was the kind of wife that a great man like George Washington needed and deserved. Martha was the very first woman to serve as First Lady. She was so well loved and respected that many people called her Lady Washington, but George used her childhood name of Patsy. Washington
Washington was born Martha Dandridge on June 2, 1731, on her parents' plantation, Chestnut Grove, near . Her parents were John Dandridge (1700-1756) and Frances Jones (1710-1785). Her father emigrated from Williamsburg, Virginia and became a wealthy land owner and planter. Her mother was of English and Welsh descent. Martha was the oldest of eight children and had three brothers and four sisters. England
Martha married Daniel Parke Custis on May 15, 1750, when she was 18 years old. Daniel was a rich planter who was much older than Martha - somewhere between 13 and 20 years. They lived at the White House Plantation located a few miles up the
from her parents' plantation. Martha and Daniel had four children: Daniel (1751-1754), Pamunkey River (1753-1757), John (Jacky) Parke Custis (1754-1781), and Martha ("Patsy") Parke Custis (1756-1773). Daniel and Frances died in childhood while Jacky and Patsy survived to young adulthood. Martha was left a rich, young widow when her husband passed away in 1757; he left her with independent control over a dower inheritance for her lifetime and trustee control over the inheritance of her minor children. Frances
There is apparently no record as to when Martha met George Washington. They might have known each other while Martha was married to Daniel, and they might have met at a neighbor's house in
in early 1758. George was a colonel in the militia at the time and must have been very dashing. He visited Martha at the White House Plantation twice in March 1758 and came away from the second visit with either an engagement to marry or a promise that she would think about it. She apparently was also being courted by another wealthy planter named Charles Carter. Williamsburg
The wedding of George and Martha took place on January 6, 1759, and was apparently a "grand affair" as she wore "purple silk shoes with spangled buckles" and he was attired in "a suit of blue and silver with red trimming and gold knee buckles". They honeymooned at the White House Plantation before beginning their life together at the
Mount Vernon estate of . From all reports, their marriage was a solid match with no sign of problems or infidelity. Washington
Martha and George had no children together, but they reared Martha's two surviving children. Patsy died as a teenager from an epileptic seizure, and Jacky came home from college to comfort his mother. Jacky was an aide to
Washington during the 1781 siege of Yorktown and died during his military service - probably from typhus. After Jacky's death, Martha and George took two of his children - Eleanor Parke Custis (March 31, 1779 - July 15, 1852) and George Washington Parke Custis (April 30, 1781 - October 10, 1857) into their home to rear. George and Martha apparently provided personal and financial support to other family members in both the Dandridge and Washington families.
George and Martha enjoyed being home and living a private life at either
or one of the homes of the Custis estate. It was at great sacrifice of personal feelings that George was gone from home so long to fight the Revolutionary War. Each winter when the army went to its winter encampment, George sent for Martha, and she came in spite of the fact that she really enjoyed being around her large and extended family. Martha was about five feet tall and had never been away from Mount Vernon until her husband became the commander-in-chief of the army. She traveled thousands of miles to be with him each winter, traveling to military encampments in Virginia Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and . New York
After the Continental Army marched into Valley Forge for their third winter encampment on December 19, 1777, Martha left
Mount Vernon on January 26, 1778, and spent ten days traveling hundreds of miles in order to be with her husband in . While she was at Pennsylvania Valley Forge, she helped to maintain a higher level of morale among the officers and enlisted troops.
Martha's main role in the encampment was to care for her husband and give him her "soothing gentle hand." She served as hostess at the camp and socialized with the wives of other senior officers. The officers and their ladies would gather at each other's quarters in the evening for conversation and singing as General Washington prohibited dancing and card-playing at
Valley Forge. Martha organized a women's sewing circle and mended clothing for the troops.
Martha was still at Valley Forge on May 6, 1778, to celebrate the formal announcement of an American alliance with
. The General and his lady began the day at Sunday services with the France brigade. After the sermon there was a thunderous feu de joie when thousands of soldiers fired their muskets consecutively to show their joy. New Jersey
On May 11, Martha and George attended a camp production of Cato, one of the General's favorite theatricals. Staff officers performed the Joseph Addison tragedy for a "splendid audience" of officers and their wives.
Martha celebrated her forty-seventh birthday on June 2, and then six days later she packed up her carriage and returned to
, hoping that this was the last time that she would spend a winter in an army encampment. It was not to be, and she made five more winter trips to join her husband. Mount Vernon
Martha was so opposed to George being elected President of the newly-formed
that she refused to attend his inauguration on April 30, 1789. She did however act as First Lady and hosted many affairs of state in United States New York and then in when the capital moved. (Washington, D.C. did not become the capital until 1800 during the John Adams Administration.) Martha did not enjoy being the First Lady and felt like a "state prisoner." She was called Lady Philadelphia , but she dressed so plainly that people often thought she was the maid. Washington
After President Washington passed away in 1799, Martha continued to live at
. A short time before her death on May 22, 1802, she burned all of Mount Vernon 's letters to her. She was buried by the side of her husband at Washington . All of the Mount Vernon slaves were freed between the time that George passed away and the day of Martha's death. Washington
Facts for this article are from Wikipedia and Kathryn Kish Sklar in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 21, p 109.