Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis and Adoption

Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (Mrs. Lawrence Lewis) as painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1804


Custis, George Washington Parke, 1781-1857

American dramatist, publisher, and biographer

Lewis, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis, 1779-1852

American plantation mistress

G.W.P. and Nelly Custis were the grandchildren of Martha Dandridge Custis and her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis (by their son Jacky). Daniel Parke Custis died when Jacky was three, and Martha was soon married again - to General George Washington. Washington became step-father to Jacky and his sister Patsy, and years later, after Jacky was himself killed at the Battle of Yorktown (1781), George and Martha adopted his six children (that is, Martha's grandchildren), including young George Washington Parke and Nelly Custis in 1783.

After President Washington died, Custis built Arlington House, in Arlington, VA, as a tribute to his adoptive father/step-grandfather and to hold his belongings. He also published several newspapers, wrote four plays and a series of memoirs of President Washington. His daughter married Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, who also lived in Arlington House. Nelly married George Washington's nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and they lived at Woodlawn Plantation (a gift from George Washington), where she was mistress for over 30 years. She kept a manuscript book of recipes and formulae which in many way parallels the work of Britain's Mrs. Beeton.


Lewis, Nelly Custis. Nelly Custis Lewis's Housekeeping Book, edited by Patricia Brady Schmit. (1982) Dictionary of American biography. ("Custis, George Washington Parke") Encyclopedia of Virginia biography, under the editorial supervision of Lyon Gardiner Tyler. (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub., 1998) "MDW Fact Sheet: Arlington House, Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia." Available at: "Woodlawn Plantation." Available at: Savage, Edward. "The Washington Family." [Portraits]. Available at: