George and Martha

Martha Dandridge Custis was born on June 21, 1731. She was the oldest child of Colonel John Dandridge and his wife, Francis Jones, of New Kent. The Dandridge family was not in the top tier of the landed gentry. They owned a modest plantation on the banks of the Pamunkey river.[1]

Martha’s family would have expected her to make an advantageous match. Therefore, she had to learn how to care for a plantation. She also learned to read the Bible, ride a horse, dance, and cook. “Martha Dandridge had to learn early the rituals of maintaining a facade of elegance and civilization superimposed over a system short on cash and supported by brutal, hard slave labor… Her education was fairly typical of Virginia’s more fortunate daughters.”[2]

Martha Dandridge was seventeen years old when she fell in love with and was married to Daniel Parke Custis, who was thirteen years older than her. His father was upset that his son had picked a woman of such a low station. However, Martha’s charm soon won him over, and he gave the couple his blessing.[3]

In her first five years of marriage, Martha gave birth to four children, a boy and a girl who died in infancy, and two children who survived, John, called Jacky, and Martha, nicknamed Patcy. Unfortunately, after the birth of Patcy, in the spring of 1757, Daniel Custis died of heart failure. Martha was twenty-five years old.[4]

It is unclear exactly when the future president met his first lady. However, Washington likely knew both Martha and Daniel Parke Custis. He would also have known that Daniel had passed away, leaving Martha an extremely wealthy woman.[5]

When George Washington met Martha Custis, she was probably the most affluent widow in Virginia.[6] Martha had inherited from her late husband one hundred slaves and liquid assets in the range of £12,000.[7] She also inherited eighteen thousand acres valued at £30,000.[8] Martha was considered to be one of the most eligible candidates for marriage.[9]

Washington had begun courting Martha in the spring of 1758.[10] Not long after, on January 6, 1759, George Washington and Martha Custis were married at White House.[11] Washington would soon write that “I have quit a Military Life; and shortly shall be fix’d at this place with an agreable Partner, and then shall be able to conduct my own business with more punctuality than heretofore as it will pass under my own immediate supervision.”[12] This partner, Martha, would become one of the most significant influences on Washington’s life. Her huge dowry immediately catapulted him into a higher tier of Virginia’s planter class and established the economic foundation for his second career as the master of Mount Vernon.[13]


[1] Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life (Macmillan, 1998), 171.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life, 172.
[4] Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life, 173.
[5] Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life, 171.
[6] Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington (New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 35.
[7] John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of An American Icon (New York, New York: Bloomsbury Press`, 2009), 42.
[8] Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington, 35.
[9] Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life, 171.
[10] Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington, 35.
[11] John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of An American Icon, 44.
[12] Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington, 39.
[13] Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington, 40.

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