Archive for the ‘Custis, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke’ Category

“My Heart is so sincerely afflicted. . . .”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL and George Washington exchanged letters in Philadelphia until he left for Mount Vernon in mid December 1798. Washington paid promptly for the articles that Powel had purchased for him. Clearly the two had a high regard for each other, certainly friendship and admiration, if not something more.

Tuesday 4th Decr 1798 My dear Madam,
Receive, I pray you, my best thanks for the Prints you had the goodness to send me; and my acknowledgments of your kind, and obliging offer to chuse some thing handsome, with which to present Miss Custis [Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis]. The difference between thirty & Sixty (or more) dollars, is not so much a matter of consideration, as the appropriate thing.

I presume, she is provided with a Muff; of a tippet I am not so certain; but a handsome Muslin, or any thing else, that is not the whim of the day, cannot be amiss. The cost of which, when furnished, you will please to announce to me. Is there any thing—not of much cost—I could carry Mrs Washington as a memento that she has not been forgotten, in this City? . . . .

My present expectation is, that We shall close the business which brought me here, by Friday—Saturday at farthest; when my journey will commence. But before my departure I shall, most assuredly, have the honor of paying my respects to you. With the greatest respect & Affecte. I am always Yours
Go: Washington

Elizabeth Willing Powel sent Washington a bill post haste.

[Philadelphia] Friday Decr 7th 1798 My dear Sir
The amount of the Articles purchased you will find to be Seventy Four dols. & a half. . . .

My Heart is so sincerely afflicted and my Idea’s so confused that I can only express my predominant Wish—that God may take you into his holy keeping and preserve you safe both in Traveling and under all Circumstances, and that you may be happy here and hereafter is the ardent Prayer of Your affectionate afflicted Friend
Eliza. Powel

Pasted onto the manuscript is a notation, in Elizabeth Willing Powel’s hand, indicating that she paid $65 for a “Piece of Muslin,” $2.50 for “A Doll,” and $7 for a “Thread Case.” The doll was for Eliza Law, the child of Elizabeth Parke Custis, Martha’s eldest grandchild, and her husband John Law. The marriage was not a happy one and ended in divorce. The thread-case, it seems, was for Martha. Illustrated is a thread-case that belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s wife Martha. George Washington replied to Powel immediately——sometimes these exchanges seem a lot like email today!

Philadelphia 7th Decr 1798 My dear Madam,
The articles you had the goodness to send me this forenoon (when it was not in my power to acknowledge the receipt of them) came very safe, and I pray you again, to accept my thanks for the trouble I have given you in this business.

Enclosed are Seventy five dollars, which is the nearest my present means will enable me to approach $74 50/100 the cost of them. . . .

For your kind and affectionate wishes, I feel a grateful sensibility, and reciprocate them with all the cordiality you could wish, being My dear Madam Your most Obedt & obliged Hble Servant
Go: Washington

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” “From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 4 December 1798,” “To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 7 December 1798,” “From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 7 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-03-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242, 243–244, 246-47.]

posted October 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“a fashionable Muff & Tippet”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL kept up her correspondence with George Washington in 1798. She delivered to him a set of prints from a friend that she added to. She also did some shopping for him.

Market Street [Philadelphia] Decemr 3d 1798My dear Sir
I have the Pleasure to send the Book of Prints that you were so obliging as to accept from your Friend. I have also taken the liberty to add a few that I admire on a presumption that the Mind capable of tracing with Pleasure the military Progress of the Hero whose Battles they delineate will also have the associate Taste and admire fine representations of the Work of God in the human Form.

As you wish to take Miss Custis a Testimonial of your recollection of her, I really know not of any Thing more appropriate at this Season, than a fashionable Muff & Tippet; and such may be procured for less than Thirty Dollars, a Pattern of Muslin for a Dress such as you would choose to present will I find cost Sixty dols. at least——a Pattern for a half or undress may be bought for 23 dols.; but let me know what will be most agreeable to you and I will purchase it with Pleasure and pack it up in a manner the least inconvenient for you.

