Original Author: Unknown
Created: ca. 1870
Medium: Daguerreotype

Maria Carter Syphax

Maria Carter Syphax, a former enslaved house servant at Arlington House, is the subject of this circa 1870 daguerreotype portrait. She was the daughter of George Washington's stepgrandson, George Washington Parke Custis, and an enslaved servant named Airy Carter. At Arlington House, Maria Carter was forced to serve as a maid to her white half-sister, Mary Custis.

In 1821 Maria Carter was permitted to marry Charles Syphax—an enslaved servant who oversaw the dining room—in the parlor of the mansion. (Ten years later, Maria Syphax's white half-sister, Mary, married Robert E. Lee in the same parlor.) After Maria and Charles Syphax had been married about four years, Custis sold Maria and her two children to Edward Stabler, a Quaker apothecary in Alexandria, in what may have been an arrangement to informally grant Maria Syphax her freedom, which was not officially granted until 1845. However, her husband, Charles, remained enslaved at Arlington House.

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