Arlington House, 1853
An African American woman walks across the spacious lawn of Arlington House, also known as the Lee–Custis Mansion, in this 1853 watercolor. Constructed between 1802 and 1818, the mansion overlooks the Potomac River across from Washington, D.C., and was the antebellum home of Robert E. Lee.
The painting's artist, Benson J. Lossing, was a writer and illustrator from New York who, in 1853, published a narrative sketchbook of the American Revolution. That same year he visited Arlington in order to conduct research for an article about the house and its builder, George Washington Parke Custis. After spending a week with Custis, his daughter Mary, and her husband, Robert, Lossing published his article in the September 1853 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. In it, he described the site of Arlington Spring's "pure and copious fountain, gushing out from the roots of a huge and venerable oak, which doubtless stood there when the Red Man, in a remote age, came thither to slake his thirst."
Custis, Lossing wrote, "built a wharf for convenient landing; a store-room; a kitchen; a dining-hall, sixty feet in length; and a saloon of the same dimensions for dancing in. No spiritous liquors are permitted to be sold on the premises, nor are visitors allowed to come there on the Sabbath. All that is asked in return is the observance of those moral rules, and a reciprocation of the kind feeling which makes every class of respectable citizen cordially welcome."