George Washington Parke Custis
George Washington Parke Custis (April 30, 1781 – October 10, 1857), the step-grandson of United States President George Washington, was a nineteenth-century American writer, orator, and agricultural reformer.
George Washington Parke Custis's mother, Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart, descended from Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore and of Henry Lee of Ditchley. Through his mother he was a descendant of Charles II and George I. His father, John Parke Custis, was the son of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington through her marriage to Daniel Parke Custis. Martha and George Washington raised John Parke Custis at Mount Vernon 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 in Prince George's County, Maryland. He initially lived with his parents and sisters, Elizabeth Parke Custis, Martha Parke Custis and Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (Nelly Custis), at the Abingdon Plantation (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, shortly after the British army surrendered there. George and Martha Washington then brought Custis and Eleanor to their home at Mount Vernon. George Washington adopted his step-grandson as his son. Custis' two oldest sisters, Elizabeth and Martha, remained at Abingdon with their widowed mother, who in 1783 married Dr. David Stuart, an Alexandria physician who was an associate of George Washington. The Stuarts subsequently had 16 children while living at Abingdon, Hope Park and Ossian Hall in Northern Virginia.
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. Following the transfer of the national capital to Philadelphia, the original "First Family" occupied the President's House 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) and St. John's College 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 on land inherited from his father that was located on a hill that is now directly across the Potomac River from the National Mall 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. Of their four children, only one daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, survived. She married Robert E. Lee at Arlington House on June 30, 1831; Lee's father, Henry Lee, had famously eulogized Pres. George Washington at the December 18, 1799 funeral.
In 1799, Custis was commissioned as a cornet in the United States Army and aide-de-camp to General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. During the War of 1812, Custis volunteered in the defense of Washington, D.C., at the Battle of Bladensburg.
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.
- 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 (wife of Robert E. Lee) for her natural life, and upon her death, to his eldest grandson George Washington Custis Lee;
- White House plantation in New Kent County and Romancoke plantation in King William County (approx. 4000 acres each) would be bequeathed to his other two grandsons William Henry Fitzhugh Lee ("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 "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. Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, 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. 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, the 1,100-acre (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, 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 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 and Fort Myer. Arlington House, built by Custis to honor George Washington, is now the Robert E. Lee Memorial. It is restored and open to the public under the auspices of the National Park Service.
Custis descended from a number of aristocratic colonial families during the colonial era, as well as, through his mother, the British nobility and, very distantly, from the royal House of Hanover and the House of Stuart.
|Ancestors of George Washington Parke Custis|
See also 
- Samuel Osgood House (New York City) — First Presidential Mansion.
- Alexander Macomb House (New York City) — Second Presidential Mansion.
- President's House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) — Third Presidential Mansion.
- Kail, Wendy (2009). "Martha Parke Custis Peter". The Papers of George Washington. University of Virginia Library: Alderman Library. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
- Templeman, Eleanor Lee (1959). Arlington Heritage: Vignettes of a Virginia County. New York: Avenel Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc. pp. 12–13.
- Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. ""The Custis Family" marker". in W., Kevin, Stafford, Virginia (2008-06-17). "The Custis Family: Abingdon Plantation". HMdb.org The Historical Marker Database.
- Maryland Historical Society. "Mount Airy marker". in Robby, F (2008-06-17). "Mount Airy". HMdb.org The Historical Marker Database.
- Johnson, R. Winder (1905). The Ancestry of Rosalie Morris Johnson: Daughter of George Calvert Morris and Elizabeth Kuhn, his wife. Ferris & Leach. p. 30. Retrieved 2011-05-20.
- These included about 80 slaves from the John Parke Custis estate; 35 dower slaves at Mount Vernon from the Daniel Parke Custis estate; Elisha, the one slave Martha Washington owned outright; and about 40 more slaves from the John Parke Custis estate following his mother's 1811 death. See: Henry Weincek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), p. 383n. See also: Slavery by the Numbers
- "Papers of George Washington". Gwpapers.virginia.edu. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- Auguste Levasseur. Lafayette in America. Translator Alan Hoffman. pp. 197–9.
- See the Cornell University Library transcription of Harper's New Monthly Magazine article:  (starting on page 433). Four of the Custis paintings mentioned in the Harper's article can be seen in color (Battle of Germantown/Battle of Trenton/Battle of Princeton/Washington at Yorktown) in the February 1966 issue of American Heritage magazine.
- "George Washington Parke Custis". Michael Robert Patterson. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
- "Will of George Washington Parke Custis". Nathanielturner.com. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- Freeman, Douglas Southall (1934). "Chapter 22". Robert E. Lee: a Biography. vol. 1. Scribner.
- Freeman. "Chapter 23". Robert E. Lee. vol. 1.
- "Arlington National Cemetery, Historical Information".
- "United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196 (1882)".
- Bearss, Sara B. "The Federalist Career of George Washington Parke Custis", Northern Virginia Heritage 8 (February 1986): 15–20.
- Bearss, Sara B. "The Farmer of Arlington: George W. P. Custis and the Arlington Sheep Shearings", Virginia Cavalcade 38 (1989): 124–133.
- Brady, Patricia. Martha Washington: An American Life (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2005). ISBN 0-670-03430-4.
- John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998- ), 3:630-633. ISBN 0-88490-206-4.
- Ribblett, David L. "Nelly Custis: Child of Mount Vernon" (The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1993)41-42. ISBN 0-931917-23-9.
- Biography by the National Park Service
- Biography and epitaph
- Custis's Will
- The President's House in Philadelphia