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Arlington House

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A Brief History of the House & a Lee Chronology

Arlington House is uniquely associated with the families of Washington, Custis, and Lee, for it was built by George Washington Parke Custis.  He was the grandson of Martha Washington by her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis.  After his father died, young Custis was raised by his grandmother and her second husband, George Washington, at Mount Vernon.  Custis, a farsighted agricultural pioneer, painter, playwright, and orator, was interested in perpetuating the memory and principles of George Washington.  His house, begun in 1802, by not completed until 1817, became a "treasury" of Washington heirlooms.  Arlington House is named after the family homestead of Virginia's Eastern Shore, was built on 1,100 acres estate that Custis' father purchased in 1778.  The house was designed by George Hatfield, a young English architect who was for a time, in charge of the construction of the Capital.  The north and south wings were completed between 1802 and 1804.   The large center section and the portico, (140 feet) long, were finished 14 years later.  Robert E. Lee described the house, situated on a hill high above the Potomac, as one "anyone might wee with half an eye."

In 1804 Custis had married Mary Lee Fitzhugh.  Their only child to survive infancy was Mary Anna Randolph Custis, born in 1808.  Young Robert E. Lee, whose mother was a cousin of Mrs. Custis, frequently visited Arlington.  Two years after graduating from West Point, Lieutenant Lee married Mary Custis at Arlington on June 30, 1831. They lived at the Arlington House for 30 years.  They spent most of their married life traveling between U.S. Army duty stations and Arlington, where six of their seven children were born.  They shared this house with Mary's parents, the Custis.  

When George Washington Custis died in 1857, he left the Arlington estate to Mrs. Lee for her lifetime and afterwards to the eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee. 

After the house was taken over by the North and the war was over, a wartime law required that property owners in the areas occupied by Federal troops appear in person to pay their taxes.  Unable to comply with this rule, Mrs. Lee saw the estate confiscated in 1864.  200 acres were set aside for a military cemetery, today the Arlington Cemetery.  In 1882 G. W. C. Lee's suit against the Federal Government for the return of his property was successful.  By then hundreds of graves covered the hill sides.  He accepted the Government's offer of $150,000 for the property!

A Lee Chronology

1807 ~ Robert E. Lee is born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia, January 19

1808 ~ Mary Anna Randolph Custis is born at Annefield, Clarke County, Virginia, October 1

1825 - 29 ~ Lee attends U.S. Military Academy at West Point; graduates second in class

1831 ~ Lee marries Mary Custis at Arlington June 30

1832 - 46 ~ Lee children are born; George Washington Custis, Mary Custis, William Henry Fitzhugh, Ann Carter, Eleanor Agnes, Robert Edward, Jr., and Mildred Childe

1846 - 48 ~ Lee serves in Mexican War

1852 - 55 ~ Lee serves as superintendent of U.S. Military Academy

1857 - 59 ~ Lee acts as executor of his father-in-law's estate taking a two-year leave from active duty

1859 ~ Lee commands troops sent to put down John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia)

1861 ~ Virginia secedes April 17; Lee resigns from U.S. Army April 20; Lee receives command of Virginia's military forces April 22; Arlington House is occupied by Union forces May 24

1862 - 65 ~ Lee is commander of the Army of Northern Virginia

1864 ~ Arlington Cemetery for Union dead is established on Arlington House grounds

1865 ~ Lee is named general-in-chief of the Armies of the Confederate States February 6; Lee surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9

1865 - 70 ~ Lee serves as president of Washington College, Lexington, Virginia

1870 ~ Lee dies at Lexington October 12 and is buried in chapel of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University)


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