Syphax family (Arlington, Va.)

Source Citation

The Syphaxes were one of the most influential enslaved families at Arlington. Charles Syphax oversaw the dining room at Arlington House and was the unofficial leader of the Arlington enslaved community. The son of a free black itinerant Alexandria street preacher and an enslaved woman from Mount Vernon, Syphax was one of the fifty-seven enslaved people who came to Arlington from Mount Vernon with George Washington Parke Custis in 1802.

Charles Syphax married another enslaved person, Maria Carter. Both had been enslaved at Mount Vernon where they had worked as household servants. Maria Carter Syphax was the daughter of Arianna Carter, an enslaved maid of George and Martha Washington and later George Washington Parke Custis. In 1826, Mr. Custis gave Maria Carter Syphax and her children their freedom and a seventeen-acre plot within the Arlington plantation. The Syphaxes had ten children who lived as free persons on the estate. According to Syphax family tradition, George Washington Parke Custis was the father of Maria Carter Syphax.

The descendants of Charles and Maria Syphax, beginning with their children, have held positions of leadership in the business and community life of Arlington County. Their son, John Syphax, who was born free and educated in Washington, D.C. schools, became a property owner in Arlington County. He held several elective offices including supervisor of the Arlington Magisterial District, delegate to the General Assembly, and justice of the peace.

His brother, William Syphax, served as Chief Messenger of the Department of Interior. He was also a leader in the effort to establish public high school education for African Americans in the Washington, D.C. school system. Many Syphax descendants still live in Arlington County.

Citations

Source Citation

<objectXMLWrap>
<container xmlns="">
<filename>/data/source/findingAids/harvard/sch00062.xml</filename>
<ead_entity en_type="famname">Syphax family</ead_entity>
</container>
</objectXMLWrap>

Citations

Source Citation

Charles Syphax was the son of an enslaved woman at Mount Vernon and a free black preacher. After being inherited by George Washington Parke Custis in 1802, he oversaw the dining room at Arlington House. In 1821, Charles Syphax married Maria Carter, the daughter of a Mount Vernon enslaved woman named Arianna. According to Syphax family tradition, Maria’s father was George Washington Parke Custis.

Shortly after Charles and Maria married, Custis made arrangements to free Maria. He also gave her a 17-acre plot on his Arlington plantation, where she and her family lived as free people. The Syphaxes would go on to have 10 children, many of whom became leaders in the local community. Their son William Syphax served as Chief Messenger for the U.S. Department of the Interior. Through William’s efforts, his mother was able to retain the rights to her Arlington property when the U.S. government confiscated Custis’s estate after the Civil War.

George Washington Parke Custis was commonly believed to have fathered children by enslaved women in his possession; those children were often freed or otherwise singled out for special care by Mr. Custis. An 1865 newspaper article even indicated that Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (Mrs. Robert E. Lee), who was Custis’s only legitimate daughter, had forty mixed-race half-siblings in the Washington, DC area. Another article written 23 years later, included an interview with Maria Syphax, then an elderly woman, who had served as a maid to her half-sister, Mrs. Lee. According to Mrs. Syphax, George Washington Parke Custis told her “face to face” that he was her father and she noted that he was kind to me.1

Citations

Unknown Source

Citations

Name Entry: Syphax family (Arlington, Va.)

Found Data: [ { "contributor": "harvard", "form": "authorizedForm" } ]
Note: Contributors from initial SNAC EAC-CPF ingest