Martha Washington is known as the very First Lady of the United States and the wife of the famous President George Washington. In fact, she was the very first First Lady we ever had. We hear her name and see one of the famous paintings of her. She is a big part of the early years of American history.
What many people do not realize is that this regal woman was once married to another man and her only children came from that union. Martha Washington was once Martha Custis. She had a life before we knew her.
Daniel Parke Custis
Martha was just eighteen to nineteen years old when she married Daniel Parke Custis in 1750 of Williamsburg. This 39 year old man ran his family’s plantation whose house ironically was called “The White House.” Thus, Martha lived in the White House long before any other president or his wife did. Her older husband was one of the wealthiest men in the colony which pushed this young woman into the forefront of society.
The size of Custis’ estate has been determined to be more than 17,000 acres with around 300 slaves. This was an extremely large plantation that grew mainly tobacco and shipped it back to the Mother Country. His wealth put Martha in a position where she was the leader of the local society and thus was responsible for leading social gatherings. These unknowingly were preparing her to entertain many diplomats when she assumed the role of First Lady of a new nation.
A Fine Life
Needless to say, Custis’ monetary wealth gave Martha the ability to enjoy the finer things of life that only those of the upper crust of colonial society could enjoy.
She had the finest linens, tablesettings, clothes, and even her own personal slaves to help around the house and help her personally.
During her short marriage to Custis, Martha gave birth to her only children. The oldest was Daniel Parke Custis who died three years before his father. Next came Frances Parke Custis who died the same year as her father. Only the next two, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis known as Jacky and Patsy respectively, survived into adulthood.
Custis suddenly became ill and died despite Martha’s best efforts to get him help. Within a few months, she lost her oldest daughter and her husband. Due to his age and good healthy, Custis did not write up a will. Despite that, Martha was able to take over the running of the plantation, the management of the slaves, and the raising her children.
Just a few short years later, the brains, the wealth, and the beauty of Martha attracted a suitor who would take her from being famous in Virginia to being famous throughout the world. She married the military man, George Washington, who took her and her children and raised them as his own.
Not every marriage during those times were happy, but most biographers agree that Martha was lucky in having two marriages that treated her good and where she had affection, if not love, in the marriage. What a blessed our First Lady had.