1857: The Builder of Arlington House near Washington

1857: The Builder of Arlington House near Washington
Photo Credit To Wikimedia Commons

This day in 1857 marked the death of  George Washington Parke Custis, the adoptive son of the first U.S. president and the builder of the imposing Arlington House, which is located next to the most well-known American cemetery. Interestingly, the son-in-law of George Washington Parke Custis was the famous general Robert E. Lee, who also resided in Arlington House. Namely, George Washington Parke Custis was outlived by only a single daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who married the aforementioned General Lee. It was precisely General Lee who executed George Washington Parke Custis’s will.

George Washington Parke Custis was born in 1781 as the grandson of Martha Washington, President George Washington’s wife. Namely, George Washington married Martha when she was already a widow. The couple didn’t have children, but raised the children from her previous marriage, and then adopted some of her grandchildren. Thus George Washington Parke Custis became the adoptive son of President George Washington. Indeed, he lived with him in the presidential residence as a member of the so-called First Family (an American term for the president’s family).

Since George and Martha Washington were very wealthy (they owned large plantations and hundreds of slaves), George Washington Parke Custis inherited a vast amount of wealth after their deaths, probably becoming one of the wealthiest people in the country. Around 1802, he started building Arlington House next to the newly-founded U.S. capital of Washington. The House had a monumental porch with eight massive columns, each some 1.5 meters in diameter. Let us mention that the House was built while Napoleon Bonaparte was in power in France, and that the Arlington estate was probably the largest private estate in the whole District of Columbia. Namely, at that time the area south of the Potomac River was also part of the District of Columbia, which was shaped like a square, and was only later returned to the state of Virginia (today the District of Columbia encompasses only the area north of the Potomac). Arlington House is located opposite to the White House, in relation to the Potomac River.

Another interesting fact about George Washington Parke Custis was that he was no less than the descendant of the British king George I on his mother’s side (through the king’s extramarital daughter Melusine von der Schulenburg). Indeed, he was the grandnephew of Charles Calvert, the 5th Baron Baltimore. The city of Baltimore near Washington was named after Lord Baltimore, the owner of Maryland colony.

After the death of George Washington Parke Custis, which occurred on this day in 1857, Arlington was governed by his son-in-law, the famous general Robert E. Lee. A few years later the American Civil War broke out, where Lee was the leader of the Southern (Confederate) forces. After the war, Arlington was taken from the Lee family and turned into a cemetery.

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