Elizabeth Parke Custis Law

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Elizabeth Custis Law
Elizabeth Parke Custis Law.jpg
Portrait of Elizabeth Parke Custis Law by Gilbert Stuart
Born Elizabeth Parke Custis
(1776-08-21)August 21, 1776
British America
Died December 31, 1831(1831-12-31) (aged 55)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Burial place Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia
Spouse(s) Thomas Law
Children Elizabeth Law Rogers
Parent(s) John Parke Custis
Eleanor Calvert
Relatives Martha Washington (paternal grandmother)
Daniel Parke Custis (paternal grandfather)
George Washington (paternal step-grandfather)

Elizabeth (Eliza) Parke Custis Law (August 21, 1776 – December 31, 1831)[1][2] was the eldest granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Washington and step-grandchild of George Washington. She was a social leader of the District of Columbia and a preserver of the Washington family heritage.

Early life[edit]

Elizabeth Parke Custis was born on 21 August 1776.[1][3] She was the eldest daughter of John Parke Custis, the son of Martha Washington and her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, and his wife Eleanor Calvert, daughter of Benedict Swingate Calvert and his wife Elizabeth Calvert.[3] She was also the eldest grandchild of Martha Washington and step-grandchild of George Washington.[1][3]

Elizabeth's siblings included Martha Parke Custis Peter (1777–1854), Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis (1779–1852), and George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857). She was known to her family as "Betsey."[3][4] During their early childhood, the four children were raised at the Abingdon plantation, which their father had purchased.[3]

After the 1781 death of her father, John Parke Custis, the eldest two daughters (Elizabeth and Martha) continued to live with their mother at Abingdon, while the two youngest children (Nelly and George) moved to Mount Vernon to live with George and Martha Washington.[3] In 1783, their mother (Eleanor Calvert Custis), married Dr. David Stuart (1753–1814), an Alexandria, physician and business associate of George Washington.[3] Dr. Stuart and his wife remained at Abingdon for the first years of their marriage.[3]

The growing Stuart family and the Washingtons remained very close.[3] In 1785, Dr. Stuart purchased an estate, Hope Park, in Fairfax County, Virginia and moved his growing family there.[3] The girls continued to visit back and forth with their grandparents, and Martha Washington’s letters mark these occasions.[3] Elizabeth and Martha were brought often to Mount Vernon in George Washington’s coach.[3] When Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart went to stay with her mother on her father’s death in 1788, the two sisters remained with Martha Washington.[3]

Marriage, child and divorce[edit]

On 20 March 1795, Elizabeth married Thomas Law, the son of Edmund Law, Bishop of Carlisle,[4][5] and the brother of Edward Law, 1st Baron Ellenborough, George Henry Law, later Bishop of Bath and Wells,[6] and John Law, Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh in Ireland.[7] Law was one of Washington, D.C.'s wealthiest citizens and was active, although not successful, in business enterprises. He eventually lost his fortune.[8]

The announcement of Elizabeth's engagement came as a surprise to her grandparents George and Martha Washington, as Thomas was twice Elizabeth's age.[9][10] Elizabeth and Thomas separated in 1804 and divorced on 15 January 1811.[9]

The couple had one daughter who survived infancy, Elizabeth Law (19 January 1797 – 9 August 1822). She married Nicholas Lloyd Rogers on 5 April 1817.[1][11][12][13]

Slaves, residences and possessions[edit]

George and Martha Washington were unable to attend the Laws' wedding, but invited the couple to honeymoon in Philadelphia at the President's House.[14] The First Lady promised one of the slaves in the presidential household, Oney Judge, as a wedding gift, but the young woman fled after learning of the plan.[15] (Her younger sister, Delphy, was bequeathed to the bride and groom; married in 1800 to free William Costin, Delphy and her children were manumitted in 1807.) Eliza remained in close contact with William and Delphy Costin throughout her life.

