Archive for the ‘Custis, George Washington Parke’ Category

“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

“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, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Custis, John "Jacky" Parke,Custis, Martha "Patsy",Custis, Mary Anna Randolph,Mount Vernon,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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