was born at 10:35 a.m.
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Quotations

I am fond of only what comes from the heart.

I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go. (to Mercy Otis Warren|Mercy Otis Warren)

I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from...

Encyclopedia
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (June 2, 1731 – May 22, 1802) was the wife of 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...

, the first president of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States is the title of the hostess of the White House. Because this position is traditionally filled by the wife of the president of the United States, the title is most often applied to the wife of a sitting president. The current first lady is Michelle Obama.-Current:The...

. During her lifetime, she was known as "Lady Washington".

Biography


Martha Dandridge was born at 10:35 a.m. on June 2, 1731 on her parents' plantation Chestnut Grove
Chestnut Grove (plantation)
Chestnut Grove was an 18th-century plantation on the Pamunkey River near New Kent Court House in New Kent County, Virginia, United States. Chestnut Grove is best known as the birthplace of Martha Washington, wife of George Washington, and the first First Lady of the United States...

 in the British colonial Province of Virginia. She was the oldest daughter of Virginia planter and immigrant from England John Dandridge
John Dandridge
Colonel John Dandridge of Chestnut Grove was a distinguished colonel, planter, and Clerk of the Courts of New Kent County, Virginia from 1730 to 1756...

 (1700–1756) and Frances Jones (1710–1785) of English, Welsh and French descent. Martha had three brothers and four 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). She may have had an illegitimate half-sister (date of birth unknown), who was a slave: Ann Dandridge Costin 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.

On May 15, 1750 at age 18 she married 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...

, a rich planter two decades her senior. They lived at White House Plantation on the south shore of the Pamunkey River
Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River is a tributary of the York River, about long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. Via the York River it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay.-Course:...

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

 (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
Dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

 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 the White House plantation. It seems likely that Washington had known Martha and her husband for some time. 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 wealthy 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
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...

 estate. 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 teenage daughter, named Patsy, died during an epileptic seizure, which led John (Jackie) to return home from college to comfort his mother. John later served as an aide to Washington during the siege of 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...

 in 1781, and died during this military service, probably of typhus
Typhus
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

. After his death, the Washingtons raised two of John's children, Eleanor Parke Custis
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...

 (March 31, 1779 - July 15, 1852), and George Washington Parke Custis
George Washington Parke Custis
George Washington Parke Custis , the step-grandson of United States President George Washington, was a nineteenth-century American writer, orator, and agricultural reformer.-Family:...

 (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
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

. She spent the infamous winter at Valley Forge
Valley Forge
Valley Forge in Pennsylvania was the site of the military camp of the American Continental Army over the winter of 1777–1778 in the American Revolutionary War.-History:...

 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
First inauguration of George Washington
The first inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States took place on April 30, 1789.The inauguration marked the commencement of the first four-year term of George Washington as President and John Adams as Vice President...

 (April 30, 1789). As the First Lady, Mrs. Washington hosted many affairs of state at New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and Philadelphia (the capital was moved to Washington D. C. in 1800 under the Adams administration
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

).

Martha Washington at the 1777-78 Valley Forge Encampment


Some think of Martha Washington as a rather frumpy woman who spent her days at the Revolutionary War winter encampments visiting with the common soldiers in their huts. But Nancy Loane, author of Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment, writes that the truth about Lady Washington is far more interesting. Martha Washington was a spiffy dresser, assertive, and definitely a woman of independent means. And she was a woman who followed her man. Each year of the revolution, once the Continental Army settled in for the winter, General Washington wrote for his wife to join him at military camp. Each year after receiving the request Martha Washington—although she delighted in being at Mount Vernon with her large, extended family, and was lonely and anxious when away from Virginia—dutifully packed up her bags, got into the carriage, and started north. Martha Washington, determined and diminutive at five feet tall, had kept close to home before the revolution began; once the hostilities started, she traveled thousands of miles to be with her husband. (Martha Washington journeyed to the General because she supported the cause of freedom and also because, as General Lafayette once observed, she loved "her husband madly").

