A Confederate Hero Steeped in Secrets: 9 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Robert E. Lee

George Washington casually leans on the shoulder of his great-stepson, George Washington Parke Custis, future father in law of Robert E. Lee. National Gallery of Art

His father-in-law was Martha Washington’s Grandson

George Washington Parke Custis was raised at Mount Vernon by George and Martha Washington. He was Martha’s grandson descended from her son from a previous marriage. He was George Washington’s ward and was present with his sister in the Washington presidential residences during George’s administration. When he was in his 20s, he inherited a large plantation on the Virginia side of the Potomac River overlooking the site of the new nation’s capital city in the District of Columbia.

Between the years 1803 – 18 Custis built a large home on the plantation, a Greek Gothic Revival mansion which he named Arlington House, in which he housed many of Washington’s personal artifacts. He lobbied for and attended the cornerstone laying for the Washington Monument in 1848.

He also lobbied for the removal of slaves from Virginia and deportation to Africa, although he did not free his own slaves. His daughter strongly supported the deportation of slaves, and this daughter, Mary Custis, married Robert E. Lee in 1831. They were married at Arlington House, which they would inherit when George Custis died in 1857. With it came several hundred slaves.

Lee later supported similar measures following the emancipation of all blacks during the Civil War. He lobbied the federal government to deport the former slaves to either Africa or to colonies established in the west and argued that Virginia would support such a measure.

“I think that everyone there would be willing to aid it,” he wrote of deportation in 1866. His views on the subject were undoubtedly formed with influence from both his father-in-law and his wife. Lee’s own slaves, as well as Arlington Plantation, were confiscated at the beginning of the Civil War. Today Arlington House and its grounds are part of Arlington National Cemetery.