Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
Maria Carter Syphax, here looking like the grand matron she came to be, was born Maria Carter at Arlington House, Virginia. Her parents, Airy Carter and George Washington Parke Custis never married ; Airy was enslaved.
This is in no way some golly gee whiz revelation. We're all too unfortunately familiar with the still contentious topic of Thomas Jefferson's children, born through his long association with enslaved Sally Hemmings. OH the gnashing of teeth, finger pointing anywhere but in Jefferson's direction, the endless " Did he or didn't he ? " culminating in bewilderment. Well of course he did, everyone take their ball and go home. What bugs me so much is the shock-horror, salacious aspect any of his children were black. We do that a lot, to the point where Mary Randolph Custis Lee is denied a sister.
It happened, unsurprisingly what happened when there's a ( literally ) captive ' audience '. According to era reports and accounts from still unmuddied waters 150 plus years ago, George Washington Parke Custis gave an enslaved woman, Mariah Carter and her new husband, Charles Syphax 17 acres as a wedding present. He also gave them the wedding inside Arlington House and later, her freedom. The wedding was in 1826.
Mariah Carter was the daughter of Airy Carter, a house servant and yes, father GWP Custis. I should say ' reputed to be ' since no one was there save Airy and George. Acknowledged at the time, it seems few had any illusions- although of course snark followed facts in reports.
This couple, Charles and Mariah founded a dynasty albeit a Northern dynasty. You have to note the era, back-handed compliment here, where a man described as intelligent has ' white blood ' in his veins. Still, the author makes a point of ' pedigree ', always a consideration in the era. I'm a little doubtful about Mary Lee's 40 siblings, seems a little busy for a man building a massive memorial and running a plantation.
Husband Charles, like his wife brought to Arlington from Mount Vernon estate when Custis built Arlington, holds a grandson, William.
Charles's and Maria's son William created quite a stir, working for the Department of the Interior, he insisted schools for black children be a priority. Well, as a founder of Arlington's Freedman's Village he ensured education was part of the community.
Quite a bit of outrage followed this, some citizens of Washington worried publically that the black population would rise ' above ' white neighbors- and how awful for everyone........
Douglas Syphax, Maria's son was at Camp Casey by war's end, listed as ' unassigned ' in the USCT. Someone better versed in this family's history would be able to say how many children served in the USCT. Another child of Arlington, Douglas, William and his brothers were never enslaved, living and working at Arlington and in Washington, DC as free.
A plethora of online information on the Syphax family, be careful choosing which. For some reason not as famous as Thomas Jefferson's gee-whiz relationship with Sally, Airy and George's can be contentious, too- no idea why. It's a terrific American story of who, exactly we were hence who we are.