After George Washington accepted the position of commander in chief, the woman who loved hearth and home left both to join her husband at military encampments in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The Continental Army marched into Valley Forge, the third of the eight winter encampments of the Revolution, on December 19, 1777. Martha Washington traveled ten days and hundreds of miles to join her husband in Pennsylvania. Her carriage and entourage left Mount Vernon on January 26 and, according to Gen. Nathanael Greene, Martha arrived at headquarters the evening of February 5, 1778. Primary documents of the Revolutionary period give us some idea of what Lady Washington did when she got there.

Martha’s main role, of course, was to care for General Washington. “Poor man,” Gen. Nathanael Greene wrote of his commander, “he appears oppressed with cares and wants some gentle hand free from deceit to soothe his cares.” That soothing “gentle hand” belonged to Martha Washington. She also assumed her familiar role of hostess at camp. On April 6, Mrs. Elizabeth Drinker and three friends arrived at Valley Forge to plead with General Washington to release their husbands from jail; the men, all Quakers, had refused to swear a loyalty oath to the United States. Because the commander was not available when the ladies arrived from Philadelphia, they visited with Mrs. Washington who Mrs. Drinker thought to be a “a sociable pretty kind of Woman.” General Washington was unable to assist Mrs. Drinker and her friends, but he did invite them to dine at headquarters that day. Elizabeth Drinker found the 3:00 p.m. dinner with General and Mrs. Washington and about fifteen of the officers to be “elegant” but also “soon over,” and afterwards the four ladies then “went with ye General’s Wife up to her Chamber, and saw no more of him.”

Mrs. Washington also socialized with the wives of the senior officers at Valley Forge. Years later, Pierre DuPonceau, an aide to Baron von Steuben, recalled that in the evenings the ladies and officers at camp would meet at each other’s quarters for conversation. During these social evenings each lady and gentleman present was “called upon in turn for a song” as they sipped tea or coffee. The officers and their ladies could do little during these social evenings but talk and sing, for Washington, with the enemy camped nearby in Philadelphia, prohibited both dancing and card-playing at Valley Forge.

On February 16, 1778, Charles Willson Peale
Charles Willson Peale
Charles Willson Peale was an American painter, soldier and naturalist. He is best remembered for his portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution, as well as establishing one of the first museums....

 painted a miniature of Washington—for which he charged his usual “56 Dollars”—and presented it to Martha. Peale made several other miniatures of Washington at camp; John Laurens
John Laurens
John Laurens was an American soldier and statesman from South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. He gained approval by the Continental Congress in 1779 to recruit a regiment of 3000 slaves by promising them freedom in return for fighting...

, one of Washington’s aides, thought them “successful attempts to produce the General’s likeness.” Peale’s brush was busy at Valley Forge, as he captured some fifty officers and their wives on canvas that winter.

Lady Washington happily participated in the camp’s joyous May 6 celebration of the formal announcement of the French-American alliance. The day began early for General and Mrs. Washington and they, along with several officers and their wives, first attended services with the New Jersey brigade. Revered Mr. Hunter preached the sermon, said to be a “suitable discourse.” Soon after the thunderous feu de joie (thousands of soldiers fired off the muskets consecutively in a “fire of joy”), His Excellency and Lady Washington received in the center of a large marquee fashioned from dozens of officers’ tents. Although there is no record of Mrs. Washington’s attire on that august day, General Washington, usually so staid and proper, was said to have worn “a countenance of uncommon delight and complacence.”

Five days later, on May 11, Martha Washington and the commander attended the camp production of Cato
Cato, a Tragedy
Cato, a Tragedy is a play written by Joseph Addison in 1712, and first performed on 14 April 1713. Based on the events of the last days of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis , a Stoic whose deeds, rhetoric and resistance to the tyranny of Julius Caesar made him an icon of republicanism, virtue,and...

, a theatrical favorite of the General’s. The Joseph Addison tragedy was performed by the staff officers for a “very numerous and splendid audience,” including many officers and several of their wives. The play was received with enthusiasm, and one officer wrote that he found the performance “admirable” and the scenery “in Taste.” There is, however, no record of what either General or Mrs. Washington thought of the production.

But then on June 8, six days after celebrating her forty-seventh birthday at Valley Forge, Lady Washington got into her carriage and started out for Mount Vernon. She left camp with a hopeful heart, for the French had officially joined with America in the battle against the British. Surely, she thought, the war would soon be over and she would not be asked to endure any more army encampments. But five more times during the Revolution Martha Washington packed up her belongings, climbed into her carriage, and headed north from Mount Vernon to join with her husband in America’s fight for freedom.

