The Women of Arlington
Maria Carter Syphax was the illegitimate daughter of George Washington Parke Custis and Arianna Carter(1776-1880) a slave of Martha Washington. In 1826 Custis admitted paternity and freed Maria from slavery. He gave her 15 acres off the northwest corner of the Arlington estate and "her white cottage was surrounded by tall trees and pleasant stretches of grassland and the place was beautiful as well as homelike." In 1864 when the government seized Arlington, the Syphax ownership of the land was thrown into doubt. Although the family had no official documentation to support their claim, Maria Syphax’s thirty year occupancy of her land was accepted by Congress as grounds for a legal title to their estate. She and her husband lived on their land at Arlington for the rest of their lives.
The fifth child of Robert and Mary Lee, Agnes kept a diary in the 1850s documenting life at Arlington. It was later published. Growing Up in the 1850s: The Journal of Agnes Lee is still in print. Agnes was in love with a cousin, Orton Williams. It is believed that he proposed marriage to Agnes during the war but she turned him down. He was caught by Union troops while behind Union lines and executed as a spy. After the war Agnes moved to Lexington, VA with her parents. She died of cholera in 1873 at the age of 32.
Paper. H 8.8 W 5.5 cm
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, ARHO 2329
In the 1820s, the Custises were active members of the American Colonization Society, an organization that supported the colonization of free blacks in Africa, particularly in Liberia. Colonization was unpopular with the African-American slaves. Of the Arlington slaves, only William Burke and his family chose to move to Liberia. Mr. Custis lost interest in the Society, but his wife and daughter continued to support it for many years. in 1854, William and Rosabella Burke left Arlington House for Monrovia, Liberia with their children. Rosabella continued to write to Mrs. Lee and named a new daughter "Martha" in tribute to the family.
The oldest daughter of Robert and Mary Lee, Mary, was nicknamed “Sister.” She was an independent woman and defied convention for women of her day and traveled the world after the Civil War. She lived the longest of all the children, surviving until the end of World War I in 1918.
Paper. L 23, W 18 cm
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, ARHO 2333
Markie, a favorite cousin of the Lee family, moved to Arlington to help care for the elderly George Washington Parke Custis after the death of his wife in 1853. She became a confidant of Robert E. Lee’s. An ardent Unionist, Markie nonetheless remained very close to her cousins throughout the Civil War and to the end of her life. During the war she rescued many items from the house to prevent their theft by Union soldiers.
L 48.9, W 38.4, D 2.7 cm
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, ARHO 2983