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White House (plantation)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

White House Plantation
White House, formerly residence of Mrs. Custis Washington, now the residence of Col. Lee, 17th May, 1862 LCCN2014646904 (cropped).jpg
White House plantation, 1862
General information
TypePrivate residence
Architectural styleGeorgian
LocationNew Kent County, Virginia
CountryUnited States
Coordinates37°34′31.142″N 77°1′43.477″W / 37.57531722°N 77.02874361°W / 37.57531722; -77.02874361
Construction startedLate 17th Century
Destroyed1862; 1875
OwnerCol. John Lightfoot III
Goodrich Lightfoot
Col. John Custis
Daniel Parke Custis
Martha Washington
John Parke Custis
George Washington Parke Custis
William Henry Fitzhugh Lee

The White House was a late 17th-century plantation on the Pamunkey River near White House in New Kent County, Virginia. There were a total of three White Houses all built on the original pre-1700 foundation. The original White House Mansion was built by Colonel John Lightfoot III just before 1700 and while he was Counselor of State.

The White House Plantation was part of a large land holding that John Custis, father of Daniel Parke Custis, purchased from the family of John Lightfoot III.[1] After John Custis died, he left the White House Plantation to his son Daniel Parke Custis, the first husband of Martha Dandridge Custis. The two would marry in 1750. Daniel Parke Custis would unexpectedly die in 1757, leaving the White House Plantation to his wife.[2][3] After the death of her first husband, Martha Dandridge Custis would later meet George Washington and on January 6, 1759 would hold their wedding ceremony in one of the rooms of the White House Mansion.[1][4]

Union troops stationed at the White House Plantation (of the Army of the Potomac) under the command of George B. McClellan, would burn the second White House to the ground on June 28, 1862, as they retreated during the Seven Days Battles.[4][1] The third and final White House burned in 1880. The three White Houses collectively spanned over 180 years. The 2nd and 3rd iterations were smaller than the original White House Mansion.[1]


Prior to the Custis Family

Following the Third Anglo-Powhatan War, the General Assembly began setting up Forts along York River and its tributaries (which are known now as the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers).[1] Captain Roger Marshall was to manage Fort Royal (also known as Rickahock), for three years.[1] After fulfilling the requirements he was granted a patent for the 600 acres of Rickahock (including Fort Royal and any buildings within), on March 14, 1649.[1] That same day he sold these 600 acres of Rickahock to General Manwarring Hammond.[1] These 600 acres brought Gen. Hammond's total landholding patents to 3760 acres on the south side of York River.[1]

On the same day as Gen. Hammond received the 600 acres of Rickahock from Capt. Marshall, Colonel Philip Honeywood was granted a patent of 3050 acres.[1] This included 1550 acres above Warrannucock Island (now known as the Pamunkey Indian Reservation) and 1500 acres south side of the York River near the Island.[1]

Together the tracts of land owned by Gen. Hammond and Col. Honeywood spanned six square miles.[1] Both men were Royalist Officers who had originally fled England to escape Oliver Cromwell.[1] Once the Restoration (England) came, they left Virginia for home.

After leaving for England, the two tracts of land were later conveyed to Captain William Bassett on January 23, 1670 through his correspondence with Colonel Henry Norwood.[1] While the deeds had been lost due to a fire that destroyed New Kent County records, it is thought that Colonel John Lightfoot III purchased the lands from the William Bassett’s Estate around 1686, after he arrived from England with his wife Anne (Goodrich) Lightfoot.[1] Col. John Lightfoot III constructed the White House Mansion prior to 1700.[1] "The house was a commodious one, with adequate room for entertainment of a large gathering and guests such as could be provided for by a large Colonial Plantation which had servants aplenty and provisions of all kinds"[1].

Following Col. John Lightfoot III's death in 1709, his landholdings were divided amongst his sons; Sherwood Lightfoot, Goodrich Lightfoot, and Thomas Lightfoot.[1] According to the diary of Col. William Byrd, there he mentioned Sherwood Lightfoot resided at Rickahock (the southern portion and originally part of Fort Royal) and his younger brother, Goodrich Lightfoot, at the White House Plantation (the northern portion) where the White House Mansion was located.[1] It is unknown what portions of John Lightfoot III's estate went to his youngest son Thomas Lightfoot, and whether any property was given to Col. John Lightfoot's daughter Alice Lightfoot.[1]

Location of the White House can be seen on this map along the Pamunkey River. This map from 1863 includes the area in which the White House Plantation is located as well as the 6 square miles of land that the Lightfoots conveyed to the Custis family in the 1700s.
Location of the White House can be seen on this map along the Pamunkey River. This map from 1863 includes the area in which the White House Plantation is located as well as the 6 square miles of land that the Lightfoots conveyed to the Custis family in the 1700s.

