Mary Anna Custis Lee
Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (October 1, 1808 – November 5, 1873) was the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....



Mary Anna Custis Lee was the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis
George Washington Parke Custis
George Washington Parke Custis , the step-grandson of United States President George Washington, was a nineteenth-century American writer, orator, and agricultural reformer.-Family:...

, George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

's step-grandson and adopted son and founder of Arlington House
Arlington House
Arlington House may refer to:*Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial*Arlington House a hostel for the homeless in London, England, and one of the Rowton Houses...

, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis was an Episcopal lay leader in Alexandria County...

, daughter of William Fitzhugh
William Fitzhugh
William Fitzhugh was an American planter and statesman who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress for Virginia in 1779. -Life:...

 and Ann Bolling Randolph Fitzhugh. Her godmother, Mary Randolph
Mary Randolph
Mary Randolph wrote The Virginia House-Wife , one of the most influential housekeeping and cook books of the nineteenth century...

, the first person recorded buried at Arlington, wrote an early book on housekeeping and cooking. Lee's birth year is usually given as 1808, but it appears in the Custis family Bible and in records kept by her mother as 1807, and is also referred to in a letter her mother wrote in the autumn of 1807. She was well educated, having learned both Latin and Greek. She enjoyed discussing politics with her father, and later with her husband. She kept current with the new literature and, after her father's death, edited and published his writings as "Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, by his Adopted Son George Washington Parke Custis, with a Memoir of this Author by his Daughter" in 1859.

Lee was diminutive and vivacious and had known her second cousin, Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

, from childhood; her mother and Robert's mother were first cousins, and Lee's father Henry had delivered the famous eulogy to a crowd of 4000 at George Washington's 1799 funeral. Among Lee's other suitors was Sam Houston
Sam Houston
Samuel Houston, known as Sam Houston , was a 19th-century American statesman, politician, and soldier. He was born in Timber Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, of Scots-Irish descent. Houston became a key figure in the history of Texas and was elected as the first and third President of...

. She and Robert were married at her parents' home, Arlington House, on June 30, 1831, and had three sons and four daughters: George Washington Custis "Custis"
George Washington Custis Lee
George Washington Custis Lee , also known as Custis Lee, was the eldest son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee...

, William H. Fitzhugh "Rooney"
William Henry Fitzhugh Lee
William Henry Fitzhugh Lee , known as Rooney Lee or W.H.F. Lee, was the second son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis. He was a planter, a Confederate cavalry General in the American Civil War, and later a member of the U.S. Congress.-Early life:Lee was born at Arlington House in...

, Robert Edward Jr.
Robert E. Lee, Jr.
Robert Edward Lee, was the youngest son of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis, and the sixth of their seven children. He became a soldier, farmer, businessman, and author.-Early Life:...

, Mary, Eleanor Agnes (called Agnes), Anne, and Mildred.
Lee inherited Arlington House from her father after he died in 1857. The estate had long been the couple's home whenever they were in the area during her husband's military career. She was a gracious hostess and enjoyed frequent visitors. She was a painter, like her father, and painted many landscapes, some of which are still on view at the house. She loved roses and grew 11 varieties. She was deeply religious and attended Episcopal services when there was one near the army post. In Arlington, Virginia, the Lees attended the Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria
Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2009, the city had a total population of 139,966. Located along the Western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately six miles south of downtown Washington, D.C.Like the rest of northern Virginia, as well as...

, Virginia, the church she and Robert had attended in childhood.

Lee taught her female slaves to read and write and was an advocate of eventual emancipation
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

, although she herself chose not to free her slaves, as state law permitted her to do. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks synovial joints. The process produces an inflammatory response of the synovium secondary to hyperplasia of synovial cells, excess synovial fluid, and the development...

, and this became increasingly debilitating with advancing age. By 1861, she was using a wheelchair.

With the advent of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, Robert and their sons were called to service in Virginia while she delayed evacuating Arlington House until May 15, 1861. Early that month, Robert wrote to his wife saying:
"War is inevitable, and there is no telling when it will burst around you . . . You have to move and make arrangements to go to some point of safety which you must select. The Mount Vernon plate and pictures ought to be secured. Keep quiet while you remain, and in your preparations . . . May God keep and preserve you and have mercy on all our people."

Lee and her daughters initially moved between the several family plantations. In May 1862, she was caught at her son Rooney's White House Plantation in New Kent County
New Kent County, Virginia
At the 2000 census, there were 13,462 people, 4,925 households and 3,895 families residing in the county. The population density was 64 per square mile . There were 5,203 housing units at an average density of 25 per square mile...

 behind the Federal
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 lines, as Union forces moved up the York River
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

 and the Pamunkey River
Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River is a tributary of the York River, about long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. Via the York River it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay.-Course:...

 toward Richmond. In a gentlemanly gesture by Union commander George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

, she was allowed to pass through the lines in order to take up residence in Richmond—ironically McClellan's campaign goal.

Lee and her daughters settled at 707 East Franklin Street in Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

. The family moved to the plantation estate of the Cocke family at Bremo Bluff, Virginia
Bremo Bluff, Virginia
Bremo Bluff is an unincorporated community located on the northern bank of the James River in Fluvanna County, Virginia, United States. The locale was established by the Cocke family in 1636. During the American Civil War, the family of General Robert E. Lee sought refuge in the community...

, where they sought refuge until November 1865. After the war, the Lees lived in Powhatan County for a short time before moving to Lexington, Virginia
Lexington, Virginia
Lexington is an independent city within the confines of Rockbridge County in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The population was 7,042 in 2010. Lexington is about 55 minutes east of the West Virginia border and is about 50 miles north of Roanoke, Virginia. It was first settled in 1777.It is home to...

, where Robert became president of the Washington College, later renamed Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University is a private liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia, United States.The classical school from which Washington and Lee descended was established in 1749 as Augusta Academy, about north of its present location. In 1776 it was renamed Liberty Hall in a burst of...

. She was able to visit her beloved Arlington House once more before her death, but was unable to leave her horse carriage. She hardly recognized the estate except for a few old oaks and some of the trees she and Robert had planted. Mary Anna Custis Lee died at the age of 66 and is buried next to her husband in the Lee family crypt at Lee Chapel
Lee Chapel
Lee Chapel is a National Historic Landmark in Lexington, Virginia, on the campus of Washington and Lee University. It was constructed during 1867-68 at the request of Robert E. Lee, who was President of the University at the time, and after whom the building is named...

 on the campus of Washington and Lee.


Lee was descended from several colonial
Colonial America
The colonial history of the United States covers the history from the start of European settlement and especially the history of the thirteen colonies of Britain until they declared independence in 1776. In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major...

 and Southern
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 families, including the Parke Custises, Fitzhughs, Dandriges, Randolphs, Rolfes, and Gerards. Through her paternal grandmother, Eleanor Calvert
Eleanor Calvert
Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart was a prominent member of the Calvert family of Maryland. Upon her marriage to John Parke Custis, she became the daughter-in-law of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington and the stepdaughter-in-law of George Washington...

, she descended from Lord Baltimore. Through her mother, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis
Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis was an Episcopal lay leader in Alexandria County...

, she was a descendant of William Fitzhugh
William Fitzhugh
William Fitzhugh was an American planter and statesman who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress for Virginia in 1779. -Life:...


External links

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