As a young, attractive, wealthy widow, Martha Dandridge Custis probably enjoyed more freedom to choose her own destiny than at any other point in her life. She was only twenty-six years old, owned nearly 300 slaves and had more than 17,500 acres of land— worth more than £40,000.
Within the close-knit world of the Virginia elite, Martha’s status as a wealthy widow soon became common knowledge. One of those who undoubtedly heard about her availability was a young military man named George Washington.
Fighting alongside British forces during the French and Indian War, Washington earned a reputation for fairness, bravery, and immense personal courage. He rose to the rank of Colonel of the Virginia Regiment.
In March 1758, during an interlude in the fighting, Washington traveled for a visit to Williamsburg, a place where the colony’s leading men gathered during meetings of the House of Burgesses. Hearing the news about the Custis widow, he contemplated his own future and turned his mind to his marriage prospects.
Traveling the thirty-five miles from Williamsburg to Martha’s home, George paid a visit to Martha Dandridge Custis on March 16, 1758.
Within months of meeting, both parties began to plan a future together.
Their attraction was mutual, powerful, and immediate. Martha was charming, accomplished, and, of course, wealthy. George had his own appeal. Over six foot two inches tall, George was an imposing figure whose reputation as a military leader preceded him. Like his future wife, Washington’s 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.
For her part, Martha must have believed that in George she had found someone she could trust as well as love.
At the end of 1758, Washington resigned his military commission. On January 6, 1759, less than ten months after their initial meeting and less than eighteen months after her husband’s death, Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington at her home in New Kent County. For both Martha and for George, a new era had dawned.
(read more at MountVernon.org)