Episode 385: Cassandra Good, Did George Washington Have Heirs?

Book Cover of First Family by Cassandra Good The United States Constitution of 1787 gave many Americans pause about the powers that the new federal government could exercise and how the government's leadership would rest with one person, the president.

The fact that George Washington would likely serve as the new nation’s first president calmed many Americans’ fears that the new nation was creating an opportunity for a hereditary monarch. Washington had proven his commitment to a democratic form of government when he gave up his army command peacefully and voluntarily. He had proven he was someone Americans could trust. Plus, George Washington had no biological heirs–no sons–to whom he might pass on the presidency.

But while George Washington had no biological heirs, he did have heirs.

Cassandra A. Good, an Associate Professor of History at Marymount University and author of First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America, joins us to explore Washington’s heirs and the lives they lived.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.

Episode Summary

Photo of Cassandra GoodCassandra A. Good is an Associate Professor of History at Marymount University. Before becoming a professor, she worked for the Smithsonian, gaining experience in museums, public history, and new media. Good is the author of two books, Founding Friendships, which you may recall from Episode 094, and her latest book, First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America.

Using details from her book First Family, Good reveals: Information about George Washington’s stepchildren, Patsy and Jacky Custis; How George and Martha Washington came to play large roles in the lives of Jacky’s children–Eliza, Patty, Nelly, and Wash Custis; And the work Eliza, Patty, Nelly, and Wash Custis put in throughout their lives to be seen and recognized as the heirs to George and Martha Washington.

What You’ll Discover

• Who Eliza, Nelly, Patty, and Wash Custis were
• The lives of the Washington step-grandchildren during the presidency
• Why the Washingtons adopted the Custis grandchildren
• The role of enslaved people in caring for the Custis grandchildren
• George Washington’s relationship with “Wash” Custis
• What benevolent causes Washington’s descendants championed
• The political lives of Washington's heirs
• Why Mount Vernon passed to Bushrod Washington
• Why George Washington freed the people he enslaved when he died
• William Costin and his relationship with the Custises
• How Robert E. Lee overshadows the legacy of Washington's descendants
• The public and historical memory of Washington’s heirs

Links to People, Places, and Publications

Cassandra A. Good
• Cassandra A. Good, First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America
George “Wash” Washington Parke Custis
Elizabeth “Eliza” Parke Custis
Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis
Martha “Patty” Parke Custis
• Bruce A. Ragsdale, Washington at the Plow
George Washington’s War Tent
Arlington House
Mount Vernon
John Parke Custis
Transcript

Sponsor Links

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
The Power of Place: The Centennial Campaign for Colonial Williamsburg

Complementary Episodes

Episode 027: A History of Stepfamilies in Early America
Episode 033: George Washington and His Library
Episode 061: George Washington in Retirement
Episode 074: Martha Washington
Episode 137: The Washingtons’ Runaway Slave
Episode 183: George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Episode 222: The Early History of Washington, D.C.
Episode 265: An Early History of the White House

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if Washington had had direct heirs?Do you think his role as a father and grandfather by blood relation would have affected the politics of the early United States?

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