White House (plantation)

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Coordinates: 37°31′30.7″N 77°4′38.2″W / 37.525194°N 77.077278°W / 37.525194; -77.077278

White House as it appeared when rebuilt after the American Civil War

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 (1731–1802) and Daniel Parke Custis (1711–1757) after they were married in 1750.[1][2] Troops of the Army of the Potomac under the command of George B. McClellan burned the house to the ground on June 28, 1862, as they retreated during the Seven Days Battles.[3] Following the war, General W.F. "Rooney" Lee rebuilt the house, but it burned to the ground in 1875 and was not rebuilt.

Antebellum years[edit]

A wealthy widow, Martha Custis was courted by George Washington, whom she married in 1759.[1] Shortly thereafter, he resigned his Virginia military commission and they moved to his farm at Mount Vernon in Fairfax County overlooking the Potomac River.[1][4]

George and Martha Washington had no children of their own, but raised her two surviving children.[1][4] Her son, John Parke "Jacky" Custis (1754–1781) married Eleanor Calvert on February 3, 1774. The couple then moved to the White House plantation.[2] After the couple had lived at the White House plantation for more than two years, John Parke Custis purchased the Abingdon plantation, into which the couple settled during 1778.[2]

John Parke Custis died in 1781 after contracting "camp fever" at the Siege of Yorktown.[2] Martha and George Washington then raised his two younger children, Eleanor Parke Custis (later Lewis) and George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857).[5]

George Washington became the first President of the United States and his wife, Martha, became the nation's initial First Lady, although she was known at the time as simply "Lady Washington." The title of First Lady was traditionally given the President's wife in years thereafter.

In 1802, George Washington Parke Custis began construction on Arlington House, then in the District of Columbia, intending it to become a memorial to his step-grandfather (and adoptive father), George Washington, who had died in 1799. Arlington House later became the home of his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, born in 1807, who in 1831 married Robert E. Lee.[6][7] In 1846, most of the area of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac River was retroceded to Virginia, including the land occupied by Arlington House and the surrounding plantation.[8]

Robert E. and Mary Anna Custis Lee had seven children, of whom three boys and three girls survived to adulthood.[6] Of these, the second son was William H.F. "Rooney" Lee (1837–1891), who was born at Arlington House.[9] Rooney Lee was educated at Harvard University, and then followed his father's footsteps into service with the U.S. Army.[9] However, in 1859, he resigned his commission.[9]

Rooney Lee moved to White House Plantation, which he had inherited from his grandfather, who died in 1857.[9] He married Charlotte Wickham, a descendant of attorney John Wickham.[9] They had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom died in infancy.[9] His wife, Charlotte, died in 1863.[9] The manor house at White House Plantation, which was burned in 1862, had been the second of three which occupied the site of over the years, all destroyed by fires.[10]

White House was the site of the crossing of the Pamunkey River of the Richmond and York River Railroad, which was completed in 1861 between Richmond and West Point, where the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi Rivers converge to form the York River.

American Civil War years[edit]

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, and Virginia joined the newly formed Confederate States of America, Robert E. Lee, who had most recently been Superintendent of the USMA at West Point was offered the command of all Union forces by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, but resigned his commission in favor of serving his home state of Virginia. All three of his sons joined him in military service for the Confederacy.

Robert E. Lee's wife suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and this became increasingly debilitating with advancing age. By 1861, she was using a wheelchair. Early in the War, Mrs. Lee and her daughters left Arlington House and she was staying at her son Rooney's plantation in New Kent County at White House when Union troops under General George B. McClellan took White House Landing as a supply base during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, a failed attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.[10] General McClellan made arrangements for Mrs. Lee's safe passage through the Union lines, and she relocated to Richmond, where she resided at 707 E. Franklin Street (in a still-extant house) for the duration of the War.

During the Peninsula Campaign, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City's Central Park among his many accomplishments, served as Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross in Washington D.C. which tended to the Union wounded during the Civil War. Olmsted headed the medical effort for the sick and wounded at White House Landing until McClellan abandoned it as he retreated with his troops during the Seven Days Battles and shifted his base to Harrison's Landing on the James River. The manor house of White House Plantation was burned by retreating Union troops.[10]

Postbellum years[edit]

Rooney Lee lost his wife and children during the War, and was captured and held as a prisoner-of-war in New York after the Battle of Brandy Station.[9] Following the War, Rooney Lee returned to White House Plantation.[9] In 1867, he married again.[9] With his second wife, Mary Tab Bolling Lee, he had several children.[9] Nearby, his younger brother Rob lived at Romancoke Plantation across the river in King William County.

After his mother died in 1873, Rooney inherited the Ravensworth Estate, the old Fitzhugh family property (near present-day Springfield) in Fairfax County with 563 acres (2.28 km2) of land. In 1874, he moved there from White House Plantation.

Rooney Lee was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1875, serving until 1878. He was then elected as a Democrat to the US House of Representatives in 1887. He served in the House until his death at Ravensworth in 1891.[9] He is interred in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia with his parents and siblings.

White House connection[edit]

Although George Washington and his wife never lived in the presidential mansion now known as the White House in Washington, D.C., construction of the building started during his term in office, and it is speculated that the name may have derived from White House Plantation, where the couple had shared many pleasant memories.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (2009). "Martha Dandridge Custis Washington". The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  2. ^ a b c d Yates, Bernice-Marie (2003). The Perfect Gentleman: The Life and Letters of George Washington Custis Lee. Fairfax, Virginia: Xulon Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 1-59160-451-6. Retrieved 2011-06-27. 
  3. ^ Horn, Jonathan. "White House on the Pamunkey." New York Times. June 29, 2012. Accessed 10-25-2013.
  4. ^ a b John K. Amory, M.D., "George Washington’s infertility: Why was the father of our country never a father?" Fertility and Sterility, Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2004. (online, PDF format)
  5. ^ "The Papers of George Washington: Documents". The Papers of George Washington. 2009. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  6. ^ a b Perry, John. Mrs. Robert E. Lee : The Lady of Arlington. Multnomah Publishers, 2003. ISBN 1-59052-137-4.
  7. ^ "The Education of a Cadet". University of Chicago. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  8. ^ Richards, Mark David (Spring–Summer 2004). "The Debates over the Retrocession of the District of Columbia, 1801–2004". Washington History (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.): 54–82. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l National Park Service (June 19, 2007). "William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee". National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  10. ^ a b c d New Kent County Planning Commission (June 6, 2002). "New Kent County Comprehensive Plan: Existing Conditions". New Kent County Planning Commission. Retrieved 2008-03-04.