Martha Parke Custis was born on 31 December 1777 in the Blue Room at Mount Vernon. She was the second-eldest surviving daughter of John Parke Custis, son of Martha Washington and her first husband Daniel Parke Custis, and his wife Eleanor Calvert, daughter of Benedict Swingate Calvert and his wife Elizabeth Calvert.
Martha was named for her father's late sister, Martha "Patsy" Parke Custis (1756–1773). Her siblings included Elizabeth Parke Custis Law (1776–1831), Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (1779–1854), and George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857). She was known to her family as "Patsy."
At first the family alternated between living at the Washingtons' plantation, Mount Vernon in Virginia, and the Calverts' plantation, Mount Airy in Maryland. In 1778, John Parke Custis purchased Abingdon, a 900-acre (3.6 km2) plantation on the west bank of the Potomac River (now the site of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). Abingdon was conveniently located equidistant between Mount Vernon and Mount Airy.
Marriage and children
Martha married Thomas Peter in 1795 at Hope Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. The young bride requested from her step-grandfather George Washington a miniature of himself as a wedding gift. Painted in Philadelphia between 1794 and 1795 by Walter Robertson, the miniature is a watercolor on ivory and is set in gold, and depicted Washington in his Continental Army uniform.
Martha and Thomas had eight children:
- Martha Eliza Eleanor Parke Peter (20 January 1796–10 September 1800)
- Columbia Washington Peter (2 December 1797–3 December 1820)
- John Parke Custis Peter (14 November 1799–19 January 1848), married Elizabeth Jane Henderson
- George Washington Peter (18 November 1801–10 December 1877, married Jane Boyce
- America Pinckney Peter Williams (12 October 1803–25 April 1842), married William George Williams
- Robert Thomas Peter (7 November 1806–5 October 1807)
- Martha Custis Castania Peter (5 October 1808–5 April 1809)
- Brittania Wellington Peter Kennon (28 January 1815–27 January 1911), married Commodore Beverley Kennon
Slaves and inheritances
Upon her marriage, Martha inherited 61 slaves from her late father's estate. Thomas almost immediately auctioned them off to raise cash, an action that may have inspired the stern rebuke against the breaking up of slave families that George Washington delivered in his will. Her step-grandfather bequeathed her $8,000, 1/32 of his estate.
Martha Washington died in 1802, and Thomas Peter served as executor of her estate. The Peters purchased at a private sale many objects from Mount Vernon to preserve her grandparents' legacy. Martha Peter inherited approximately 35 dower slaves from Mount Vernon following her grandmother's death (from grandfather Daniel Parke Custis's estate). She later inherited about 40 additional slaves following the 1811 death of her mother (from father John Parke Custis's estate).
Her $8,000 inheritance from George Washington was used to purchase property in Washington, D.C. in 1805. The property, comprising one city block on the crest of Georgetown Heights, had an excellent view of the Potomac River. The couple commissioned Dr. William Thornton, architect of the United States Capitol, to design their mansion which they named Tudor Place.
- Arlis Herring (9 February 2008). "Martha Parke Custis". Arlis Herring. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Washington Parke Custis, George; Mary Randolph Custis Lee (1859). Memoirs of Washington. Englewood publishing company. p. 37.
- "The Papers of George Washington: Documents". The Papers of George Washington. 2009. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
- Wendy Kail (2009). "The Papers of George Washington: Articles". The Papers of George Washington. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Weincek, Henry (2003). An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 336–343.
- As widow of an intestate husband, Eleanor Calvert Custis (later Stuart) was granted the lifetime use of 1/3 of the assets of John Parke Custis's estate, including its slaves. Upon her death, her third of the Custis estate, including its slaves, was inherited by the couple's 4 children.
- Geneall. "Martha Parke Custis". Geneall. Retrieved 2008-02-22.