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Esther Maria Lewis Chapin collection of Washington family documents

 Collection — Shelf: G:6-7
Identifier: RM-703

Scope and Contents

Scope and Content: This collection was originally assembled by Esther Maria Lewis Chapin, who inherited some of the Washington and Custis papers but was also an avid collector. She reassembled family materials that were being dispersed nationwide, much of which was purchased at Anderson Galleries, sale 22001, 28-29 November 1927. The collection contains correspondence, legal documents, and financial records related primarily to the Custis and Lewis families. Much of the financial and legal materials focus on the construction of the New Tomb at Mount Vernon, as well as settling George Washington’s estate.The dates of the material in this collection ranges from 1743-1852, with the bulk of the material dating between 1818-1829.


  • 1743-1852


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research during scheduled appointments. Researchers must complete the Washington Library’s Special Collections and Archives Registration Form before access is provided. The library reserves the right to restrict access to certain items for preservation purposes.

Biographical / Historical

Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (1779-1852): Eleanor was born on March 31, 1779. She was the youngest granddaughter of Martha Washington and the step-granddaughter of George Washington. After her father John Parke Custis’ death in 1781 and her mother, Eleanor Calvert Custis’ marriage to Dr. David Stuart, Eleanor and her brother George Washington Parke Custis began living with the Washingtons. In 1799, Eleanor married Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis. Of their eight children, only one son and three daughters lived to maturity. Eleanor and Lawrence remained at Mount Vernon until Martha Washington’s death in 1802 and subsequently moved to Woodlawn Plantation upon its completion in 1805. Throughout her life, Nelly regarded herself as the preserver of George Washington’s legacy. She died at Audley Plantation on July 15, 1852 and is buried at Mount Vernon in the family tomb.

Lewis, Lawrence (1767-1839): Nephew of George Washington, born on April 4, 1767, in Fredericksburg, VA to Fielding Lewis and Betty Washington Lewis, the sister of George Washington. In 1797 he became personal secretary to Washington and married Eleanor Custis, a granddaughter of Martha Washington, on February 22, 1799. He was the primary executor of Washington’s will and was given 2,000 acres of land by him on which he built Woodlawn. They moved to Audley Plantation in 1830 on land he had purchased from Washington’s holdings. He died on November 20, 1839 and is buried in the vault at Mount Vernon.

Washington, Bushrod (1762-1869): Bushrod was the son of Hannah Bushrod and John Augustine Washington, the younger brother of George Washington. Upon the death of George Washington, Bushrod inherited the Mount Vernon estate. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Bushrod served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was joined on the Supreme Court by his long-time friend, John Marshall. Justices Washington and Marshall had met while attending law lectures given by George Wythe at the College of William and Mary. Bushrod and his wife, Julia Ann Blackburn, had no children of their own, but raised three of their nephews. One nephew, John Augustine Washington (1789-1832), would inherit Mount Vernon from Bushrod.


1.5 Linear Feet (5 Boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection is divided into four series: Correspondence, Financial and Legal Materials, and Research Files. The folders are arranged in chronological order within each series. The undated material is listed at the end of each series, in alphabetical order by folder title.

Series 1. Correspondence Series 2. Financial and Legal Materials Series 3. Research Files Series 4. Bound Volumes

Related Materials

Bushrod Washington Family Papers ; Elizabeth Bordley Gibson Collection ; George Washington Collection ; Historic Manuscript Collection ; Lawrence Lewis Papers ; Martha Washington Collection ; Peter Family Papers

Separated Materials

Two books were transferred to the rare book collection:

Washington’s farewell address to the people of the United States (Newburyport : Published by W. and J. Gilman, 1812). [A-1421] Robert E. Lee : a character sketch by H. H. Smith ([Richmond], [Williams Print. Co.], [1925]). [A-1421]

Esther Maria Lewis Chapin Collection of Washington Family Documents
Michele Lee, Special Collections Librarian. Updated by Katherine Hoarn, Special Collections Librarian. Updated by Samantha Snyder, Reference Librarian, August 2020.
August 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections at The George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon Repository

PO Box 3600
Mount Vernon VA 22121