Martha Dandridge Custis Washington

(June 2, 1731–May 22, 1802)
Fairfax County
First Lady

The daughter of a New Kent County planter family, Martha Dandridge received an education and at age eighteen married the wealthy Daniel Parke Custis. After his death in 1757, she inherited 17,500 acres of land and 300 slaves. Martha Custis married George Washington in 1759 and they moved to Mount Vernon, where she was responsible for managing the estate's domestic operations. Although they had no children of their own, they raised Martha Washington's two surviving children and later two of her grandchildren.

An engaging companion, she joined her husband at his winter camps during the Revolutionary War. She was the general's closest confidant, and served as his secretary and as his representative at official functions. She comforted sick and wounded soldiers and her presence helped boost the camp's morale. When George Washington was elected president, Martha Washington understood that her behavior would set a precedent for the wives of the country's future chief executives. Among her important initiatives was establishing weekly receptions at the presidential mansion that were open to anyone, including members of Congress, visiting dignitaries, and local residents.

Devastated after the death her husband in 1799, she focused on her grandchildren and lived quietly at Mount Vernon. She freed her husband's slaves, which he had instructed in his will to be done after her death. Suffering poor health at the end of her life, Martha Washington died in 1802 and was buried in the family tomb at Mount Vernon.