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The Courtship and Marriage of George Washington and Martha Custis

By Lori Perkins

Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


It’s George Washington’s birthday, so we thought we’d share the story of George Washington and Martha Custis’ courtship and marriage.


George Washington married the wealthy widow Martha Custis on January 6, 1759, which was Twelfth Night that year, a holiday that was still celebrated by many at that time. The wedding was held at White House, the Kent, Virginia property that Martha’s husband had owned.


Martha was only 25 when her much older husband died, but she was already the mother of two, and the owner of 300 slaves and 17,500 acres of land. Because her first husband had died without a will, she had inherited the property, and so, was the catch of the moment.


The couple met in March of 1758 (George made a mention in his personal accounts that he had left generous tips for her slaves when he visited), and according to popular history, the attraction was mutual and immediate between the two, who courted quickly, marrying a mere ten months after meeting. George was over 6’2” tall while Martha was barely five feet. His reputation as a military leader preceded him, and, like his future wife, his own social status had improved as a result of an unfortunate death. After his half-brother Lawrence and his widow died, Washington had inherited Mount Vernon, a beautiful 2000-acre estate located high above the Potomac River in Northern Virginia.


Martha ordered her wedding apparel from London, which included a pair of purple slippers with spangled buckles that are currently on display at Mount Vernon. The dress that was to be “grave but not extravagant nor to be mourning,” as her second wedding took place a mere 18 months after her first husband had died.


The wedding was grand. Washington's suit was of blue and silver cloth with red trimming and gold knee buckles. The couple honeymooned at the White House for several weeks before setting up house at Washington's Mount Vernon estate. They had no children of their own, but they raised Martha's two children.


Martha and George were married for 40 years, and are both buried at Mount Vernon.