John Lightfoot III's total landholdings included acreage he had acquired from William Bassett’s estate. Specifically the Anthony Langston’s plantation, Gen. Hammond’s Fort Royal tract, and land to the east of Manquin Creek.[5]

Sherwood Lightfoot would die April 20, 1730.[1] In 1727 Goodrich Lightfoot moved from the White House Plantation to Spotsylvania County and later died in 1738 while living in Orange County.[1] While the records had been lost both Goodrich Lightfoot and Sherwood Lightfoot would convey the entire property of John Lightfoot III to Colonel John Custis (father to Daniel Parke Custis).[1] As of 1735 there are records showing Col. John Custis owned the Old Quarter and the land upon the river.[1]

Antebellum years

A wealthy widow, Martha Custis was courted by George Washington, whom she married in 1759.[2] Shortly thereafter, he resigned his Virginia military commission and they moved to his farm at Mount Vernon in Fairfax County overlooking the Potomac River.[2][6]

George and Martha Washington had no children of their own, but raised her two surviving children.[2][6] Her son, John Parke "Jacky" Custis (1754–1781) married Eleanor Calvert on February 3, 1774. The couple then moved to the White House plantation.[3] After the couple had lived at the White House plantation for more than two years, John Parke Custis purchased the Abingdon plantation, into which the couple settled during 1778.[3]

John Parke Custis died in 1781 after contracting "camp fever" at the Siege of Yorktown.[3] Martha and George Washington then raised his two younger children, Eleanor Parke Custis (later Lewis) and George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857).[7]

George Washington became the first President of the United States and his wife, Martha, became the nation's initial First Lady, although she was known at the time as simply "Lady Washington." The title of First Lady was traditionally given the President's wife in years thereafter.

In 1802, George Washington Parke Custis began construction on Arlington House, then in the District of Columbia, intending it to become a memorial to his step-grandfather (and adoptive father), George Washington, who had died in 1799. Arlington House later became the home of his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, born in 1807, who in 1831 married Robert E. Lee.[8][9] In 1846, most of the area of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac River was retroceded to Virginia, including the land occupied by Arlington House and the surrounding plantation.[10]

Robert E. and Mary Anna Custis Lee had seven children, of whom three boys and three girls survived to adulthood.[8] Of these, the second son was William H.F. "Rooney" Lee (1837–1891), who was born at Arlington House.[11] Rooney Lee was educated at Harvard University, and then followed his father's footsteps into service with the U.S. Army.[11] However, in 1859, he resigned his commission.[11]

Rooney Lee moved to White House Plantation, which he had inherited from his grandfather, who died in 1857.[11] He married Charlotte Wickham, a descendant of attorney John Wickham.[11] They had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom died in infancy.[11] His wife, Charlotte, died in 1863.[11] The plantation house at White House Plantation, which was burned in 1862, had been the second of three which occupied the site of over the years, all destroyed by fires.[12]

White House was the site of the crossing of the Pamunkey River of the Richmond and York River Railroad, which was completed in 1861 between Richmond and West Point, where the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi Rivers converge to form the York River.

American Civil War years

Despite best efforts to preserve the historical home of George and Martha Washington, it was destroyed during the Civil War. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, and Virginia joined the newly formed Confederate States of America, Robert E. Lee, who had most recently been Superintendent of the USMA at West Point was offered the command of all Union forces by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, but resigned his commission in favor of serving his home state of Virginia. All three of his sons joined him in military service for the Confederacy.

Ruins of White House Plantation
Ruins of White House Plantation

Robert E. Lee's wife suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and this became increasingly debilitating with advancing age. By 1861, she was using a wheelchair. Early in the War, Mrs. Lee and her daughters left Arlington House and she was staying at her son Rooney's plantation in New Kent County at White House when Union troops under General George B. McClellan took White House Landing as a supply base during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, a failed attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.[12] General McClellan made arrangements for Mrs. Lee's safe passage through the Union lines, and she relocated to Richmond, where she resided at 707 E. Franklin Street (in a still-extant house) for the duration of the War.

