GW: Life & Times

Slide 4 — Family Man: A Letter to Martha

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Images of Washington, Martha, and her children, Martha and John Parke Custis. The main image is The Marriage of Washington to Martha Custis, by Junius Brutus Stearns, 1849, courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with a portion of a painting of The Custis Children (superimposed in the right corner), by an unidentified artist, n.d., courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.

One area of George Washington's life that historians simply don't have much evidence to draw conclusions about is his marriage.

Shortly after resigning his military commission, GW wed Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy young widow, on January 6, 1759. They had met the previous year when Colonel Washington returned to supervise extensive renovations at Mount Vernon.

George and Martha never had any children of their own, but Martha had two young children by her first husband, Jacky (John Parke Custis) and Patsy (Martha Parke Custis), whom George was instrumental in raising. In later years, the Washingtons also adopted two of their grandchildren, known as Washy and Nelly.

From the documents, it is very clear that GW cared a great deal for his stepchildren and step-grandchildren. There are records of his careful management of their inheritances as well as letters to and from them. Furthermore, GW corresponded frequently with his many nieces and nephews and gave them advice, jobs and financial help over the course of his life.

There are, however, only three known letters that exist between George and Martha Washington. Before she died, Martha Washington purposefully burned the letters from her husband, to keep their relationship private. Two letters from Washington to his wife were found in a desk that Martha gave one of her granddaughters. Both date from the early months of the Revolutionary War, in June 1775. A brief note from Martha from 1777 has also recently been discovered by one of the editors at the Papers of George Washington.

Additional Resources

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