The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Washington, Martha

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WASHINGTON, Martha, wife of George Washington, first President of the United States: b. New Kent County, Va., May 1732; d. Mount Vernon, Va., 22 May 1802. She was the daughter of Col. John Dandridge, and was educated by tutors at home. The daughter of one of the first families of Virginia, possessed of both beauty and charm, a skilful performer on the spinnet, she became a famous belle, and was a frequent guest at the British governor's residence at Williamsburg, Va. In June 1749 she was married to Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy Virginia planter. The marriage was a happy one and they lived at the “White House” on Custis's plantation on the Pamunkey River. Four children were born to them, of whom two died in infancy. Custis himself died in 1757, leaving his widow one of the wealthiest women in Virginia and with no restrictions upon her use of the property, a confidence which she proved amply justified. In May 1758 the Widow Custis became engaged to Colonel Washington and she was married to him in January 1759, the wedding being one of the most brilliant ever solemnized in Virginia. With Mrs. Washington's two children, Martha Parke Custis and John Parke Custis, they settled at Mount Vernon, the estate left to Washington by his elder brother Lawrence. The marriage was without issue, but was one of ideal happiness. Washington had resigned from the army, and except for winter sojourns in Williamsburg, where he was a delegate to the House of Burgesses, their life was the pleasant and busy one of the Virginia planters. Mrs. Washington's daughter, Martha, died in 1774 at the age of 16, and Washington was afterward absent in attendance at the Continental Congress. The separation was continued by his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, but throughout the Revolutionary War, Mrs. Washington spent the winters at camp with the General, including the one of terrible privation at Valley Forge. During the campaigns she remained at Mount Vernon, superintending the plantation, and throughout the Revolution she adopted the simplest manner of living and dressed in fabrics spun and woven at Mount Vernon. In November 1781 her only remaining child, John Parke Custis, died, leaving four children, of whom Washington adopted the two youngest, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, as his own. After Washington's inauguration as President of the United States, at New York 30 April 1789, Mrs. Washington left Mount Vernon with her two grandchildren and traveled in state to New York. Bred to high social position, with every advantage of wealth and association, she presided over the Executive Mansion in New York and in Philadelphia with great grace and dignity, an incomparable “First Lady” and often called “Lady Washington.” However, notwithstanding her great social gifts, the quiet of Mount Vernon was to her, as to her husband, the life most desired. There, after Washington's retirement from the Presidency, she continued to offer unlimited hospitality to the many visitors attracted by her distinguished husband. She never recovered from his death in 1799 and was deeply depressed until just prior to her own death two and a half years later. Her remains were placed at rest with those of Washington in the vault at Mount Vernon. Consult Conklin, M. C., ‘Memoirs of the Lives of the Mother and Wife of Washington’ (1851); Lossing, B. J., ‘Mary and Martha’ (1887); Holloway, L. C., ‘Ladies of the White House’ (1886).

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