Sunday, May 29, 2016

Arlington House, George Washington's Step-Grandson, and Gowns

As always my journey to learn more about our Founding Fathers finds their way into summer vacations, and even stay-cations! Of course with my spring-time depth of research on George Washington, visits to the descendants was a must. I'm so glad  my family indulges me. =) One of our yearly trips is to Arlington National Cemetery every Memorial Day to poignantly visit one particular grave at the foot of some weeping willows...the grave of my mom's cousin and his crewmates who were shot down over the Pacific in WWII...and to solemnly remember in gratitude those who gave we could have freedom.

On this day we also visited a connection to George Washington...


...that of Arlington House. I'll never forget my first visit to this cemetery when I was first married.


While walking amongst the graves I was surprised to see this mansion tucked between the trees on top of the hill. Southern Belles in hoop skirts passed by the pillars of the portico. Intrigued, I climbed the steps to a fascinating memorial that George Washington Parke Custis built for the step-grandfather whom he adored.


As mentioned in my previous historical tour blog post, when Washington and his wife passed away Mount Vernon was inherited by a nephew. I'm sure Martha Washington's own grandson would have loved to have inherited the property. He grew up there. His sister grew up there. His father and aunt grew up there. However, the property passed through the Washington side of the family, since Custis was actually a descendant of Martha's first husband who had passed away in the early years of her marriage. George Washington never had children of his own. However he embraced his wife's children and grand-children as his own. Both George Washington Parke Custis and his sister adored their step-grandfather and cherished their years of childhood at Mount Vernon so wholeheartedly,  that they memorialized him in their own homes in adulthood.

Much George Washington memorabilia (papers, clothes, and his marquee tent from the American Revolution) were housed here. The original tent was purchased at auction by George Washington Parke Custis, then often displayed on the grounds. (By the way I've seen the recreation of the marquee tent by Colonial Williamsburg tailors, who have dubbed it "The First Oval Office." My many posts of the process and product, filled with links, can be found here.)

Another historical surprise, to the newcomer of the history of this home, is that George Washington Parke Custis' daughter married Robert E. Lee. (Yes, this is the South's infamous Robert E. Lee from the Civil War.) Below is where they stood for their wedding. 


The book collection!!!! Be still my heart.


When I first toured Arlington House, we were part of a ranger led tour (this is property of the National Park Service). However now there are self-tours where we are free to walk through certain parts of the main floor. Happily there are rangers and staff throughout to answer any questions. Well, I have a fun story (or two). Because of all the crowds that day I was telling my family  all the history I knew of the place (though I know I have more to learn). One of the rangers overheard and nodded that I was on target.

Then after some crowds moved out, my family and I ventured into this room.  We were the only ones there, with one docent. I stopped. One of my favorite people in history was memorialized in that corner niche! I couldn't help myself. I cried out, "That's the Marquis de Lafayette!"


He was a lover of liberty, both in America and France. He was Washington's adopted son. He was granted citizenship to America. He fought in the American Revolution. He was invited by President Monroe to take a grand tour of America and on that trip he was here. The docent was impressed! He told me I needed to go to Colonial Williamsburg to meet a great interpreter who portrays the Marquis de Lafayette. I laughed and said, "Oh, he knows us!" (When the CW Lafayette heard this story he laughed! He was also pleased to have the "shout out" from the Arlington staff!)


After a long discourse on Lafayette (and the CW interpreter) we chatted about the Lee family. This is Robert E. Lee's father, Henry Lee III (aka Light-Horse Harry Lee) who fought under General Washington.


After more discourse the docent invited us to a special behind-the-scenes tour that he was going to give in about 30 minutes, if we were interested, if we wouldn't be bored, etc, etc, etc. We'd love to!!!!!!!! So with one other interested lover of history we got to also tour the basement, the upstairs, the attic and the rest of the first floor...along with all the extra stories!!!!!

I have so many pictures, but being a historical seamstress, I decided to especially share gowns and quilts with all of my historical seamstress friends!

This is an 1860's reproduction wedding gown...


This is thought to have been a wedding dress of Elisabeth Winston Fitzhugh who was thought to be a relative of Mary Custis Lee who was married to Robert E. Lee.



Educating the slaves was important to the Lee family, even though it was against the law in 1831 Virginia. It is commonly thought it was always against the law to educate slaves but not so. In the 18th century many slave owners educated their slaves. Even the Bray School had been founded for them in some places like in Williamsburg. This was partly led by the encouragement of Benjamin Franklin. Slavery was a horrible institution. I am thankful that many slaves were educated. It helped them in many ways...some towards freedom.



Graffiti in the attic...along with the incorrigible legend of the brother who took his sister's dolly, climbed into the attic, crossed precariously over the beams to the head of the pillars (which comprise the portico as seen from the outside in the second photograph shown above) and dropped poor, poor dolly down that pillar never to be seen again. Is she still there?


The view from the portico...



A Civil War grave near the garden. When Lee chose to lead the south, he fled his home...which became a burial ground for soldiers, now known as Arlington National Cemetery.








  1. Lots of new information to me in this post. For example, I did not know that Arlington was Lee's home. The circles that history makes are so interesting! It is lovely that your family also enjoys your adventures.


    1. Yes! All of that was new to me on my very first visit too! I think my mouth was open in wonderment every time I turned the corner. Actually I was like that for my entire trip through Virginia. There is so much hidden history out here that has opened my eyes to so much more about our country when I discover it and start making connections! That is one of the goals of my blog, to share all that!