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Site of Abingdon Plantation House - History Alexandria Virginia

Posted on Jun 10,2008
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Abingdon Plantation House

Site of Abingdon Plantation House - National Airport.  The site of the Abingdon plantation house is the mound of earth west of the Metro stop between the two National Airport parking garages.  The Abingdon manor house was probably built sometime before 1746 by Gerrard Alexander (of the Alexander family for whom Alexandria is named).

 In 1778, John Parke (Jacky) Custis (1753-1781), Martha Washington’s only surviving child, purchased Abingdon.  Martha Washington was a widow with two children when George Washington married her.  Her daughter, Patsy Custis (c1756-1773), died as a teenager at Mount Vernon.  Jacky Custis was raised at Mount Vernon when he wasn’t in boarding school, and he was a rather lackluster student.  When he was sixteen, he fell in love with Eleanor Calvert (1754-1811), the granddaughter of the fifth and last Lord Baltimore.  They were married three years later.  George Washington was very disappointed that Jacky would marry at such a young age and give up college. 

At one point, Jacky Custis entered local politics and was elected a delegate to the legislature from Fairfax County.  George Washington apparently heard unfavorable reports and wrote him, “I do not suppose that so young a senator as you are, so little versed in political disquisition, can yet have much influence in a popular assembly, composed of various talents and different views, but it is in your power to be punctual in attendance.”

Washington thought that the price paid for Abingdon was extravagant, but he was even more concerned about the contract.  He wrote to Jacky Custis, “...let me entreat you to consider the consequences of paying compound interest...  No Virginia estate (except a few under the best management) can stand simple interest.  How then can they bear compound interest!”  Nevertheless, Jacky and Eleanor promptly moved into Abingdon.  A few years later, Jacky Custis contracted camp fever while serving as an aide-de-camp to George Washington at Yorktown, and he died in 1781, leaving a widow and four children.  The two youngest children (Nelly and George Washington Parke Custis) were raised by their grandmother, Martha Washington, and her husband, George Washington.  The two oldest children (Betcy and Patsy) stayed with their mother.

 The eldest of Jacky Custis’ four children, Elizabeth (Betcy) (1776-1832), married Thomas Law (1759-1834), a Washington land developer.  However, she divorced him in 1804, the first divorce in the capital city; and Washington society was scandalized.  She then purchased “a pretty little piece of land near Alexandria” and built Mt. Washington (now called Hoxton House – Building 33 on Thomsen Lane) on what is now the campus of Episcopal High School in Alexandria.  She lived there from 1805 until 1811 when she could no longer afford it, spending the rest of her life visiting relatives and friends.  Her “very fine little country house,” recently restored, still exists.  Betcy’s recollections of her father included how he would set her on the table and have her sing bawdy songs to his friends when she was too young to know what she was singing about. 

Martha (Patsy) (1777-1854) married Thomas Peter (1769-1834), son of the mayor of Georgetown, and built Tudor Place (open to the public; 1644 31st Street NW) in Georgetown.  Eleanor (Nelly) (1779-1851), who was the only Custis child born at Abingdon, married Lawrence Lewis (1767-1839), George Washington’s nephew, and built Woodlawn (open to the public, 9000 Richmond Highway) near Mount Vernon.  George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857) built Arlington House (now in Arlington National Cemetery).

Jacky Custis’ widow, Eleanor, married Dr. David Stuart (1754-c1814) in 1783, and she had thirteen more children, who were treated as grandchildren by the Washingtons.  The Stuarts lived at Abingdon for a while, but the contract remained a problem, and Abingdon was returned to the Alexander family in 1792 after payment of rent for the twelve years since Jacky Custis purchased it.  As guardian of George Washington Parke Custis, who was principal heir to Abingdon as a six-month-old minor, George Washington was very involved in the settlement.  Dr. Stuart was closely associated with George Washington in many enterprises, and he was a director of the Potomac Company, a trustee of Alexandria Academy, a member of the general assembly 1785-1788, a justice of the Fairfax County Court, one of Virginia’s ten presidential electors who certified that George Washington was elected President, and one of the first three Commissioners of the District of Columbia.  He was a very frequent visitor to Mount Vernon, and Washington’s will left Stuart “my large shaving and dressing table and my telescope.”

The Abingdon manor house was destroyed by fire in March 1930.  Before it burned, it was considered the oldest structure in Arlington County.  Access to the Abingdon ruins is difficult to find.  Take the south covered walkway from the Metro Station to Parking Garage B.  Remaining on Level 2, follow the signs to Parking Garage A.  The Abingdon ruins are between the two garages.  Also, you can see a display and videos about Abingdon in the Exhibition Hall (the restored 1940 dining room of the original main terminal) in the north end of historic Terminal A. 

 

(Adapted from Robert Madison’s Walking with Washington, available in Alexandria museum gift shops.)




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