Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis (1779–1852) occupied several different spaces at Mount Vernon during the four distinct periods of her life here: as a young child in the years between the Revolution and George Washington’s presidency; as a young lady during Washington’s second retirement; as the newly married wife of Lawrence Lewis in the months just prior to Washington’s death; and as the primary hostess at Mount Vernon between 1799 and the death of Martha Washington in May 1802, at which point the Lewises finally departed Mount Vernon.
As a young child, Nelly may well have stayed in a trundle bed in the Washingtons’ own bedroom. The only reference she makes in her own writings to staying in a specific room at Mount Vernon refers to that space: she wistfully remembered her “grandmama’s bedroom where the happiest years of my life were passed.” Martha Washington also referenced a trundle bed which was used by Nelly and her brother Washy.
As Nelly grew into a young woman in the 1790s, she likely moved into one of the second-floor bedchambers. On February 22, 1799, she married Lawrence Lewis, Washington’s nephew, and shortly thereafter, they departed on what would become a six-month honeymoon tour, visiting friends and family throughout Virginia, as they considered where to make their main residence.
Learn more about Lawrence Lewis
In October 1799, the couple returned to Mount Vernon, imminently expecting the birth of their first child, whom Mrs. Lewis delivered on November 27, 1799. Again, no accounts specifically identify where her room was at the time, but a few documentary references indicate that it was on the second floor.
George Washington’s death on December 14, 1799, irrevocably changed the family dynamic. Nelly and Lawrence would have taken on more duties as host and hostess, lightening the burden for her grieving grandmother. At some point in the following months, the third floor was converted to a living space for the remaining family: Mrs. Washington’s bed chamber, a nursery for the Lewis children (Mrs. Lewis had delivered three by 1802), and “Mrs. Lewis’s room,” were all listed on the third floor in the 1802 inventory taken after Martha Washington’s death.