Slave ownership


Following the 1757 death of Martha's first husband, the widow received a "dower share
Dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

," 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 (69.9 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 (2650 acres (10.7 km²) in 1757, 8251 acres (33.4 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
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 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
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....

 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
Oney Judge
Oney "Ona" Judge, later Oney Judge Staines , was a slave at George Washington's plantation, Mount Vernon in Virginia. A servant in Washington's presidential households beginning in 1789, she escaped to freedom in 1796 and made her way to New Hampshire, where she lived the rest of her life...

, 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 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...

. 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:
"Martha felt a responsibility for the unsophisticated girl under her care, especially since her mother and sister were expecting to see her back at Mount Vernon. What she could never understand was that [Oney had...] a simple desire to be free. Ona, as she preferred to call herself, wanted to live where she pleased, do what work she pleased, and learn to read and write [...] Ona Judge professed a great regard for Martha and the way she had been treated, but she couldn't face a future as a slave for herself and her children." (Brady, p. 209)


In March 1797, during the Washington family's last week in Philadelphia, their chief cook Hercules
Hercules (chef)
Hercules was the head cook at George Washington's Virginia plantation Mount Vernon in the 1780s. In November 1790, he was brought to Philadelphia to work in the kitchen of the President's House...

 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 less philanthropic 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
Henry Wiencek
Henry Wiencek is a prominent American historian and editor whose work has encompassed historically significant architecture, the Founding Fathers, various topics relating to slavery, and the Lego company...

, in his 2003 book An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, argues that Martha Washington owned own a mulatto slave, Ann Dandridge, who was her half-sister. Dandridge had a child by Martha's son Jacky Dandridge. Wiencek bases his assertion on original documents he discovered in the files of Mount Vernon and the Virginia Historical Society, and argues that previous historians ignored the documentary evidence that this half-sister existed. Wiencek believes this relationship was among the factors 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. Bryan relied 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 documents Wiencek used to allege a relationship between the two women. 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.

USS Lady Washington


Mrs. Washington had a row galley
Row galley
The row galley was an armed naval craft that used oars rather than sail as a means of propulsion. During the "age of sail" row galleys had the advantage of propulsion while ships of sail might be stopped or running at slow speed because of lack of wind for their sails.Even row galleys were...

 named in her honor, the USS Lady Washington
USS Lady Washington (1776)
Lady Washington was a row galley in the Continental Navy, named in honor of Martha Washington.Lady Washington was built in New York City in the spring of 1776 at the behest of General George Washington after he transferred his forces from Boston to New York...

. 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
First Lady
First Lady or First Gentlemanis the unofficial title used in some countries for the spouse of an elected head of state.It is not normally used to refer to the spouse or partner of a prime minister; the husband or wife of the British Prime Minister is usually informally referred to as prime...

 and one of the few active vessels in the U.S. Navy named in honor of a woman (see also USS Hopper
USS Hopper (DDG-70)
USS Hopper , an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, is a ship of the United States Navy named for the pioneering computer scientist, Rear Admiral "Amazing Grace" Hopper....

).

Martha Washington on US postage


In 1902, Martha Washington became the first American woman to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp. This 8c issue was printed in black with Martha's portrait surrounded by an elaborate laurel wreath. In 1923, a second stamp was issued in her honor, a 4-cent definitive stamp. The third issue to honor Martha Washington was issued in 1938, a 1½¢ denomination stamp.

U.S. paper currency


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
Pocahontas
Pocahontas was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, the head of a network of tributary tribal nations in Tidewater Virginia...

on its reverse face.

U.S. coins


The First Spouse Program under the Presidential $1 Coin Act authorizes the United States Mint
United States Mint
The United States Mint primarily produces circulating coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce. The Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1792, and placed within the Department of State...

 to issue 1/2 ounce $10 gold coins and bronze medal duplicates to honor the first spouses of the United States.The Martha Washington coin was released on June 19, 2007, and was sold out in just hours.

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


  • Martha Washington at the White House
    White House
    The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

     (biography)
  • Martha Washington at the National First Ladies Library (biography) (memorial photos)