Archive for the ‘Custis, “Jacky”’ Category

“the ostrich feathers . . . took fire”

When the widowed Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington she brought her two children to live at Mount Vernon: John “Jacky” and Martha “Patsy.” Sadly, her daughter died of consumption in 1773. Jacky was a bit wild, married young, joined the army and died of camp fever shortly after the battle of Yorktown, leaving his wife and four children. The two oldest children stayed with their widowed mother. The other two—George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash,” and his sister Eleanor Parke Custis called “Nelly”—came to live at Mount Vernon. George Washington officially adopted his two step grandchildren.

G.W.P. Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh and their daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the only one of four children who reached maturity, married Robert E. Lee. In 1826, GWP Custis admitted paternity of a child born to a slave who had once resided at Mount Vernon where she served Martha Washington. During his lifetime GWP Custis put down his recollections of George Washington and life at Mount Vernon. After his death his daughter published them in a volume that can be read online. Here is an anecdote he recounts that occurred at one of Martha Washington’s levees.

Mrs. Washington’s drawing rooms, on Friday nights, were attended by the grace and beauty of New York. On one of these occasions an incident occurred which might have been attended by serious consequences. Owing to the lowness of the ceiling in the drawing room, the ostrich feathers in the head-dress of Miss [Mary] McIvers, a belle of New York, took fire from the chandelier, to the no small alarm of the company. Major Jackson, aid-de-camp [sic] to the president, with great presence of mind, and equal gallantry, flew to the rescue of the lady, and, by clapping the burning plumes between his hands, extinguished the flame, and the drawing-room went on as usual.

Custis wrote that George Washington attended his wife’s drawing-rooms.

[He] paid his compliments to the circle of ladies, with that ease and elegance of manners for which he was remarkable. Among the most polished and well-bred gentlemen of his time, he was always particularly polite to ladies, even in the rugged scene of war; and, in advanced age, many were the youthful swains who sighed for those gracious smiles with which the fair always received the attentions of this old beau of sixty-five.

Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by his adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, with a Memoir of the author, by his Daughter (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860), pp 395-96 and 409. I promise you will spend time reading other stories from the Memoirs online HERE.

posted February 15th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, "Jacky",Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Custis, Martha "Patsy",Custis, Mary Anna Randolph,Mount Vernon,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“I suppose thare will be a change soon”

As there are so few letters from the correspondence between Martha and George Washington—only three letters from George survive; two were discovered in the personal desk she left to her granddaughter Martha Custis Peter; she destroyed the others—I thought I would post this letter written from Boston by Martha to her sister.

Cambridge January the 31, 1776My dear Sister
I have wrote to you several times, in hopes it would put you in mind of me, but I find it has not had its intended affect. I am really very uneasy at not hearing from you and have made all the excuses for you that I can think of but it will not doe much longer. If I doe not get a letter by this nights post I shall think myself quite forgot by all my Freinds. The distance is long yet the post comes in regularly every week—
The General, myself, and Jack are very well. Nelly Custis is I hope getting well again, and I beleive is with child. I hope noe accident will happen to her in going back [to Virginia]. I have not thought much about it yet god know whare we shall be; I suppose thare will be a change soon but how I cannot pretend to say—A few days agoe Gen [Henry] Clinton, with several companyes Sailed out of Boston Harbor to what place distant for, we cannot find out. Some think it is to Virginia he is gon, others to New York—they have been keept in Boston so long that I suppose they will be glad to seek for a place where they may have more room as they cannot get out anywhere here but by water—our navey has been very successful in taking thair vessels; two was taken last week loded with coles and potatoes wines & several other articles for the use of the troops—If General Clinton is gon to New York,—General Lee is there before him and I hope will give him a very warm reception,—he was sent thare some time a goe to have matters put in proper order in case any disturbances should happen, as thare are many Tories in that part of the world, or at least many are susspected thare to be unfreindly to our cause at this time—winter hear has been so remarkable mild the Rivers has never been frozen hard enough to walk upon the Ice since I came heer. My Dear sister be so good as to remember me to all enquireing friends. . . .
I am my Dear Nancy your ever effectionate sister
Martha Washington

John Parke Custis was the son of Martha Washington by her first husband Daniel Custis. Jacky, as he was called when he was young, and his sister Patsy were adopted by George Washington when he married Martha. It’s fair to say that Jacky was a disappointment to his mother and stepfather. He resisted all attempts to acquire the classical education necessary for college entrance and was disinclined to acquire the skills necessary to manage the plantation which he would inherit if Martha and George had no children of their own. Washington remarked to Jacky’s schoolmaster that he was interested in “Dogs Horses & Guns.” Briefly enrolled in King’s College (now Columbia), Jack dropped out to marry Elizabeth Calvert of Maryland in 1774. His stepfather disapproved of the marriage because he thought Jack too young and ill-equipped to support a family. Jack and his wife, had four children in quick succession. Sensing that a decisive battle was about to take place in 1781 at Yorktown, Jacky had himself appointed civilian aide-de-camp to General Washington in order to participate. Unfortunately he contracted “camp fever” (epidemic typhus) and died in November. A sad blow for the Washingtons as they had lost Patsy to a seizure in 1773 at the age of 17. Martha and George adopted Jacky’s two youngest children while their mother raised the older two. The families remained close and visited often.

The letter appears on pages 41-42 of In the Words of Women.

“as if I had been a very great some body”

When George Washington was named commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and sent to Boston in 1775 to organize the resistance to the British, Martha determined to accompany him. She left Mount Vernon on November 16 in the company of her son Jack and his wife Elizabeth “Nelly” Calvert Custis. Traveling via Philadelphia, she arrived in Cambridge a month later. She described what she found in a letter to a young friend, Elizabeth Ramsay, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Cambridge December the 30th 1775Dear miss
I now set down to tell you that I arrived hear safe, and our party all well—we were fortunate in our time of setting out as the weather proved fine all the time we were on the road—I did not reach Philad till the tuesday after I left home, we were so attended and the gentlemen so kind, that I am lade under obligations to them that I shall not for get soon. I don’t doubt but you have seen the Figuer our arrival made in the Philadelphia paper—and I left it in as great pomp as if I had been a very great some body.
I have waited some days to collect some thing to tell, but allas there is nothing but what you will find in the papers—every person seems to be cheerfull and happy hear,—some days we have a number of cannon and shells from Boston and Bunkers Hill, but it does not seem to surprise any one but me; I confess I shuder every time I hear the sound of a gun—I have been to dinner with two of the Generals, [Charles] Lee & [Israel] Putnam and I just took a look at pore Boston & Charls town—from prospect Hill Charlestown has only a few chimneys standing in it, thare seems to be a number of very fine Buildings in Boston but god knows how long they will stand; they are pulling up all the warfs for fire wood—to me that never see any thing of war, the preperations, are very terable indeed, but I endevor to keep my fears to my self as well as I can. . . .
This is a beautyfull Country, and we had a very plasent journey through new england, and had the plasure to find the General very well we came within the month from home to Camp.
I am Dear miss your most affectionate Friend . . . Martha Washington

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