President George Washington’s devoted widow and the nation’s first first lady, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, died at her Mt. Vernon home on this day in 1802. Here are five things you probably didn't know about Martha Washington....
She Was Already a Rich Widow When She Met George Washington Martha and George were married on January 6, 1759, and went on to live as a couple until George passed away on December 12, 1799. Although it was the only marriage for George, Martha had been married once before. Her first husband was a wealthy planter named Daniel Parke Custis, whom she married on May 15, 1750. At the time of their wedding, she was just 18 years old, but her husband was in his late 30s. With Custis dying on July 8, 1757, presumably of a heart attack, the marriage could only last for seven years. After his death, she inherited 17,500 acres of land, and over 300 slaves.
She Had Never Been Referred to as “First Lady” in Her Lifetime
Since Martha was married to the first US president, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that she was the country’s first First Lady. But the title was rarely used to refer to the spouse of a president until the 1930s. In fact, in all her life, Martha was never referred to as “First Lady.” Instead, she was commonly addressed as "Lady Washington." An article published in the newspaper St. Johnsbury Caledonian in 1838, nearly four decades after her death, was the first time she was referred to as “the first lady of the nation.”
She Is One of Only Two Women to Have Appeared on U.S. Paper Money Women rarely appear on U.S. currency, with perhaps the most well-known being the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollar coins. But as far as paper money goes, only two women have appeared. The first was Pocahontas, who was featured on a $20 bill in the 1860s. The other was Martha Washington, featured on $1 silver certificates in the 1880s and 1890s. There have been no other women on U.S. paper currency since then.
She Freed George Washington’s Slaves
Under the provisions of his will, George Washington declared that the 123 slaves that he owned were to gain their freedom after his Martha's death. There was a fear that these slaves could revolt and kill Martha in order to gain their freedom early. Fearing for her life, Martha, at the urging of relatives, decided to free her deceased husband’s slaves early. On January 1, 1801, a bit more than a year after George’s death, Washington’s slaves gained their liberty.
She Outlived Two Husbands And Four Children. Tragically, Martha outlived not only the two men she got married to, but also the four kids she had given birth to. All four of her children were fathered by Custis – she had none with George. Two of the kids died before reaching the age of four, while one passed away at the age of 16.J ohn Parke Custis was her only child to make it to adulthood and get married. However, he too died prematurely, at the age of 26, after having contracted “camp fever” while serving as a civilian aide-de-camp to his stepfather during the siege of Yorktown. After already having witnessed the death of her two husbands and four children, Martha died on May 22, 1802, at the age of 70.