Custis did not write a will, but she left a sealed letter to her daughter directing the distribution of her prized possessions, including clothing to certain favored female slaves. Her daughter also recorded that Molly Custis's greatest desire was that all the family's slaves would be manumitted and enabled to immigrate to Africa. One family, William C. Burke, Rosebella Burke, and their four children, departed for Liberia on November 9, 1853. The will of Custis's husband, who died in October 1857, specified that all his slaves be freed once the legacies from his estate were paid but no later than five years after his death. Custis died at Arlington on April 23, 1853, and was buried near the mansion. Three weeks later the minister at Christ Church published an unusually long obituary in the local newspaper. In addition to conventional comments on Custis's character and devotion to her family and the church, he wrote, "In the death of Mrs. Custis, the community has sustained no ordinary loss … Her life was one of great practical usefulness, for she was deeply interested 'in every good work.'"
April 22, 1788 - Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis is born, probably at Chatham, Stafford County.
July 7, 1804 - George Washington Parke Custis and Mary Lee Fitzhugh, of Chatham, marry in Alexandria.
1809 - Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis inherits £2,000 and several slaves after the death of her father.
May 1820 - By this date Christ Church, in Alexandria, has organized a Sunday school.
1824 - Women belonging to several churches in Alexandria and Georgetown found a ladies' auxiliary to the Society for the Education of Pious Young Men for the Ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
September 1829 - Siblings Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis and William Fitzhugh jointly sell a male slave to a local apothecary for $1 so that the purchaser can free him.
April 23, 1853 - Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis dies at Arlington and is buried near the mansion.
November 9, 1853 - William C. Burke, Rosebella Burke, and their four children—all former slaves at Arlington—depart for Liberia.
October 10, 1857 - George Washington Parke Custis dies of influenza at his Arlington estate and is buried there.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Van Riemsdijk, T., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis (1788–1853). (2017, January 18). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Custis_Mary_Lee_Fitzhugh_1788-1853.
- MLA Citation:
Van Riemsdijk, Tatiana and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis (1788–1853)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 18 Jan. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: January 6, 2017 | Last modified: January 18, 2017
Contributed by Tatiana Van Riemsdijk and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Tatiana Van Riemsdijk is a professor of history at the University of British Columbia.