President George Washington’s devoted widow and the nation’s first first lady, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, died at her Mt. Vernon home on this day in 1802. Here are five things you probably didn't know about Martha Washington....
Martha's Marriage to George Was Actually Her Second Marriage Though George and Martha enjoyed a 40-year marriage before his death in 1799, George was not Martha's first husband. Her first husband was a wealthy planter named Daniel Parke Custis, whom she married on May 15, 1750. At the time of their wedding, she was just 18 years old, and her husband was nearly twenty years her senior. The couple had four children together before Custis died eight years later, presumably of a heart attack. His death left Martha a young widow at age 26, with independent control over a dower inheritance for her lifetime. Martha ran the plantation, aided by her innate business sense. Two years later, the socially prominent widow met George Washington.
Martha Was Fabulously Wealthy When She Met George
To say that Martha had more to offer than good looks and a winning personality would be an understatement. She had numerous properties and more than seventeen-thousand acres of land across six different counties. She also had hundreds of head of cattle and sheep, and nearly 300 slaves who worked her vast tobacco empire. Indeed, she was the wealthiest woman in the colony of Virginia when George proposed marriage—and her wealth and social status meant a great deal to the young Virginian. By marrying Martha, George quickly achieved the social advancement he craved.
She Is One Of Two Women to Have Appeared on U.S. Paper Money Women rarely appear on U.S. currency, with perhaps the most well-known being the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollar coins. But as far as paper money goes, only two women have appeared. The first was Pocahontas, who was featured on a $20 bill in the 1860s. The other was Martha Washington, featured on $1 silver certificates in the 1880s and 1890s. There have been no other women on U.S. paper currency since then.
She Had Never Been Referred to as “First Lady” in Her Lifetime Since Martha was married to the first US president, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that she was the country’s first First Lady. But the title was rarely used to refer to the spouse of a president until the 1930s. In fact, in all her life, Martha was never referred to as “First Lady.” Instead, she was commonly addressed as "Lady Washington." An article published in the newspaper St. Johnsbury Caledonian in 1838, nearly four decades after her death, was the first time she was referred to as “the first lady of the nation.”
She Outlived Two Husbands And Four Children.
Tragically, Martha outlived not only the two men she got married to, but also the four kids she had given birth to. All four of her children were fathered by Custis – she had none with George. Two of the kids died before reaching the age of four, while one passed away at the age of 16. John Parke Custis was her only child to make it to adulthood and get married. However, he too died prematurely, at the age of 26, after having contracted “camp fever” while serving as a civilian aide-de-camp to his stepfather during the siege of Yorktown. After already having witnessed the death of her two husbands and four children, Martha died on May 22, 1802, at the age of 70.