This Day (It’s a Long Life Edition)

Published:October 1, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Happy birthday to Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was born on this day in 1807 at Annfield, in Frederick County. She was the great-granddaughter of Mrs. George Washington, and the future wife of Robert E. Lee. This last relationship is at least somewhat ironic, because as a young woman she embraced her mother’s great cause of antislavery. She attended United States Supreme Court hearings on slave cases, taught slave children, and helped to raise funds for the American Colonization Society. Years later, Custis Lee even wrote a will leaving her personal fortune to support aging Arlington slaves and to further antislavery work. By the end of the Civil War, however, with her husband defeated and her home confiscated. Mrs. General Lee lost that early idealism. She instead indulged in blistering speeches about the “lazy idle negroes who roam about by day marking what they may steal at night.” Such are the ravages of a long life, I guess.

IMAGES: Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee and her son Robert E. Lee Jr., who was born in 1843 (Virginia Historical Society); Lee, circa 1868 (Virginia Historical Society)