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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 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.

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