Martha Washington, the first First Lady was born Martha Dandrige, on June 2, 1731. As first lady, she initiated a weekly reception, held on Friday evenings hosting members of Congress, visiting dignitaries, and men and women from the local community. Her recipes and cooking methods have produced countless cookbooks in American history.
While not formally educated, she learned housekeeping, religion, music, needlework, and dancing. She also learned to read and write, unlike most women in Virginia in the early 1700s. This developed into a lifelong passion for all kinds of literature such as novels, magazines, and scripture. She enjoyed riding horses, gardening, sewing, playing the spinet and dancing.
At the age of 18, she married Daniel Parke Custis on May 15, 1750 and they lived at White House, a plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. They had four children together, but only two lived to age five: John Parke Custis (called Jacky) and Martha Parke Custis (called Patsy).
Daniel Custis died suddenly in July of 1757, leaving her, at age 26, a very wealthy widow with two young children, a 17,500-acre plantation to manage, and responsible for almost 300 enslaved people. Under English property laws, women could only own property if they were single or widowed.
Nearly two years later, she married George Washington on January 6, 1759 at her home in New Kent. Upon his ascent to the presidency, she joined him in New York, the nation’s first capital city, and later Philadelphia. The marriage changed George to a substantially wealthy landowner.
The first year, they moved twice. Once to a larger home in New York on Broadway and the second time, in November, to Philadelphia, to await the completion of the new capital on the Potomac River.
Martha journeyed to Cambridge, Valley Forge, Philadelphia, and Morristown to support George Washington and the soldiers in their disease-ridden winter encampment. She was inoculated against smallpox on May 23, 1776, in Philadelphia.
When George Washington on December 14, 1799, Martha Washington was once again a widow. She didn't attend the funeral which was held on December 18, 1799. Upon his death, she closed the door to their bed chamber and moved herself to a tiny, plain garret chamber on the third floor of the mansion.
Fulfilling George Washington's will, on December 15, 1800, she signed a deed to emancipate his enslaved individuals on January 1, 1801.
Martha Washington died on May 22, 1802 of a severe fever. She rests next to the George Washington in the tomb at Mount Vernon.
The slaves of her household reverted to the control of her estate and divided among her four grandchildren. Because George Washington had freed his slaves, many of whom had intermarried with Martha's slaves, members of Black families once under the couple's control found themselves irrevocably separated by conditions of slavery and freedom.
I am fond of only what comes from the heart.
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