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Daniel Parke Custis

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Daniel Parke Custis
Born(1711-10-15)October 15, 1711
York County, Virginia, British America
DiedJuly 8, 1757(1757-07-08) (aged 45)
New Kent County, Virginia, British America
Resting placeBruton Parish Episcopal Church Cemetery
Occupation(s)Planter and Politician
(m. 1750)
ChildrenDaniel Parke Custis Jr.
Frances Parke Custis
John Parke "Jacky" Custis
Martha "Patsy" Parke Custis
Parent(s)John Custis IV
Frances Parke Custis
RelativesDaniel Parke (maternal grandfather)

Daniel Parke Custis (October 15, 1711[1] – July 8, 1757) was an American planter and politician who was the first husband of Martha Dandridge. After his death, his widow, Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington, who later became the first president of the United States.

Early life and career[edit]

Custis was born in York County, Virginia, on October 15, 1711. He was one of two children of John Custis IV (1678–1749), a powerful member of Virginia's Governor's Council, and Frances Parke Custis. The Custis family was one of the wealthiest and most socially prominent of Virginia.[2] Custis's mother, Frances, was the daughter of Daniel Parke, a political enemy of the Custises.[3]

As Daniel Custis was the sole male heir in the Custis family, he inherited the Southern plantations owned by his father.[4] However, Custis did not choose to take a leading role in colonial Virginia politics.

Marriage and children[edit]

At the age of 37, Custis met 16-year-old Martha Dandridge at the St. Peter's Church where Martha attended and Custis was a vestryman.[5][6] Custis's 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's plantation called the White House in New Kent County, Virginia.[4]

They had four children:[8]


Custis died on July 8, 1757, in New Kent County, Virginia. Some historians state that he died of a heart attack,[9][10] but other sources state that Custis died from a severe throat infection.[11]

Custis is buried in the graveyard of the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia beside two of his children, Daniel Parke Custis, Jr., and Frances Parke Custis.[12] Eighteen months after Custis died, his widow Martha married George Washington on January 6, 1759.[5]


As Custis died intestate, or "without a will", his widow Martha received the lifetime use of one third of his property (known as a "dower share"),[13] and the other two thirds was held in trust for their children. The January 1759 Custis estate also included at least 85 slaves.[14] According to the Mount Vernon slave census, by 1799 the dower share included 153 slaves. The October 1759 Custis estate inventory listed 17,779 acres (71.95 km2), or 27.78 square miles of land, spread over five counties.[15]

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 also 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 and slaves reverted to Martha. Through a provision in his will, Washington directed that his 124 slaves be freed following his wife's death.[16] As Washington stated in his will, he "earnestly wished" to free his own slaves at the time of his death but acknowledged that doing so would create "insuperable difficulties" because they had intermarried with Martha's "dower negroes," over whom he had no authority. He also believed that it would "excite the most painful sensations" and "disagreeable consequences" to attempt to separate them.[17]

Washington's slaves were not part of the Custis estate, and Martha had no legal power to free them or the dower slaves, but they were freed at her request on January 1, 1801. The principal reason that Martha gave for requesting that her husband's slaves be set free is that she was concerned about her personal safety. Washington's slaves, having found out that they would be free upon her death, were suspected of wanting to hasten her death. They were also perceived as being restive and were believed to have been the cause of several suspicious fires on the Mount Vernon estate.[18]

When Martha died on May 22, 1802, her dower share reverted to the Custis estate. Because of Martha Washington's dower share, the estate could not be liquidated for more than 45 years. Martha's dower share was eventually divided between John Parke Custis's widow, Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart, and their four children. Martha also bequeathed Elisha, the one slave she owned herself, 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 978-1-442-21834-5.
  3. ^ Brady, Patricia. "Daniel Parke Custis (1711–1757)". Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Gould, Lewis L., ed. (2014). American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-135-31148-3.
  5. ^ a b Schneider, Dorothy; Schneider, Carl J. (2010). First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary. Infobase Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-438-12750-7.
  6. ^ McKenney, Janice E. (2012). Women of the Constitution: Wives of the Signers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-810-88498-4.
  7. ^ Schneider 2010 p.10
  8. ^ Watson 2012 p.102
  9. ^ Wiencek, Henry (2013). An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. Macmillan. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-466-85659-2.
  10. ^ Freeman, Douglas Southall; Carroll, John Alexander; Wells Ashworth, Mary (1948). George Washington: Young Washington. C. Scribner's Sons. p. 299.
  11. ^ Brady, Patricia (December 7, 2020). "Daniel Parke Custis (1711–1757)". Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  12. ^ "Tombstone of Daniel Parke Custis, Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg". marthawashington.us. Archived from the original on December 16, 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  13. ^ Gigure, William A. (Spring 1954). "The Widow's Election to Take Against a Will". Marquette Law Review. Even if Custis had died testate, Martha, as his widow, could have elected against the will and taken her dower.
  14. ^ The number is imprecise because the January 1759 Custis Estate inventory listed some enslaved mothers "with children" but did not specify the number of children.
  15. ^ Account of Land and Acreage, Estate of Daniel Parke Custis. Worthy Partner. pp. 103–04. This land inventory was incomplete, not listing Custis lots in Jamestown and Williamsburg
  16. ^ "George Washington to Dr. David Stuart". February 7, 1796. Archived from the original on June 20, 2013. 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. That would have required the approval of all the Custis heirs to succeed, but it is not known why it was never implemented.
  17. ^ "Text of George Washington's Last Will and Testament".
  18. ^ "The 1790's". Archived from the original on October 29, 2009.

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