It is common knowledge that George Washington did not have any biological children with his wife, Martha. So who inherited the Washington family heirlooms? The answer, in part, can be found in Martha Washington's will.

Martha Washington died at Mount Vernon on May 22, 1802, a little over two years after her husband.

Mrs. Washington had prepared her last will and testament with the help of granddaughter Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis in September of 1800, and added to it in March 1802. The will details bequests of property, funds, and specific household goods to family members and friends. It also specifies that a public auction be held to sell items not named in the will.

PRIMARY SOURCE: MARTHA'S WILL

1
Silver and Other Family Heirlooms

The “bottle rollers” designed by George Washington were bequeathed to George Washington Parke Custis. [W-4578]

To her only grandson George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington left "all the silver plate," including two large plated wine coolers.

This same collection of Washington heirloom silver was later inherited by Mary Custis Lee, the wife of General Robert E. Lee. To protect the silver during the Civil War, the Lees had the pieces buried at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.

The Society of Cincinnati china [W-1436/A-K]

Martha Washington also left George Washington Parke Custis a significant number of household furnishings and treasured family pieces, including the Society of Cincinnati table china, Worcester porcelain jars from the New Room, the family portraits, the Washingtons' bedstead, and "all my books of every Kind except the large Bible and the prayer book."

buried treasure in the civil war

2
Furniture from the "Yellow Room" and a Portrait of General Washington

Granddaughter Elizabeth Parke Law inherited "the dressing table and glass that stands in the chamber called the yellow room."

The yellow bedchamber occupies the southeast corner of the Mansion at Mount Vernon. Elizabeth Parke Law likely used that room when she was visiting her grandparents. On one occasion, she etched her name and date on one of the panes of glass in the window there.

Martha Washington also left her granddaughter Elizabeth a portrait of George Washington by John Trumbull, Washington at Verplanck's Point New York, 1782, Reviewing the French Troops after the Victory at Yorktown. A copy of this piece exists in the collection at Mount Vernon (M-2832). The original is now in the collection of Winterthur Museum.

learn more about the painting

3
Writing Table and a Print of General George Washington

Martha Washington bequeathed this writing table to her granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter. [W-220]

In her will, Martha Washington wrote that she intended to "bequeath to my granddaughter Martha Peter my writing table and the seat to it standing in my chamber, also the print of Genl. Washington that hangs in the passage."

The aforementioned writing table was the Louis XVI-style writing desk given by George Washington to his wife in 1790. Fascinatingly, two of the only three known surviving letters from George to Martha Washington were found in this desk, inadvertently caught behind a drawer.

explore this object in our collection

4
A Looking Glass, Twelve Chairs, and More Family Heirlooms

Profile Portrait of Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis by James Sharples [W-2645/A-B] (MVLA)

For her granddaughter Eleanor "Nelly" Parke Lewis, Martha Washington bequeathed quite a few treasures, including "the large looking glass in the front Parlour" along with "any other looking glass which she may choose."

This graceful, serpentine-front sideboard is one of two that George Washington purchased from John Aitken in Philadelphia in February 1797 for his dining room, or "New Room," at Mount Vernon [W-94]

Nelly also would inherit many other Washington heirlooms, including sideboards and twelve neoclassical chairs from the New Room, three prints, three beds, bedding and table linen, wine glasses, decanters, and "all the blew and white china in common use."

Eleanor Parke Custis

5
Wine

Martha Washington also generously distributed the contents of her wine cellar. In her will, she asked that "all the wine in bottles in the vaults be equally divided between my granddaughters and grandson."

6
Mourning Rings

Family history suggests this ring was worn by Martha Washington to honor the memory of her nephew George Augustine Washington, who died in 1793. Martha Washington’s family and friends would have had similar pieces made with the money she bequeathed them. [W-1976]

Mourning jewelry was a popular way to memorialize a loved one in the eighteenth century.

For her grandchildren and extended family and friends, Martha Washington set aside money for mourning rings:

  • ten guineas to buy a ring for each of her granddaughters and grandson
  • "handsome mourning" attire and ten guineas to buy a ring for Anna Maria Washington, her niece's daughter
  • five "to get something in rememrance of me" for Elizabeth Foote Washington, the wife of her husband's cousin and former housekeeper at Mount Vernon
  • five guineas to buy a ring for Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart, her son's widow

7
A Townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia

Washington's townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia (MVLA)

For her nephew Bartholomew Dandridge, Martha left her husband's townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

The house was located on the corners of Pitt and Cameron streets where it stood until it was demolished in 1855. The building was reconstructed in the 1960's based on a contemporary illustration. Today it serves as a private home.

It is the first piece of property listed in George Washington’s own will, and was the only piece of property that he left outright to his wife when he died.

George Washington's 1799 Will

Martha Washington, the First First Lady

Even before she became the first First Lady, Martha Washington led a fascinating life. Learn about her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis, her beloved children and grandchildren, and her incredible relationship with the father of our country.

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