I hope you have suffered no inconvenience from your long unpleasant Walk in the Rain on Sunday last. My best wishes ever attend you as I am always Your sincere Affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

The image shows a fur muff on the left and a fur tippet on the right, popular during the 1790s. Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis was Martha Washington’s granddaughter.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-03-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242.]

posted October 2nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Fashion,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“But gone before/ me”

Life in the 18th century was so fragile. FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON LEAR lived only a short time after her marriage to Tobias Lear. She died in 1796 from the same disease that had claimed her first husband—consumption (tuberculosis). The painting is the sort of memorial commonly created for a deceased family member. It is thought that Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, made this one, probably in 1796, the year of Fanny’s death. The watercolor—ink and gouache on laid paper—references both classical and Christian themes. The pointed evergreens represent the hope of eternal life. A grieving woman leans on a plinth; the script on a square of paper pasted on the front reads: “She is not lost!/Blest thought!/ But gone before/ me!”

Citation for this post: HERE.

posted July 31st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Death,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Washington, Martha

“the Blacks are so bad in their nature”

FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON did marry Tobias Lear. (See previous post in which she solicited Martha Washington’s advice on Lear’s proposal.) Fanny continued to carry out Martha’s instructions about work to be done at Mount Vernon before she arrives.

Following is a letter whose content makes one squirm: Martha includes remarks about the nature and conduct of enslaved workers that reflect the mind set of white owners and the stereotypes to which they subscribed. Note that white servants are treated differently and receive better quarters and food than their enslaved counterparts.

Philadelphia May the 24th 1795My Dear Fanny,

Your affectionate favor of the 20th is come to my hands—I am very glad to hear by it that your children are well—and yourself—I am truly sorry that any thing should happen in your family to give you pain Black children are liable to so many accidents and complaints that one is heardly sure of keeping them I hope you will not find in him much loss the Blacks are so bad in their nature that they have not the least gratatude for the kindness that may be shewed to them—

from what I have heard of Mr Pearces House Keeper I wished very much to have her engaged to stay at mount vernon while I was at home so goe into the sellers meat house and look into the milk and butter Kitty has had it so long under her care—that I think she should be looked too to give a better account of it—we shall bring white servants with us which will make it necessary that I should have a person to see to thair having what is proper, done for them, and have thair vltuals alwas in proper order—I think it is really necessary to have a person such a one as Mrs Skinner is in our family while I am there besids that of looking after the women that work they always Idle half their time away about thair own business and wash so bad that the cloths are not fitt to use—if she will come only to stay while I am thair I shall be very much pleased to have her—I do expect we shall have a good deal of company many hear talk of coming to see the Federal city [Washington, DC, under construction] and will take that oppertunity to come to Mt Vernon while we are there

I am my Dear Fanny very sencible of your goodness and attention in having everything done for me as you can—but it always gave me pain to see you have so much trouble while I was at home—if Mrs Skinner will come I shah be much happyer to have her to do the drudgry—and then I shall have the plasure to have more of your company—and shah see my person whose bussnes it is to attend to all the wants and cares about the house

l am very much obliged to you my dear Fanny for offering to preserve strawberry for me—I dont think it will be worth while—to do any—I wish to live in a plain stile while I am at home—and we shall always have greene fruit which can be preserved at the time it is wanted which will be better for use—should thair be any goosberry I should wish to have some bottled and some of the morelly cherrys dried—I should think old Doll cannot have forgot how to do them [,] if she has Mrs Skinner may come to the hous as soon as she will—and she may have all the Beds and Bed Cloths air and clened [,]the Bedsteads all taken down and cleaned and well rubbed—so that thair may be nothing of that kind to do when I come home—and to have every part of the House cleaned from the garrets to the sellers as I wish to have every thing done that can be done before I come home

Thank god we are all well—the President has been very well since his return

The girls and Washington* are well—and join the President and me in love to you and children . . . I wish the House was done for when I go to house keeping. . . .

