George Washington Parke Custis: A Rarefied Life in America’s First Family
Charles S. Clark
George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857) was raised at Mount Vernon by George and Martha Washington. Young “Wash” appears in Savage’s 1789 painting of the first presidential family, his small hand placed symbolically on a globe. He would later make his mark on the national landscape by building Arlington House on the Potomac. A poor student, he emerged as an agricultural reformer and sought-after Federalist orator. He championed the plights of Irish Americans and war veterans. An important memoirist, he wrote well-received theatrical works and produced paintings rich in historical detail. Inheriting much of the vast Custis fortune, he also became the enslaver of more than 200 people. The slow march toward their emancipation became the central struggle of his life, particularly after his daughter’s 1831 marriage to Robert E. Lee. This first full-length biography of Custis offers a 21st century reappraisal of life that dramatically bridged the American Revolution and the Civil War.