John Parke Custis

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John Parke Custis
Born November 27, 1754
White House, New Kent County, Virginia
Died November 5, 1781(1781-11-05) (aged 26)
Eltham, New Kent County, Virginia
Cause of death
Revolutionary War
Resting place
Queen's Creek
Nationality American
Occupation Planter
Spouse(s) Eleanor Calvert
Children Elizabeth Parke Custis Law
Martha Parke Custis Peter
Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis
George Washington Parke Custis
Parents Daniel Parke Custis
Martha Washington

John Parke Custis (27 November 1754 – 5 November 1781) was a Virginia planter, the son of Martha Washington and stepson of George Washington.


The son of Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy planter, and Martha Dandridge Custis, he was most likely born at White House, his parents' plantation on the Pamunkey River in New Kent County, Virginia.[1][2]

Following his father's death in 1757, almost 18,000 acres (73 km²) of land and about 285 enslaved Africans were held in trust for him.[1] In January 1759, his mother married George Washington. The Washingtons then raised him and his younger sister Martha (Patsy) Parke Custis (1756–1773) at Mount Vernon.[2] Washington became his legal guardian, and administrator of the Custis Estate. Upon his sister's death in 1773 at the age of seventeen, Custis became the sole heir of the Custis estate.[2] Jacky also was a lazy, difficult and "free-willed" child. He took little to no interest in his studies.


In 1773, at the age of eighteen, "Jacky", as he was known by his family, announced to the Washingtons his engagement to Eleanor Calvert, a daughter of Benedict Swingate Calvert and granddaughter of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore.[2] George and Martha were greatly surprised by the marriage choice due to the couple's youth.[2][3] During that year, Custis began to attend King's College (later Columbia University) in New York City, but left soon afterwards when his sister died.[2]

On February 3, 1774, Custis married Eleanor at her family's home at the Mount Airy estate, whose restored mansion is now in Rosaryville State Park in Prince George's County, Maryland.[2][4][5] After their marriage, the couple settled at the White House plantation.[2] After the couple had lived at the White House for more than two years, John Parke Custis purchased the Abingdon plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia (now in Arlington County, Virginia), into which the couple settled during the winter of 1778-1779.[2][6]

According to one account, Custis served on Washington's staff during the Siege of Boston in 1775-1776 and served as an emissary to the British forces there.[7] He became the friend of a young British officer who gave him a weeping willow (Salix babylonica) twig that he planted at Abingdon.[7] The tree that grew from the twig reportedly became the parent of all weeping willows in the United States.[7]

In 1778, Custis was elected to the Virginia General Assembly as a delegate from Fairfax County.[8] Washington was apparently not pleased with Custis' reported performance in the legislature. Washington wrote to Custis: “I do not suppose that so young a senator as you are, so little versed in political disquisition, can yet have much influence in a popular assembly, composed of various talents and different views, but it is in your power to be punctual in attendance.”[9]

The terms of Abingdon's purchase were extremely unfavorable to Custis. His behavior in this and other matters prompted Washington to write: "I am afraid Jack Custis, in spite of all of the admonition and advice I gave him about selling faster than he brought, is making a ruinous hand of his Estate."[2] By 1781, the financial strains of the Abingdon purchase had almost bankrupted Custis.[2]

John and Eleanor had seven children, four of whom lived to maturity:[1][2]


Custis served as a civilian aide-de-camp to Washington during the siege of Yorktown. However, Custis contracted "camp fever" there.[2] Shortly after the surrender of Cornwallis, Custis died on November 5, 1781, in New Kent County at Eltham, the home of Colonel and Mrs. Burwell Bassett, brother-in-law and sister of Martha Washington.[1][2] He was buried at his family's plot near Queen's Creek in York County, near Williamsburg, Virginia.[1][2]

With Custis's premature death at age 26, his widow left their two youngest children (Eleanor and George) at Mount Vernon to be raised by the Washingtons.[2] In 1783, she married Dr. David Stuart of Alexandria, Virginia, with whom she had 16 more children.[10]

Custis died intestate, so his estate was not fully liquidated until the 1811 death of his widow; his four children inherited more than 600 slaves.

Part of the Abingdon estate is now on the grounds of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport[6] At the time that he purchased Abingdon, Custis also bought a nearby property that after his death became the Arlington Plantation and later, Arlington National Cemetery[6]



  1. ^ a b c d e John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998- ), 3:639-640. ISBN 0-88490-206-4
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Yates, Bernice-Marie (2003). The Perfect Gentleman: The Life and Letters of George Washington Custis Lee. Fairfax, Virginia: Xulon Press. pp. 34–39. ISBN 1-59160-451-6. Retrieved 2011-06-27. 
  3. ^ Helen Bryan (2002). Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  4. ^ Maryland Historical Society. ""Mount Airy" marker".  in Robby, F (2008-06-17). "Mount Airy". The Historical Marker Database.  Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  5. ^ Maryland Historical Society. Maryland Historical Magazine, p. 389.
  6. ^ a b c Templeman, Eleanor Lee (1959). Arlington Heritage: Vignettes of a Virginia County. New York: Avenel Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc. pp. 12–13. 
  7. ^ a b c Lossing, Benson J. (1881-02-22). "The Weeping-Willow". Harper's Young People: an Illustrated History (New York: Harper & Brothers) 2 (69): 259–260. Retrieved 2011-05-06. 
  8. ^ Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. (2002). "Custis, John Parke ("Jacky"; 1754-1781)". George Washington: A Biographical Companion. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc. pp. 67–70. ISBN 1-57607-082-4. 
  9. ^ "Site of Abingdon Plantation House - History Alexandria Virginia". Norglobe, Inc. 2008-06-10. Retrieved 2011-06-24.  Adapted by localKicks from Madison, Robert L. (2003). Walking with Washington: walking tours of Alexandria, Virginia; featuring over 100 sites associated with George Washington. Alexandria, Virginia: Gateway Press. 
  10. ^ Johnson, R. Winder (1905). The Ancestry of Rosalie Morris Johnson: Daughter of George Calvert Morris and Elizabeth Kuhn, his wife. Ferris & Leach. p. 30. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 


  • Frank E. Grizzard Jr. George Washington: A Biographical Companion (2002), pages 67–70.