Upon her marriage, Elizabeth Law inherited about 80 slaves from her late father's estate; following Martha Washington's 1802 death, she inherited about 35 dower slaves from her grandfather Daniel Parke Custis's estate; following her mother's 1811 death, her father's estate was liquidated, and she inherited about 40 more slaves.[16]

In March, 1796, Elizabeth and Thomas moved into the Thomas Law House near present-day 6th and N Streets Southwest.[8] The house became known as "Honeymoon House" as the Laws lived there during their honeymoon while awaiting completion of their house.[8] The National Park Service listed the house on the National Register of Historic Places on August 14, 1973.[17]

Following her separation from Thomas, Elizabeth resided between 1805 and 1809 at a "small country house" and estate on Seminary Hill in Alexandria that she called Mount Washington.[18] Mount Washington later became the central administration building of Episcopal High School in which capacity it was referred to as Hoxton House.[19]

Martha Washington's bequeathed to Elizabeth the John Trumbull portrait of General Washington, as well as a dressing table and looking glass.[20]

Death and interment[edit]

Although her death date is sometimes given as 1 January 1832, Elizabeth Parke Custis Law died in Richmond, Virginia at the home of a friend "on Saturday night (that is, 31 December 1831), ten minutes before 12 o'clock," according to her obituary in the Richmond Enquirer.[2] Her body was interred in the New Tomb at Mount Vernon on 7 January 1832.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d "Elizabeth Parke Custis". Arlis Herring.com. 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  2. ^ a b Richmond Enquirer, 3 Jan. 1832
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kail, Wendy. "Martha Parke Custis Peter". The Papers of George Washington: Documents. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  4. ^ a b "About the Custis Family". The Papers of George Washington: Documents. Archived from the original on 2010-06-02. Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  5. ^ Clark, Allen C. (1900). Thomas Law: A Biographical Sketch. (Washington, D.C.: Press of W. F. Roberts. pp. 11–12. Early in 1796 the engagement with Eliza Parke Custis was announced. Thomas Law, youngest son of the late Bishop of Carlisle, to Miss Custis.  At Google Books.
  6. ^ George Henry Law, National Portrait Gallery (London)
  7. ^ Bronson, E.; Others (1810). Memoir of the Life and Character of Dr. John Law. Select Reviews and the Spirit of Foreign Magazines. 4. Phiiladelpha: Edward Earle. pp. 281–282. OCLC 1765355.  At Google Books.
  8. ^ a b c Brown, T. Robins (1973-02-05). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Law, Thomas, House (Honeymoon House)" (PDF). National Park Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-11-20. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  9. ^ a b "The Papers of George Washington: Documents". The Papers of George Washington. 2009. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  10. ^ Camelia Sims and Laura Gore. "Chapter 7: Views and Advice". Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  11. ^ "Elizabeth Law". ArlisHerring.com. 2010-01-29. Archived from the original on 2015-11-21. Retrieved 2015-11-21. 
  12. ^ Geneall. "Elizabeth Parke Custis". Geneall. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  13. ^ Thomas Jefferson, ed. J. Jefferson Looney, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series (vol. 3, 2006), p. 209
  14. ^ Edward Lawler Jr., "The President's House Revisited", Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 129, no. 4 (October 2005), pp. 397–98. [1]
  15. ^ 1845 Oney Judge interview.[2]
  16. ^ Henry Weincek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), p. 383n.
  17. ^ "Law, Thomas, House". Focus: Digital Access Management System. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2015-11-20. Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  18. ^ Sarah Booth Conroy (June 29, 1995). "Hoxton House's Secret; The Origins of The Elegant Gray Stucco Mansion Were Obscured Until Researchers Digging Through Old Records Found The Owner: a Granddaughter of Martha Washington.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  19. ^ Virginia Department of Historic Resources (1997). "Episcopal High School". The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  20. ^ marthawashington.us. "Martha Washington: A Life". Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  21. ^ "Burials at Mount Vernon". Digital Encyclopedia. Mount Vernon, Virginia: George Washington's Mount Vernon. Archived from the original on 2014-10-12. Retrieved 2015-11-21.