The Life of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington...

by: Kendall Bisig


Martha Washington had many different titles in the past like, Lady Washington, George’s wife, First of First Ladies… But what happened to Martha before she became the First Lady of the United States? ... before there was a United States…? …before George…? A life story of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington…



Martha Dandridge was born on June 2, 1731. She was born to mother, Frances and father, John; she was the first of their seven children. Martha grew up just like any other girl, but what she didn’t know was that someday, she would be the president’s wife. You could say her family was VERY rich because they owned many slaves, had a lot of land, and had a large house. Most girls in those days didn’t get a formal education, but Martha’s father made sure his girls did, he hired tutors.

Married Life I…

At the age of 18, Martha seemed to have found her match. It was one man in particular, Daniel Parke Custis! Custis was a very wealthy man also, a Virginian planter, but he was 20 YEARS OLDER!  The couple married on May 15, 1750. During their married life Martha moved to Custis’s home in Virginia, a 17,500 acre piece of land he inherited from his father. This house they called the White House (not the one we think of today). A year after their marriage Martha delivered their first child, a boy named Daniel Parke Custis, after his father. Two years later a daughter Frances Parke Custis was born, and was named after Martha’s mother. The next year their first child, Daniel died. Not long after his death she gave birth to their third child, a boy, named John Parke Custis who they called “Jacky”. Just two years later their last child, a girl, was born and they named her Martha Parke Custis.  Her nickname was “Patsy”. A year later, Frances, Martha’s second child Frances, became ill and died. Shortly after that her husband Daniel came down with the same illness that killed Frances and also died.  This sent Martha into a deep depression. She became a widow at the age of 26, and was forced to raise two children alone.


Married Life II…

The meeting of George Washignton and Martha has been told many ways, and no one is certain how it happened. All we know is they met and George found that she was the one for him; soon after, they got married on January 6, 1759. George took over the role of father to Martha’s two children, Patsy and Jacky. Martha moved from the White House to George’s home, Mount Vernon which is where Martha spent most of her time. Mount Vernon was very large with much farmland and slaves. Many people say George married Martha for her money, but they are wrong… George and Martha had a very close relationship all their lives.


During the Revolutionary War...George was gone almost every day while the war was going on. He checked in every once in a while, but Martha was alone most of the time… well not totally alone, because of all her slaves. While her children were still young, they were home too, she taught them the essential skills of life: cooking, cleaning, running a house, etc.  During the Tea Act the British had put on the colonists, Martha didn’t like the idea of boycotting their tea because that was almost all she drank, but the colonies ordered it so she supported whole heartedly.

In June 1773, Patsy had a seizure and died… Martha was devastated, this left only one child. Jacky married in 1774 to Nelly and they had two children together. Martha kept herself busy during the war, visiting family members and finding projects at their home that needed to be completed. Martha traveled in the frigid winter weather to visit George at his headquarters. While there, she cheered up the wounded and sick and tried to help keep them alive. She joined a sewing circle of women, usually wives of the soldiers. The sewing circle did everything and anything to keep clothes on the soldiers.

In February 1778, help was needed most of all the soldiers were encamped at Valley Forge.  Keeping men from freezing was tough since they had no clothes which was the biggest issue. When she was home, Martha put the slaves to work making clothes and supplies for the Army.  She brought supplies, wagons full, from home to help the soldiers and Army: food, medicine, weapons, money, etc.  Martha really did care even if she didn’t like the thought of men killing each other! Martha spent almost every winter during the war with George helping the Army


A New Nation…

In June 1780, Martha joined the Ladies’ Association which helped raise money for the army. They encouraged support for the Army and in just a few months they collected over $300,000 with Martha alone giving $20,000. She really did care! The Army won battles and lost battles but they were so ecstatic when they had a victorious battle.


Her son Jacky got a fever while serving in the Army.  In only a few days, he was dead. Martha never wanted the war to happen or even begin so when she found out that the war was coming to a close, and her HUSBAND and his army would be the winners, she was overjoyed!! On September 3, 1783 a peace treaty was signed and the American Revolution War was officially over.  Just a few months later, George resigned as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. This meant he could go home! Martha and George could now fix up Mount Vernon after several years of neglect. Their grandchildren joined in on all the fun! George still went to meetings of the Continental Congress and such, but he was home all the time…

Becoming the First Lady

As I said, Martha didn’t even imagine, dream, she would become the first lady of the United States, but it would happen. After the war, Martha really enjoyed staying home with George and her grandkids, doing “normal” stuff.


George Washington wasn elected as the First President of the United States on April 30, 1789..  Martha understood her husband changed this nation, but she really just wanted to stay home. She longed to stay, but she knew it was her duty to go with George.  Martha packed up their belonings and moved with her husband. Martha set very high standards for all the First Ladies to follow after her. 

After four years, George could have left, but leaders and the community convinced him to run again. Martha was really looking forward to going home but she understood her husband’s decision. Four years later they tried to convince him once more, but they didn’t succeed.

The end of the road for Martha and George

All the happiness would end when George died on December 14, 1799 at Mount Vernon at 67 years old. One incredible man who influenced this country SO much had just died. A funeral was held for George on, December 18, 1799 but Martha was not in attendance because she was too sad. Martha missed her husband more than anything in the world.  She still enjoyed hosting parties and talking with visitors, sewing, knitting and praying all the time. But in May 1802,  three years after George died, Martha found out she was ill and she had to stay in bed for 17 days. On May 22, 1802 she finally died at 70 years old.   Martha was buried next to her husband at their Mount Vernon home.

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington had a very full life.  She was a woman who was always in action… and now you know about Martha before she was the first lady of the United States of America before and before and after her life with George! She set an outstandingly high standard for all First Ladies to follow in the future…



Bibliographical Information...


Anonymous. “ Who Served Here? Martha Washington.” <>. 1998-2010.

Bruns, Roger. George Washington. 1987.


Burgan, Michael. Great Women of the American Revolution. 2005.



Cunliffe, Marcus. George Washington: and the Making of a Nation. 1966.


McConnell, Jane. Our First Ladies. 1964.


McNeer, May. The Story of George Washington. 1973.


Raatma, Lucia. First of First Ladies: Martha Washington. 2009.


Skylar, Kathryn K. “Washington, Martha Custis” The World Book Encyclopedia. 2009.


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