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07/16/2010

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Publius Lightfoot

The "White House" on the Pamunky River was built by Colonel John Lightfoot III around the year 1700.

John Lightfoot III came to America from England with his father, Royal Navy Captain John Lightfoot II in 1670 and settled in Williamsburg (the Lightfoot House in Colonial Williamsburg), which was the former capital of Virginia. A military man like his father, Colonel John Lightfoot III became commander-in-chief of Virginia's King and Queen Counties, and was later appointed by the King of England as Councilor of State for the colony. He built the "White House," as it would later be called, next door to the Royal Governor of Virginia upon being appointed Councilor of State.

The house and property was inherited by Colonel John Lightfoot III's son, Colonel Goodrich Lightfoot, in 1707. It was sometime later acquired by Daniel Parke Custis (born 1711), who married Martha Dandridge, a.k.a. Martha Washington after Daniel Custis died. This same "White House," was the early home of George and Martha Washington. Its nickname is the probable origin for the same nickname later given to the White House in Washington D.C. that was built several years later for future presidents. That nickname did not come into popular use until around the beginning of the 20th century, but it is understood the name was given in honor of George and Martha Washington's first home they affectionately called the "White House" on the Pamunky.

George and Martha Washington never had children together but Martha did have two by her first husband, and it was Martha Washington's granddaughter, Mary Anna Custis, who inherited the house. Mary Anna Custis married her third cousin, Robert E. Lee, who later command the Confederates during the Civil War. By the time of the Civil War, Mary Custis Lee, as she was by then named, had given the "White House" to her son Willaim Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee. However, she and General Robert E. Lee did live in it together. It was one of several residences as they moved from house to house in Virginia fleeing the advancements of Union troops. The "White House" was occupied by Union troops under General George McClellan. It was a strategic place on the Pamunky River for both the Union army and navy to gather forces. Although the house was protected by General McClellan as a national shrine, it was burned with other properties upon the Union retreat as Confederates pushed back. Not wanting the surrounding area to be reused by the advancing Confederates, all homes in the area were destroyed. A special order was issued to save the "White House" but whether by accident or clandestine intention, it was not observed.

The last full view of the "White House" was in flames as the flotilla of Union Navy departed the scene. The house that burned was not the entire original structure built by Colonel John Lightfoot III, but a rebuilt home on the same grounds, built sometime during the intervening years between the Revolutionary War and Civil War. However, it was the same property that retained the same nickname "White House" or "White House Plantation," as it had been called for over 150 years.

This information comes from several internet articles, some of which is paraphrased, rewritten or quoted. Unfortunately none of it cited for credits. Photographs of painting of the "White House" over 150 years accompany some of the internet articles.

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