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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 344


This is the grave of Mary Custis Lee.

Born in 1807, Mary Custis was born into the highest ranking of the Virginia elite. She was Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter after all. She was very close to her father, George Washington Parke Custis, who built the mansion at Arlington to honor the great man, who had adopted him as a son. He loved talking politics and history with his daughter and in 1859, after her father had died, she wrote a book about his life growing up with the first president. Robert E. Lee was her third cousin. For the Virginia elite, that was a marriage eligible relationship and indeed they did marry in 1831. Always interested in politics, they made a good match.

She inherited the mansion and its lands when her father died in 1857. But she didn’t stay long. That’s because her husband committed treason in defense of slavery in 1861. The U.S. military quickly took over the place and they would never return to it except for a brief visit to see it just before her death. Of course, being totally loaded elites, there were many plantations in the family and she moved around them for a year or so before ending up in Richmond for the duration of the war. Like her husband, she occasionally spoke a word against slavery in theory but of course did absolutely nothing to free her own slaves, who seem to have been treated as poorly as any other slave. After the war, she moved with her husband to Lexington, Virginia where he became president of what is today Washington and Lee University. She was known to be quite depressive, which likely came from her severe arthritis that of course only got worse as she aged.

He died in 1870 and she lived until 1873.

Mary Custis Lee is buried in Lee Chapel, Lexington, Virginia.

Whatever you are doing for Halloween, it’s not as horrifying as visiting the grave of a slaveholder.

If you would like this series to cover other women who were also slaveholders and defenders of treason in defense of slavery, you can donate to cover the required expenses to make this series happen here. Mary Chestnut, whose famed diary is one of the best accounts of southern elite reactions to the Civil War, is in Camden, South Carolina. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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