George Washington Parke Custis

A Rarefied Life in America’s First Family


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About the Book

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.

About the Author(s)

The late Charles S. Clark spent 40 years as a Washington journalist and writer of history in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia.

Bibliographic Details

Charles S. Clark

Afterword by Matthew Penrod

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 237
Bibliographic Info: 35 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8662-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4411-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

A Map of Custis Family Sites viii
Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1. A Fruitful Reunion 5
2. A Youth in High Places 14
3. Building a Future Legacy 38
4. A New Gentleman Farmer 48
5. The Federalist Orator 59
6. Patriotic Curator 74
7. Family Life at Arlington 93
8. A Leisurely Creative Life 114
9. Of Two Minds on Slavery 126
10. Dotage, Debt and Death 147
Afterword by Matthew Penrod 179
Key Dates in the Life of Custis 189
In the Footsteps of Custis 191
Chapter Notes 195
Bibliography 217
Index 221

Book Reviews & Awards

• “For those who have spent time looking into the history of the Parke Custis family, we’ve long felt it a paradox that there had been no biography on George Washington Parke Custis. … To the rescue is Arlington’s own, Charles Cark. …there are stories to be told here and Clark tells them well. … Footnoting is outstanding. …The author pulls no punches here.”—Jaybird’s Jottings Book Reviews

• “Should be read by historians and anyone with an interest in American history…excellent”—Falls Church News-Press Online