Timeline Description: Martha Washington (b. June 2, 1731) was our nation's first first lady. Born into privilege, Martha was a wealthy widow when she married George Washington. Throughout her husband's military campaigns, and later, his presidency, Martha remained essential to her husband's career and the formation of a young country.
|June 2, 1731||Martha Washington Was Born
Martha Washington was the eldest daughter of a Virginia planter, John Dandridge and his wife, Frances Jones. While the family was relatively wealthy, their social status was somewhat more moderate, that of minor gentry, rather than elite. Martha had seven legitimate siblings. She was well-educated at home as a child, and was particularly fond of reading and skilled at needlework.
|May 15, 1750||Martha Married Daniel Parke Custis
When she was around 18, Martha met Daniel Parke Custis, the son of the one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. They may have met at the local Anglican Church. Custis was already in his late thirties. While his father objected to the match, Martha herself may have persuaded the elder Custis of the benefits of the marriage. Custis married Martha on May 15, 1750. The two had four children, two of whom survived to adulthood.
|July 8, 1757||Daniel Parke Custis Dies
In 1757, after the birth of four children and seven years of marriage, Martha was widowed when Daniel Parke Custis became ill and died shortly after. Their marriage had been happy, but Martha was now left to manage a massive estate and raise her surviving two children. Custis died without a will, but law guaranteed Martha one-third of his wealth, with the remainder held for his children. Given her wealth, as a young widow, Martha was a desirable match for remarriage.
|March 16, 1758||George Washington Visits Martha
In March 1758, George Washington, trained as a surveyor and already known for his military skill, visited Martha. He made two visits that month, and recorded generous tips for her household slaves in his account books. By the end of 1758, household records show that the two planned to marry, and Washington resigned his military commission.
|January 6, 1759||George Washington Marries Martha Dandridge Custis
The two married in January 1759. It was, by all appearances, a love match and the two were quite close. The marriage brought George Washington the use of Martha's immense wealth and made him one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. George was an excellent father to Martha's children; however, the two had no children together. Throughout her married life, Martha was responsible for running the household, including the supervision of the household slaves.
|June 19, 1773||Martha's Daughter, Patsy, Dies
Diagnosed with epilepsy at 12, Martha's only daughter, Margaret, called Patsy, died at the age of 17. George Washington's writings record his wife's grief at the loss.
|February 3, 1774||Martha's Son, Jacky, Marries
Martha's son with Daniel Parke Custis, John, called Jacky, married quite young in 1774. He and his wife, Eleanor, lived with the family much of the time and had four children.
|1775||Martha's Public Role Begins
As early as 1775, George began to fear for his wife's safety, suggesting she stay with friends or family rather than at their family home in Mount Vernon. She also began to appear publicly, as the wife of Washington, taking her traditional role as hostess in a new direction. She also began to visit the winter encampments each year, taking on the role of hostess and secretary for George Washington.
|1780||Martha Becomes a Fund Raiser for the War Effort
Women were encouraged to raise money for the war effort, through various community fundraisers. Funds were sent to Martha, and from there, distributed as needed to support the war.
|November 5, 1781||Jacky Dies
In October 1781, Jacky left home, leaving behind his wife and four children, to serve on the front lines with his step-father. He became ill and died soon after. Following his death, Martha helped to raise her four grandchildren, even keeping the younger two after Jacky's widow remarried. These children, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, were raised as Martha's own.
|May 1789||Martha Moves to New York
In May 1789, Martha took on a more formal role in the functioning capital of the young country, New York City after George Washington's inauguration as President of the United States. This role required more formality and offered less leisure than her role on the plantation. She was not pleased by her new role, but fulfilled her responsibilities well. She held weekly gatherings in their home for dignitaries and others, now serving as First Lady. The Washington household moved to Philadelphia in 1791. As First Lady, Martha Washington was, according to Abigail Adams, the object of "veneration and respect".
|1797||Return to Mount Vernon
Following Washington's two terms as President, the family moved back to Mount Vernon. While they hoped for a long and happy retirement, it was not to be.
|December 14, 1799||George Washington Dies
George Washington died after contracting a throat infection on December 14, 1799. Martha was devastated by his death, but took comfort in her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
|January 1, 1801||Martha Frees Slaves
According to his will, slaves owned by George Washington were to be freed after Martha's death. Martha freed these 123 slaves a year after his death, apparently fearing a potential rebellion.
|May 22, 1802||Martha Dies
Martha faded quickly after George Washington's death. She took solace in her religious faith, but was prepared to die, and regarded death kindly. She was laid to rest alongside George Washington at their home in Mount Vernon.