Author: Patricia Brady


Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis (1779–1852)

Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis was the stepgranddaughter of George Washington and important preserver of the first president‘s legacy. Born in Maryland, she and her brother, George Washington Parke Custis, went to live at Mount Vernon after the death of her father in 1781. Nelly Custis was educated in New York and Philadelphia while Washington served as president and helped to entertain guests. In 1797 she married Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and the couple lived briefly at Mount Vernon. After Washington’s death, they inherited about 2,000 acres of his estate and in 1805 built their own home, Woodlawn. Throughout her life Nelly Custis Lewis regarded herself as the keeper of George Washington’s legacy, serving as an accurate purveyor of information about him and his life. She was instrumental in having a tomb erected at Mount Vernon in 1835. She died in 1852.


Daniel Parke Custis (1711–1757)

Daniel Parke Custis, a planter, is best known as Martha Dandridge Custis Washington‘s first husband. Custis found his early life constrained by his father, John Custis (1679–1749), who squelched at least two of his courtships and was reluctant to give him land. Martha Dandridge, twenty years younger than Custis, eventually won his father’s approval. He was a major landholder—inheriting 18,000 acres of land upon his father’s death—but Custis declined to take a major role in Virginia politics. Martha Dandridge Custis inherited his property after Custis died without a will. She was one of the wealthiest young widows in Virginia when she married George Washington in 1759.