White House, Virginia

White House, Virginia

White House is an unincorporated community in New Kent County, Virginia, United States, on the south shore of the Pamunkey River. White House Plantation, for which it is named, was the home of Martha Dandridge Custis in the 18th century, who as a widow, courted her future husband, a British Army colonel named George Washington there. They were married in 1759.

Nearby, White House Landing on the river was the site of a major Union Army Supply Base in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War. At White House, the Richmond and York River Railroad, which was completed in 1861 between Richmond and West Point, crossed the Pamunkey River. The railroad is now part of the Norfolk Southern rail system.

Antebellum history

White House Plantation was the home of Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802) and Daniel Parke Custis (1711-1757) after they were married in 1750. They had four children, two of whom survived childhood. However, their father, 20 years older than their mother, died in 1757.

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

George and Martha Washington had no children of their own, but raised her two surviving children. When her son, John Parke "Jacky" Custis (1754-1781) died during the American Revolutionary War, Martha and George Washington raised his two youngest children, Eleanor Parke Custis (later Lewis) and George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857).

George Washington was to become 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 would years later become the home of his daughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee, born in 1807, who in 1831, married Robert E. Lee, a graduate of the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York in the Class of 1829, there. 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.

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

Rooney Lee moved to White House Plantation, which he had inherited from his grandfather, who died in 1857. He married Charlotte Wickham, a descendant of attorney John Wickham. They had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom died in infancy. His wife, Charlotte, died in 1863.

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

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.

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. 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 the James River. The manor house of White House Plantation was burned.


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. Following the War, Rooney Lee returned to White House Plantation. In 1867, he married again. With his second wife, Mary Tab Bolling Lee, he had several children. Nearby, his younger brother Rob lived at Romancock 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 convert|563|acre|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. He is interred in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia with his parents and siblings.

Heritage, trivia

*The manor 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.

*Although it wasn't built until some years after presidency of George Washington, it is speculated that the name of the famous White House in Washington, D.C. which became the traditional home of the President of the United States, may have derived from First Lady Martha Custis Washington's "White House Plantation" in New Kent County, where they both had shared many pleasant memories. [http://www.co.new-kent.va.us/planningcomm/ExistingConditions.pdf] .

*The Pamunkey Indian Reservation is located directly across the Pamunkey River from White House.

Further reading

*Sears, Stephen W., "To the Gates of Richmond: the Peninsula Campaign" (1992) Ticknor and Fields, New York, NY ISBN 0-89919-790-6

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