On the morning of January 6, 1759, a young widow named Martha Dandridge Custis married a young man named George Washington, not quite one year younger than herself. Washington had just a few weeks earlier given up his military career to take on a ready-made family and life as a Virginia planter.
This wedding came at the end of a rather tumultuous eighteen months for the bride, during which she faced tremendous loss and had to make a decision about the course of the rest of her life. Daniel Parke Custis's sudden death in July of 1757 left Martha, at the age of 26, the wealthiest widow in Virginia, with a 17,500 acre estate to manage and two very young children. Widows in eighteenth century Virginia were a sought-after social commodity and one with significant wealth could not be expected to last long before being courted for a second time.
In the spring of 1758, Martha and her children paid a visit to some friends the Chamberlaynes. A young army officer and his body servant stopped at the Chamberlaynes' home for a few minutes on their way to Williamsburg to see the Governor. George Washington was eventually convinced to stay for dinner. Upon coming into the house he met the young widow Custis and the two were quite taken with one another. Washington sent word out to his servant Thomas Bishop that they would be spending the night at the Chamberlaynes'. It was late in the morning on the next day before Washington could bring himself to leave the company of the young widow and her children.
It is not known when the widow Custis and George Washington made the decision to marry, but the wedding took place at the bride's home (known as the White House) on January 6, 1759, about nine to ten months after their meeting at the Chamberlaynes. According to her descendants, Martha Washington wore a "petticoat of white silk interwoven with silver. The overdress, open in front, a deep yellow brocade with rich lace in the neck and sleeves. Ornaments of pearls. Her shoes were purple satin with silver trimmings."1
Eight months after his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis, George Washington wrote from Mount Vernon to his agent in England to announce that "I am now I beleive fixd at this Seat with an agreable Consort for Life and hope to find more happiness in retirement than I ever experienced amidst a wide and busthng World."2 Like many couples, the Washingtons exhibited a mixture of similarities and differences. More than a foot taller than his petite wife, George Washington shared with her a love of horses and dogs, while both also enjoyed life in the country and gardening.
1. "Yr Entire Go Washington." The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union Annual Report 1976 (Mount Vernon, Virginia: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 1977), 22-24.
2. "George Washington to Richard Washington, 20 September 1759."
The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, Vol. 6, ed. W.W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988.