From an 1854 lithograph from Washington, The Citizen, by Junius Brutus Stearns, available on LoC, George Washington marrying Martha Custis, in the artist's image before the minister in a church. Martha lived on the Pamunkey River, Virginia, in a large, White House. Then they both lived there.
It's funny, we have a knee-jerk, nearly Pavlovian tendency associating iconic names from the war with various ' new ' history grown like weeds surrounding them over 150 years. Or oak trees, since it's been awhile. Occluding the view ( however charming ) once in awhile a chain saw is required.
From an officer there, at the time, during McClellan's peninsular campaign.
" A small piece of paper, bearing the following inscription, was pinned on the casing of an inner door: " Northern soldoers, who profess reverence WASHINGTON, forbear to desecrate the house of his first married life, the property of his wife, now owned by her descendents. ( signed )
A Granddaughter of Mrs. Washington "
So we have Mary Custis Lee, beyond having tried mightily to document her father's life's work ( boy does that get skipped over. Her father's life's work was documenting American History The building shrine to it. ) , trying to save more of our History. We know she left, taking with her , according to military records, 100 enslaved so no, as awful as it was being forced to flee yet another home, it was not as a huddled refugee hounded by the pangs of hunger. And I like Mary Custis, honest. A lost sidenote here is over 150 of the enslaved population was left behind. of those? Were families split up, a community lost, stories untold? Probably.
" Lady " a rely was written " A Northern officer has protected your propery in sight of the enemy, and at the request of your overseer. "
Mary Randolph Custis Lee left her home at the White House, Virginia, on the Pamunkey in advance of the Union Army.
An officer reports it was never ordered not burned as the main army moved on.
LoC gifts us a plethora of photographs entitled ' White House Landing, Pamunkey River '. A few show the ruins of ' The White House ' Interesting stuff, camps, boats, a Christian Commission hospital.
Just love this one, a Sanitary Commission flag among the tents, veritable organized chaos in the harbor- fascinated- and from officer's reports, delighted local, black populations fascinated with new neighbors. And new, paid employment. Yes, I can source that.
Then there's a church, St. Peter's Episcopal Church. It's part of the same story, so deeply American and Virginian it should be in American school children primers as " ' S ' is for St. Peter's. George Washington was married there. " But hang on- and please, those who are extremely well versed in our history, no snark. It is not helpful. And yes, we know, no proof exists they were married there. But they probably were, as the parish church of a religious family.
The White House, it transpires, is at least on the spot where George and Martha Custis lived and where many Washington relics saw the light of a Virginia morning for the last time. Before some were packed away on barges, before an iconic piece of American history was torched as a retreating army moved away.
I cannot find the reports of the original fire? Somewhere they exist although the house seems old- perhaps it was a partial fire.
This idyllic painting is hysterical compared to the photos showing hysterical acticity.
According to letters reprinted in the New York Times, Washington and Custis family articles were boxed up and sent away. No idea if the family recovered these or, like those at Arlington, they were considered American history and claimed as such.
Why The White House was torched was contentious at the time. Orders had been issued it be excluded from the general ' it all goes ', order on property. A misunderstanding apparently. Well, there had been some hard feelings over the building. McClellen had indeed protected it, perhaps to zealously. Wounded in need of shelter were without shelter while this hallowed building remained empty- Lincoln swore some chaste, Lincoln swear words, quite a bit over the situation, we know.
There's a LOT more but long threads are a big snore. Like the Native American population on the island across from White Landing. It's a GREAT story.
Why the White House, Virginia has now faded into obscurity despite connections to our most venerated past and one of the most iconic Civil War generals is baffling- beyond baffling. But it's vital History, already preserved- we just have to glue it together.
It isn't always a perfect or pretty History. It's our History. American History- and we owe it to our ancestors and children to get it right.