John Parke Custis
|John Parke Custis|
|Born||November 27, 1754
White House, New Kent County, Virginia
|Died||November 5, 1781
Eltham, New Kent County, Virginia
|Cause of death||Revolutionary War|
|Resting place||Queen's Creek|
|Children||Elizabeth Parke Custis Law
Martha Parke Custis Peter
Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis
George Washington Parke Custis
|Parent(s)||Daniel Parke Custis
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.
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. 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. 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. Jacky was a troubled, lazy and "free-willed" child. He took no interest in his studies.
Family and works
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. George and Martha were greatly surprised by the marriage choice due to the couple's youth. 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.
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. After their marriage, the couple settled at the White House plantation. After the couple had lived at the White House for more than two years, 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.
The terms of Abingdon's purchase were extremely unfavorable to Custis. His eagerness and inexperience allowed Abingdon's owner, Robert Alexander, to take advantage of him in the transaction, which required Custis to pay the principal of the purchase and compound interest over a 24-year period. The compound interest on the £12,000 purchase price would require Custis to pay over £48,000 during the 24 years. To accomplish this, Custis would need to pay over £2,000 each year during the period of the agreement. When he learned of the terms of the purchase, George Washington informed Custis that "No Virginia Estate (except a few under the best management) can stand simple Interest how then can they bear compound Interest".
Custis' behavior in this and other matters prompted George Washington to write in 1778: "I am afraid Jack Custis, in spite of all of the admonition and advice I gave him about selling faster than he bought, is making a ruinous hand of his Estate." By 1781, the financial strains of the Abingdon purchase had almost bankrupted Custis.
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. He became the friend of a young British officer who gave him a weeping willow (Salix babylonica) twig that he planted at Abingdon. The tree that grew from the twig reportedly had become the parent of all weeping willows in the United States at the time of the account (1881).
In 1778, Custis was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses as a delegate from Fairfax County. George 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.”
- Elizabeth (Eliza) Parke Custis (1776–1831), married Thomas Law
- Martha Parke Custis (1777–1854), married Thomas Peter
- Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis (1779–1852) (born at Abingdon), married Lawrence Lewis
- George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857) (born at Mount Airy), married Mary Lee Fitzhugh.
Custis served as a civilian aide-de-camp to Washington during the siege of Yorktown. However, Custis contracted "camp fever" (epidemic typhus or a similar disease) while at Yorktown. 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. He was buried at his family's plot near Queen's Creek in York County, near Williamsburg, Virginia.
With Custis's premature death at age 26, his widow sent her two youngest children (Eleanor and George) to Mount Vernon to be raised by the Washingtons. In 1783, she married Dr. David Stuart of Alexandria, Virginia, with whom she had 16 more children.
Although Custis had become well-established at Abingdon, his financial matters were in a state of disarray due to his poor business judgement and wartime taxation. After his death in 1781, it took the administrators of the Custis Estate more than a decade to negotiate an end to the transaction through which Custis had purchased Abingdon. Because he died intestate, 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 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.
|Ancestors of John Parke Custis|
- John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998– ), 3:639–640. ISBN 0-88490-206-4
- 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. OCLC 54805966. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
- Helen Bryan (2002). Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- Maryland Historical Society. ""Mount Airy" marker". in Robby, F (2008-06-17). "Mount Airy". HMdb.org. The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- Maryland Historical Society. Maryland Historical Magazine, p. 389.
- Templeman, Eleanor Lee (1959). Arlington Heritage: Vignettes of a Virginia County. New York: Avenel Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc. pp. 12–13.
- Grizzard, p. 69.
- Washington, George (1939). Fizpatrick, John C., ed. The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799: Prepared under the direction of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission and published by authority of Congress. 13: October 1, 1778 – January 11, 1779. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. 408. OCLC 759772563. At Google Books.
- 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.
- Grizzard, p. 70.
- "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.
- 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.