Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

1/1/2022 - 6/30/2022

Funding Totals

$30,000.00 (approved)
$30,000.00 (awarded)

First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America

FAIN: FZ-280052-21

Cassandra Alexis Good
Marymount University (Arlington, VA 22207-4299)

Research and writing of a history of the heirs of George and Martha Washington between the American Revolution and the Civil War.

George Washington was more than the nation’s father; he was a surrogate father for Martha’s four grandchildren via her first marriage. The Custis grandchildren led remarkable lives that paralleled America’s story in its first century: military triumph and tragedy; democracy and old aristocratic ties; visions of liberty alongside the horrors of slavery. With lives stretching from the American Revolution to the eve of the Civil War, the Custises were celebrated figures that used George Washington’s legacy to weigh in on the nation’s political struggles. They deployed their ties to Washington as a source of power, both socially and politically. The Custises also put in conscious efforts to shape themselves as George Washington’s heirs, despite their lack of blood ties to him, revealing the ways family was constructed rather than natural. Their remarkable story offers new perspectives on the meaning of family and its role in American political life.

Associated Products

First family : George Washington's heirs and the making of America (Book)
Title: First family : George Washington's heirs and the making of America
Author: Cassandra A. Good
Abstract: hile it’s widely known that George and Martha Washington never had children of their own, few are aware that they raised children together. In First Family, we see Washington as a father figure and are introduced to the children he helped raise, tracing their complicated roles in American history. The children of Martha Washington’s son by her first marriage—Eliza, Patty, Nelly and Wash Custis—were born into life in the public eye, well-known as George Washington’s family and keepers of his legacy. By turns petty and powerful, glamorous and cruel, the Custises used Washington as a means to enhance their own power and status. As enslavers committed to the American empire, the Custis family embodied the failures of the American experiment that finally exploded into civil war—all the while being celebrities in a soap opera of their own making. First Family brings new focus and attention to this surprisingly neglected aspect of George Washington’s life and legacy, shedding a light on: What it meant to be a “family” The complexities of kinship and race in the Custis family Political power, fame, and the obsession with the celebrity The Custises’ probable Black half-sibling As the country grapples with concerns about political dynasties and the public role of presidential families, the saga of Washington’s family offers a human story of historical precedent. Award-winning historian Cassandra A. Good shows how the outspoken step-grandchildren of George Washington played an overlooked but important role in the development of American society and politics from the Revolution to the Civil War.
Year: 2023
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Hanover Square Press
Access Model: Book
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781335449511
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes