George Washington led the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, which earned him the informal title of “father of the American military.” That distinction axiomatically made his wife, Martha, “America’s first military spouse.”
But Martha’s life is not as well documented as her husband’s. Here are 5 amazing — wild, even — facts about this important woman in American history:
1. George was her second husband
Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy tobacco exporter who owned 17,500 acres of land and hundreds of slaves, for seven years. During that time she gave birth to four children, two of whom died from disease before the age of five. In 1757, her husband also became suddenly ill and died, leaving her a 26-year-old widow with two young children.
2. She and George only had two dates before she accepted his proposal
At the time Martha was also being courted by planter Charles Carter, who was even wealthier than the very affluent Washington.
3. She had no children with George
He was, however, a dutiful stepfather to Jacky and Patsy, her two surviving children from her first marriage.
4. Her son Jacky died of “camp fever” during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781
He was serving as an aide to his stepfather at the time. The Washingtons wound up raising two of Jacky’s four children as their own.
5. She may have had an illegitimate half-sister
Ann Dandridge Costin’s mother was a slave of African and Cherokee descent, and her father was believed to be John Dandridge, who happened to be Martha’s father too. Dandridge may also have fathered an out-of-wedlock half-brother to Martha named Ralph, who was probably white.