The Preamble

First ladies: Martha Washington

George wasn’t Martha Washington’s first husband. And while George never lived in the White House, because it hadn’t been built yet, Martha did. 

Date

Mar 29, 2024

Length

10 min


Martha's White House

George wasn’t Martha Washington’s first husband. And while George never lived in the White House, because it hadn’t been built yet, Martha did. But not the White House you’re thinking of. Martha was the oldest of eight children, and she was born in the 1730s, before the United States was even a twinkle in the founders’ eyes. When Martha was 17, she got engaged to a man more than twice her age. Daniel Custis set his sights on the petite, raven-haired Martha, and after their wedding, she moved to his plantation house, which was called the White House.

If the single Martha Dandridge had grown up wealthy (she did), she suddenly found herself very, very rich. The Custis estate was over 18,000 acres, and they had hundreds of enslaved people. But money wouldn’t spare Martha from heartbreak. Daniel Custis died seven years into their marriage. Some historians say it was from a throat infection, others pin it on a heart attack, but either way, Martha now had two living children to raise: John, called Jacky, and Martha, called Patsy.

Like many families at the time, the Custises also had two children who didn’t live to see adulthood. Daniel, Jr., and Frances, died before age five.

Her husband died without a will, which meant that Martha inherited one-third of his estate. Her two children each got one-third, which was held in trust for them.