During the Peninsula Campaign, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City's Central Park among his many accomplishments, served as Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross in Washington D.C. which tended to the Union wounded during the Civil War. Olmsted headed the medical effort for the sick and wounded at White House Landing until McClellan abandoned it as he retreated with his troops during the Seven Days Battles and shifted his base to Harrison's Landing on the James River. The plantation house of White House Plantation was burned by retreating Union troops.[12] This was not the original White House Mansion. The original White House Mansion built by Col. John Lightfoot III had been removed to "make way for the structure which stood on the same site and burned on June 27, 1862".[1]

Postbellum years

White House as it appeared when rebuilt after the American Civil War
White House as it appeared when rebuilt after the American Civil War

Rooney Lee lost his wife and children during the War, and was captured and held as a prisoner-of-war in New York after the Battle of Brandy Station.[11] Following the War, Rooney Lee returned to White House Plantation.[11] In 1867, he married again.[11] With his second wife, Mary Tab Bolling Lee, he had several children.[11] Nearby, his younger brother Rob lived at Romancoke Plantation across the river in King William County.

After his mother died in 1873, Rooney inherited the Ravensworth Estate, the old Fitzhugh family property (near present-day Springfield) in Fairfax County with 563 acres (2.28 km2) of land. In 1874, he moved there from White House Plantation.

Rooney Lee was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1875, serving until 1878. He was then elected as a Democrat to the US House of Representatives in 1887. He served in the House until his death at Ravensworth in 1891.[11] He is interred in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia with his parents and siblings.

Following the Civil War and the burning of the White House Mansion, another similar house was built upon the same foundation. This would be the third and final White House built at the plantation. This house subsequently burned in 1880.[1]

US Park Service Excavation in 1935

A 1935 excavation by the United States Park Service discovered "traces of three different houses on the same foundations."[1] These included the original White House Mansion, the second that burned down during the Civil War on 27 June, 1862, and the third that burned in 1880. The oldest bricks were laid in English Bond and were from before 1700. [1]

The White House (the Presidents House) in Washington, D.C.

Although George Washington and his wife never lived in the presidential mansion now known as the White House in Washington, D.C., construction of the building started during his term in office, and it is speculated that the name may have derived from White House Plantation, where the couple had shared many pleasant memories.[12]

"It was called White House out of respect for Mrs. Washington's home in Virginia, in which her wedding occurred, and Washington had pleasant memories of that residence and suggested the building of a White House for Presidents."[13][1] "The truth of these statements can be substantiated, that it was called the White House before the War of 1812, but that it was so called as an honor to the White House on the Pamunkey is a very dubious statement. It was a White House and is to this day."[1]

Location of the White House Mansion

The location of the White House Mansion can be found on Google Maps. Based on the aerial image of the area it would that appear that an excavation site can be seen.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Harris, Malcolm (2006). Old New Kent County [Virginia]: Some Account of the Planters, Plantations, and Places. Genealogical Publishing Com. ISBN 9780806352930.
  2. ^ a b c d The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (2009). "Martha Dandridge Custis Washington". The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
  3. ^ a b c d Yates, Bernice-Marie (2003). The Perfect Gentleman: The Life and Letters of George Washington Custis Lee. Fairfax, Virginia: Xulon Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 1-59160-451-6. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  4. ^ a b Horn, Jonathan. "White House on the Pamunkey." New York Times. June 29, 2012. Accessed 10-25-2013.
  5. ^ McCartney, Martha W. (1984). THE DRAFT OF YORK RIVER IN VIRGINIA: AN ARTIFACT OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. Virginia Historical Society.
  6. ^ a b John K. Amory, M.D., "George Washington’s infertility: Why was the father of our country never a father?" Fertility and Sterility, Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2004. (online, PDF format)
  7. ^ "The Papers of George Washington: Documents". 2009. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  8. ^ a b Perry, John. Mrs. Robert E. Lee : The Lady of Arlington. Multnomah Publishers, 2003. ISBN 1-59052-137-4.
  9. ^ "The Education of a Cadet". University of Chicago. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  10. ^ Richards, Mark David (Spring–Summer 2004). "The Debates over the Retrocession of the District of Columbia, 1801–2004" (PDF). Washington History. Historical Society of Washington, D.C.: 54–82. Retrieved 2009-01-16.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l National Park Service (June 19, 2007). "William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee". National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
  12. ^ a b c d New Kent County Planning Commission (June 6, 2002). "New Kent County Comprehensive Plan: Existing Conditions" (PDF). New Kent County Planning Commission. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
  13. ^ Holloway, Laura Carter (1881). The Ladies of the White House. Bradley, Garretson.
This page was last edited on 4 April 2020, at 02:21
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