Martha Washington (1731-1802) – A 1 ½ cent stamp was first issued in 1902, on the centennial of her death. It was reissued in 1923 and again in 1938
Martha Dandridge was born at Virginia’s Chestnut Grove Plantation in 1731. She was the eldest of eight children born to John and Frances Dandridge and enjoyed a life of relative wealth throughout her youth. Martha, like other women of her time, received very little formal education but was well trained in the domestic arts and prepared for a life as a wife and mother.
In 1749, when she was 18, Martha Dandridge married Daniel Parke Custis, with whom she had four children. Only two, John (called Jack) and Martha (called Patsy), survived past childhood. When Custis died in 1757, he left a large inheritance to his widow, making Martha both wealthy and independently in control of her assets and her children – something that was less likely to be true a century later.
She met George Washington, a wealthy plantation owner and commander of the Virginia forces during the French and Indian War, at a friend’s house in 1759. They married soon after, and she and her two children moved into Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
Because George Washington often traveled on military and business matters, Martha Washington was the effective manager of the huge plantation. Although she spent winters at Valley Forge and other uncomfortable sites during the American Revolution – where her presence enormously raised morale among the suffering soldiers -- she returned to Mount Vernon every summer to supervise the variety of work done by slave labor. Her letters to her husband make it clear that she understood the practicalities of both agriculture and management.
The war formally ended in 1783, and George Washington became the new nation’s first president after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. “Lady Washington” moved with her husband to New York City, which was briefly the capital. She and Abigail Adams, wife of Vice President John Adams, held Friday evening receptions and set the precedents there for the American social scene. Martha Washington said that of this time that she often felt like a “state prisoner” in her own home, but she conscientiously emulated the standards of European capitals. The same was true when the government moved to Philadelphia the next year.
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