Daniel Parke Custis

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Daniel Parke Custis
Born Daniel Lewis Parke Custis
(1711-10-15)October 15, 1711
York County, Virginia, British America
Died July 8, 1757(1757-07-08) (aged 45)
New Kent County, Virginia, British America
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Bruton Parish Episcopal Church Cemetery
Nationality American
Occupation Planter
Spouse(s) Martha Dandridge (m. 1750–57)
Children Daniel Parke Custis, Jr.
Frances Parke Custis
John Parke "Jacky" Custis
Martha Parke "Patsy" Custis
Parent(s) John Custis
Frances Parke Custis
Relatives Daniel Parke (maternal grandfather)

Daniel Lewis Parke Custis (October 15, 1711[1] – July 8, 1757) was an American planter who was the first husband of Martha Dandridge. After his death, Dandridge married George Washington, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the nation's first president.

Early life and career[edit]

Custis was born in York County, Virginia, one of two children of John Custis (1678–1749), a powerful member of Virginia's Governor's Council, and Frances Parke Custis. The Custis family were one of the wealthiest and socially prominent of Virginia. Despite their wealth and social standing, the family was also known for their scandals.[2] Custis' mother Frances was the daughter of Daniel Parke for whom Custis was named. Daniel Parke was a member of the colonial gentry of Virginia who later became the governor of the Leeward Islands. He became a controversial figure due to his violent and arrogant behavior and numerous extra-marital affairs (which produced several illegitimate children). In December 1710, he was lynched by a mob who beat him to death.[3] Another scandal emerged due to the marriage of John Custis to Frances Parke as the Parkes were political enemies of the Custises. The marriage was reportedly very tense and became the source of gossip to the citizen of colonial Virginia due to John's volatility (Historians have described John Custis as "eccentric and domineering") and constant infidelity.[4] The marriage ended upon Frances' death due to small pox in 1714.[5]

As Daniel Custis was the sole male heir in the Curtis family, he inherited the Southern plantations owned by his father.[6] However, he did not choose to take a leading role in colonial Virginia politics.

Private Life[edit]

At the age of 40, Custis met 17-year old Martha Dandridge at the St. Peter's Church where Martha attended and Custis was a vestryman.[7][8] Custis' father John disapproved of the relationship but eventually relented. After a two year courtship, Custis and Dandridge were married on May 15, 1750.[7] The couple lived at Custis' plantation called the White House in New Kent County, Virginia.[6]

They had four children:[9]

  • Daniel Parke Custis, Jr. (November 19, 1751 – February 19, 1754)
  • Frances Parke Custis (April 12, 1753 – April 1, 1757)
  • John Parke "Jacky" Custis (November 27, 1754 – November 5, 1781)
  • Martha Parke "Patsy" Custis (1756 – June 19, 1773)

Death and estate[edit]

Custis died on July 8, 1757 in New Kent County, Virginia, most likely of a heart attack.[10][11] He is buried in the graveyard of the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia next to the two children he had with his wife, Daniel, Jr. and Frances Parke Custis.[12]

Two years after his death, on January 6, 1759, his widow Martha married George Washington.[7]


As Custis died intestate, his widow Martha received the lifetime use of one-third of his property ("dower share"), while the other two-thirds was held in trust for their children. The January 1759 Custis Estate inventory listed 285 enslaved Africans.[13] The October 1759 Custis Estate inventory listed 17,779 acres (71.95 km2), or 27.78 square miles of land, spread over 5 counties.[14]

Upon Martha Custis's marriage to George Washington in 1759, her "dower share" came under his control, pursuant to the common law doctrine of seisin jure uxoris. He became guardian of her two minor children, and administrator of the Custis Estate. John Parke Custis was the only child to reach his majority, upon which he inherited the non-dower two-thirds of his father's Estate. Upon George Washington's death on December 14, 1799 , the "dower share" reverted Martha. When she died on May 22, 1802, her share reverted to the Custis Estate. Because of Martha Washington's "dower share," the Custis Estate could not be liquidated for more than 45 years. Following her death, the "dower share" was divided between John Parke Custis's widow, Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart, and their four children.

Dower slaves[edit]

In 1759, Martha Washington's "dower share" included at least 85 slaves.[15] By 1799, according to the Mount Vernon slave census, the "dower share" included 153 slaves. Through a provision in his Will, Washington directed that his 124 slaves be freed following his wife's death.[16] But, at her request, they were freed on January 1, 1801. Because the "dower slaves" were part of the Custis Estate, Martha Washington never had the legal power to free them. In her will, she made Elisha, the one slave that she owned herself, a bequest to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis.


  1. ^ Welsh Harrison, William (1910). Harrison, Waples and Allied Families: Being the Ancestry Of George Leib Harrison Of Philadelphia and Of His Wife Sarah Ann Waples. p. 98. 
  2. ^ Watson, Robert P. (2012). Affairs of State: The Untold History of Presidential Love, Sex, and Scandal, 1789-1900. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 97. ISBN 1-442-21834-7. 
  3. ^ Knight, Thomas Daniel. "Daniel Parke (1669–1710)". encyclopediavirginia.org. Retrieved December 1, 2014. 
  4. ^ Watson 2012 pp.96-97
  5. ^ Bryan, Helen (2012). Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty. John Wiley & Sons. p. 62. ISBN 0-471-21298-9. 
  6. ^ a b Gould, Lewis L., ed. (2014). American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 1-135-31148-X. 
  7. ^ a b c Schneider, Dorothy; Schneider, Carl J. (2010). First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary. Infobase Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 1-438-12750-2. 
  8. ^ McKenney, Janice E. (2012). Women of the Constitution: Wives of the Signers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 184. ISBN 0-810-88498-4. 
  9. ^ Watson 2012 p.102
  10. ^ Wiencek, Henry (2013). An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. Macmillan. p. 67. ISBN 1-466-85659-9. 
  11. ^ Freeman, Douglas Southall; Carroll, John Alexander; Wells Ashworth, Mary (1948). George Washington: Young Washington. C. Scribner's Sons. p. 299. 
  12. ^ "Tombstone of Daniel Parke Custis, Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg". marthawashington.us. Retrieved December 1, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Complete Inventory, by Counties, of the Estate", in Joseph E. Fields, Worthy Partner: The Papers of Martha Washington (Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 61-75.
  14. ^ "Account of Land and Acreage, Estate of Daniel Parke Custis", in Worthy Partner, pp. 103-04. This land inventory was incomplete, not listing Custis lots in Jamestown and Williamsburg.
  15. ^ The number is imprecise because the January 1759 Custis Estate inventory listed some enslaved mothers "with children," but didn't specify the number of children.
  16. ^ Washington's private letters indicate a plan to rent out the dower slaves to other plantations, with the income going toward purchasing them from the Custis Estate, and ultimately freeing them. This would have required the approval of all the Custis heirs to succeed, but it is not known why it was never implemented. See George Washington to Dr. David Stuart, February 7, 1796.