I am with love and affection my dear Fanny your sincear well wisher M Washington

* George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash”, was Martha’s grandson, the child of her son from her first marriage, John “Jacky” Parke Custis, who died in 1781. Martha’s daughter, Patsy, died at 17. Wash’s sister, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, was one of the girls mentioned in the letter. Both Nelly and Wash were adopted by Martha and George Washington. Two older siblings lived with their mother Eleanor, widow of Jacky, when she remarried.

Citation: See copy of the letter HERE.

posted July 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Custis, John "Jacky" Parke,Custis, Martha "Patsy",Housekeeping,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Mount Vernon,Slaves/slavery,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else”

It was not only George Washington who gave money, advice and assistance to various members of his extended family—see previous posts about Harriot Washington—but also his wife MARTHA WASHINGTON who did the same for her needy relatives.

FRANCES “FANNY” BASSETT was Martha’s niece, the daughter of her sister Anna Maria Dandridge and Burwell Bassett. When Anna Maria died in 1777 Martha offered to take Fanny in as her sister had requested if she died before Fanny grew up. Martha wrote to Burwell “If you will lett her come to live with me, I will with the greatest pleasure take her and be a parent and mother to her as long as I live.”

It was not until the mid 1780s that Fanny would come to live at Mount Vernon. Indeed she was like a daughter to Martha, especially since her own Patsy had died at the age of seventeen in 1773. Martha wrote to her friend Elizabeth Willing Powel of Philadelphia, Fanny “is a child to me, and I am very lonesome when she is absent.”

George Augustine Washington, the nephew of George Washington who was at that time living at Mount Vernon, soon became smitten with Fanny and the two married in 1785. They were invited, with their children, to make Mount Vernon their home; George Augustine managed the estate and Fanny took care of the household. Martha wrote to Fanny from the then capital of the United States, New York City, in 1789.

I have by Mrs Sims sent you a watch it is one of the cargoe that I have so long mentioned to you, that was expected, I hope is such a one as will please you it is of the newest fashon, if that has any influence on your tast—The chain is of Mr [Tobias] Lears* choosing and such as Mrs Adams the vice Presidents Lady and those in the polite circle wares. It will last as long as the fashon—and by that time you can get another of a fashonable kind—I send to dear Maria a piece of Chino to make her a frock—the piece of muslin I hope is long enough for an apron for you, and in exchange for it, 1 beg you will give me the worked muslin apron you have like my gown that I made just before I left home of worked muslin as I wish to make a petticoat of the two aprons—for my gown—Mrs Sims will give you a better account of the fashons than I can—I live a very dull life hear and know nothing that passes in the town—I never goe to the publick place—indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from – and as I can not doe as I like I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal—

The President set out this day week on a tour to the eastward . . . my dear children** has had very bad colds but thank god they are getting better My love and good wishes attend you and all with you . . . kiss Maria I send her two little handkerchiefs to wipe her nose

Adieu
I am my dear Fanny yours
most affectionately
M Washington

* Tobias Lear was Washington’s friend and secretary.
** Grandchildren Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly) and George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash.”

Martha sounds as if she would have preferred to be at Mount Vernon rather than New York. She is clearly uncomfortable as first lady. Indeed she did not journey northward for her husband’s inauguration but arrived later. Washington was finding his way in a new role and so was she. It took her some time to figure out how she should behave and what was expected of her.

Sources: See Mount Vernon HERE and HERE. The portrait of Fanny was painted in 1785 by Robert Edge Pine and is at Mount Vernon. The miniature, watercolor on ivory, of Martha Washington is by Charles Willson Peale, 1772, and is held by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

posted July 10th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Mount Vernon,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine,Washington, Martha

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