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It is stated, however, that Custis recognized Maria as his child and gave her a piece of property on the Arlington estate. This piece of land constituted 15 acres off the northwest corner of the Arlington estate and "her white cottage was surrounded by tall trees and pleasant stretches of grassland and the place was beautiful as well as homelike."
While all this was going on the Syphaxes were living on the little plot of land left Maria by Custis. There was no deed, record, will or document of any sort to show the right of possession and even had there been, the action of the Federal Government would have rendered such ownership null and void. Maria with her family, had lived there for upwards of fifty years, and now that the vast estate had been reduced to a waste and a camping ground for the Government's troops, the family began to bestir itself to maintain possession of its property.
William, who by this time had become prominent in Washington, came to his mother's rescue. Through his efforts the matter was brought to the attention of Congress, and with little delay and no debate the Bill for the Relief of Maria Syphax was passed.
On May 16, 1866, Senator Harris, from the Committee on Private Land claims, to which was referred the "memorial of William Syphax, praying to be confirmed in his title of land in the Arlington Estate (so called), Virginia, granted to his mother by the late George Washington Parke Custis" reported a bill (S. No. 321) for the relief of Maria Syphax. The bill proposed to release and confirm to Maria Syphax, her heirs and assigns, the title to a piece of land, being a part of the Arlington estate, upon which she had resided since about the year 1826.
The Bill for the Relief of Maria Syphax came up for a second hearing in the Senate May 18, 1806. Senator Morrill inquired of Senator Harris on what grounds the bill was placed. Senator Harris stated that the person named in the bill was a mulatto woman who was once the slave of Mr. Custis. He said
Mr. Custis, at the time she married about forty years ago feeling an interest in the woman, something perhaps akin to a paternal instinct, manumitted her, and gave her this piece of land. It has been set apart to her, and it has been occupied by her and her family for forty years. Under the circumstances the Committee thought it no more than just, the government having acquired title to this property under a sale for taxes, that this title should be confirmed to her.
Senator Harris explained that "the title runs to this woman and her heirs." On June 8, 1866, the House advised the Senate that Bill S. No. 321 for the Relief of Maria Syphax had passed, without amendment. It passed the senate June 11, 1866, and was signed by President Andrew Johnson, June 12, 1866.