Book in Progress: First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America
The first biography of America’s first “first family,” this book reveals the untold story of the family who leveraged their image as Washington’s heirs for celebrity and power.
Article in Journal of Social History Summer 2022
[available early access via this link]
Defining the Family of Washington: Meaning, Blood, and Power in the New American Nation
This article examines the many meanings of family that George Washington deployed throughout his life, with particular attention to his claim to having “no family.” Drawing on kinship theory, historiography, and Washington’s writings, it situates his varied understandings of family in the context of Anglo-American notions of inheritance law, lineage, and blood. Washington’s and his fellow Americans’ definitions of family were also intimately tied to the political ideals of a new republic hoping to sever family from government power. Careful analysis of the family as an ever-changing and situational process in Washington’s life provides a model for an alternative way of approaching family history.
Article in Early American Studies Winter 2020 Volume 18.1
[accessible via Project Muse subscription]
Washington Family Fortune: Lineage and Capital in Nineteenth Century America
No family better displayed the enduring value of lineage in the new republic than the next generation of George Washington’s family. His step-grandchildren, the Custises, may not have shared a last name with the first president, but they readily invoked their family connections in writings and speeches as a source of prestige and political legitimacy. The Custises also prominently displayed cultural capital in the form of Washington furniture and relics in their houses (and even on their bodies) to bolster their social and political status. Decades into the nineteenth century, they continued to give small gifts of objects associated with Washington to reinforce their membership in the illustrious president’s family. The Custises’ social and cultural capital purchased them high social standing and access to political leaders. They masked their accumulation of capital behind the idea that their connection to George Washington was affectionate rather than aristocratic, smoothing the way for family to serve as a strong credential in America.