Mary Custis Lee (1808-1873)

Mary Custis Lee (also known as Mary Anne Randolph Custis Lee) was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, and daughter of Washington Custis, the adopted son of George Washington. Educated at home, she showed talent in painting.

She was courted by Sam Houston, and rejected his suit. Later, she married Robert E. Lee, a distant relative, after his graduation from West Point.

Highly religious from a young age, she was often troubled by illness. As the wife of a military officer, she traveled with him, though she was most happy at her family home in Arlington, Virginia.

Eventually, the Lees had seven children, often suffering from illness and various disabilities.

When Virginia joined the Confederate States of America at the beginning of the Civil War, Robert resigned his commission with the federal army and accepted a commission in the army of Virginia. With some delay, Mary was convinced to pack up many of the family's belongings and move out of the home at Arlington, because its nearness to Washington, DC, would make it a target for confiscation by the Union forces. And so it was—for failure to pay taxes, though an attempt to pay the taxes was apparently refused. She spent many years after the war ended trying to regain possession of her Arlington home.

Robert returned after the surrender of the Confederacy, and they moved to Lexington, Virginia, where he became president of Washington College.

During the war, many of the family possessions inherited from the Washingtons were buried for safety; after the war many were found to have been damaged, but some—the silver, some carpets, some letters among them—survived. Those that had been left in the Arlington home were declared by Congress to be the property of the American people.

Neither Robert nor Mary survived many years. He died in 1867, and she died in 1873—after making one trip to see her old home.

Arthritis plagued Mary in her later years, and she died in Lexington on November 5, 1873. In 1882, the US Supreme Court in a ruling returned the home to the family, but Mary and Robert's son, Custis, sold it back to the government.