Martha Washington In 1633 Reverend Rowland Jones came from England to the colony of Virginia. Two years later his great granddaughter Martha Dandridge was born on June 2, 1731 on a plantation near Williamsburg (McPherson 17). She grew up in the Dandridge home "Chestnut Grove" and enjoyed riding horses, gardening, sewing, playing the piano and dancing. She received a fair education, something girls didn't receive at the time.
At the age of eighteen Martha married to Daniel Parke Custis (McPherson 23). He was wealthy, handsome and twenty years older than her (McPherson 21). They had four children, two of them died before their first birthday. In 1757 when Martha was twenty-six, Daniel Custis died after an illness. Martha was left with the duties of running the household, the estate and raising her children.
Sometime later Martha met George Washington a young colonel at a ball in Williamsburg. Martha and George fell in love and were married on January 6, 1759.
The marriage changed George from an ordinary planter to a significantly wealthy landowner. He resigned his commission in the militia and moved into the newly remodeled Mt. Vernon with Martha, Jacky and Patsy.
During 1774 the political conflict in the colonies was becoming more spoken. The colonists were being weighed down with an excessive amount of taxes. Some of the friends of Martha and George were soon to become our Founding Fathers. Her friends and family were split on both sides. Her son in-laws were loyalists as well as some of their neighbors. George Washington felt it was his duty to take some role of leadership at the urging of some of his fellow patriots. He began by working on recruiting and training a small army.
George Washington soon became the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and he took charge of his army at Cambridge, Massachusetts in the winter of 1775. For Christmas Martha, Jacky, Nelly, and some friends traveled two weeks to be with him. Martha stayed with him until June of 1776. Martha rejoined her husband in February of 1778 at Valley Forge. There she entertained some of the officers and the other wives who shared winter quarters. Martha's last son Jacky enlisted as an aide to his stepfather and after only a few days he died of "camp fever." The war ended on November 25, 1783. Washington said farewell to his troops and resigned his commission in Annapolis (temporary home of Congress) and returned to Mt. Vernon.
The Constitutional Convention was assembling and George traveled to take part in it. He was named president of the convention before ratification of the new Constitution. He returned to Mt. Vernon and in April the Electoral College elected him unanimously as the president of the United States of America. George Washington was given the title of The President while Martha Washington was called "lady presidentress," but most people preferred to address her as "Lady Washington" (Garrison 9, Boller 3).
General Washington arrived first at New York (the temporary capital) and his inaugural ball was held before Martha could be with him. Later upon the arrival of Martha and her grandchildren people took her for a servant until General Washington greeted her. Since Martha was the first First Lady of the country she did not know of any rules, regulations or proper behaviors for a first lady. Also there were no paths for her to follow nor were there any traditions for the first lady. Martha had to pave her own path and start her own traditions for latter first ladies to follow.
One of the first traditions started by Lady Washington was hosting evening receptions and weekly dinner parties for government officials and foreign visitors (Boller 6). Lady Washington mostly stayed in background after arranging the foods and decorations for the parties. To avoid shaking hands with the guests she always carried something in both of the hands. During the dinner parties she did not allow anyone to talk politics and her self stayed away from it (Boller 6).
General Washington was elected to a second term, which was hard for him when war broke out between France and England. His desire was for the United States to stay neutral but others in the government felt that the help should be given to France. As a result Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton also threatened to resign. By August, a severe epidemic of Yellow Fever spread over Philadelphia. The First Family traveled to Mt. Vernon until cold weather hit the city and ended the disease.
March 4, 1797 was the day that General Washington left Congress and the Washington's soon returned home to Mt. Vernon. They celebrated George's sixty-seventh birthday with a wedding ceremony. Young Nelly married his nephew, Lawrence Lewis.
After riding the grounds of Mt. Vernon one day, General Washington came back home with a bad cold. He died December 14, 1799. Martha was too depressed to attend the funeral. Upon his death she closed the door to their bedroom and moved herself to a tiny plain loft room on the third floor of the mansion. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington breathed her last breath on May 22, 1802. She was buried next to her husband at Mt. Vernon.
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was an amazing person. She was independent, intelligent, friendly and an overall good person. She influenced the modern day in many ways. She has inspired many women to become more independent. In her time of need after her first husband died instead of giving up and marrying again or handing over the care of the estate, home and the children to someone else, she managed it all on her own.
When her second husband George Washington was off at war, she made as many visits as she could that inspired him and brought up his moral. While she visited him she entertained the other wives and families that were visiting also all on her own. These things were good examples of her kindness, sociability and her independence. She was and still is a role model for people everywhere.