George Washington Parke Custis
Arlington House Family History Born in 1781 – the same year his father died – George Washington Parke Custis was the grandson of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, by her first marriage. After his father, John Parke Custis died, George Washington Park Custis went to live at Mount Vernon where George and Martha Washington raised him as their own son. George Washington was a father figure to the young Custis, and the two became very close.
In 1802, Custis started the construction of Arlington House on land he inherited from his natural father. Arlington National Cemetery: A place to Honor. A place to Remember. In 1864, the U.S. government set aside 200 acres of the estate to use as a cemetery. The first military burial took place on May 13, 1864, and by the end of the Civil War, thousands of soldiers and former slaves were buried there. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans, and their families. More than 7,000 services are conducted each year.
The Robert E. Lee Memorial Despite its important link to the Custis family and to George Washington, Arlington House is largely known today as the home of its next occupant, General Robert E. Lee. In fact, the principal significance of Arlington House stems from its association with the Civil War general – hence its official designation: “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.” Accordingly, Arlington House is also a major Civil War Sesquicentennial site. Robert E. Lee was related to Custis’ wife and was a frequent visitor to Arlington from childhood until 1831 when, at Arlington House, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis and his wife. For 30 years, the Arlington House estate was the anchor for Lee, his wife, and their seven children – six of whom were born at Arlington.
Throughout his military career, Lee returned regularly to Arlington and made improvements to the property, made possible in large part to the scores of slaves his wife had inherited from her father, even though Lee acknowledged the institution of slavery as a “moral and political evil.” Despite this troubled legacy, the Lee family had an extraordinary affection for their home and love for their children. When Civil War broke out in 1861 and Lee turned to the South, he no doubt knew the consequences for his beloved Arlington House.
Lee would never return to the home where his “affections and attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.” In 1864, Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster of the Union and a vocal opponent of the Southern rebellion, authorized the use of Arlington as a new Civil War cemetery. To ensure that the Lee family would not return to Arlington, General Meigs ordered that graves be placed outside the front door of Arlington House, where 26 Union officers were buried