Martha Washington was fiercely devoted to her family. You can learn more about her first marriage and children here. Every letter I’ve read written by her to family members included her love and advice and guidance. She was known for sending little gifts with her letters, showing she thought about and cared for the recipient. While she didn’t have children with George, many people do not know that she had four children with her first husband, Daniel Custis.
Their first child was Daniel Parke Custis II who was born November 19, 1751 at White House Plantation upriver from Chestnut Grove on the Pamunkey. I can only imagine the worry Martha must have felt her first time with child. I imagine she summoned her mother and sisters as well as a midwife to assist with the delivery. Did she shoo Daniel out to wait downstairs? Probably, that being typical of the times, but we don’t know for certain.
Child number two was Frances Parke Custis who was born April 12, 1753 at the home plantation. While still a worrisome time, depending on how the first birth had gone, perhaps she wasn’t quite as worried. There’s no record, of course, of how easy or difficult the birth may have been.
Sadly, Daniel and Martha’s first born son, Daniel II, died on February 19, 1754. At under two-and-a-half years old, his death must have hit home with his parents. Even though deaths were a part of the fabric of life, losing your first child would have to be devastating. I don’t know the cause of death for him, but given the time of year, perhaps a virus or flu?
Next came John “Jacky” Parke Custis on November 27, 1754. Nine months after little Daniel had been buried. Martha now has an infant and a toddler to occupy her hands and time.
Finally, Martha “Patcy” Parke Custis was born sometime in 1756. I haven’t found anywhere that cites a month and day, not even at the Mount Vernon link above. Knowing how Martha felt about her family later in life, I imagine she was proud of her little brood. Three healthy, happy children (I presume) to call her mother and for her to dote on. However, later analysis suggests that this birth wasn’t an easy one which may have left Martha unable to bear more children. However, there is no evidence one way or the other.
(By the way, Daniel’s father, John Custis, put in his will that every descendent had to have “Parke” in their name in order to inherit anything from his estate. He was a crusty, angry, bitter man…)
But the following year, 1757, brought tragedy to Martha’s doorstep. First, little Frances died suddenly in April. My resources don’t include the cause of death, but I can feel for Martha. Two of her four children were now buried at the Queens Creek cemetery beside their grandmother Frances Custis. At least Martha still had her other two children living.
In June, possibly wishing to preserve the likeness of his remaining family, Daniel insisted on having the family portraits painted by the itinerant English Painter John Wollaston. His foresight ensured that Martha would have images to remember her husband and two of four children.
But by July, one month later, little Jacky became seriously ill and Daniel sent to Williamsburg for medicine. Soon, Daniel was also struck with a serious illness and took to his bed, from which he continued to manage the business of the plantation. This time Martha sent for medicine, but it did no good. Daniel died July 8, possibly of a heart condition, but it’s not clear.
What about little Jacky? He stayed in bed while they buried his father at Queens Creek on July 12. Dr. Carter stayed at the plantation after Daniel’s death to tend to Jacky, and slowly the boy recovered by the end of July. After all the strain, Martha herself had to ask for the doctor’s help in August. Can you blame her?
Martha was left the mistress and manager of thousands of acres of property and all of the buildings and people that occupied it. She also had two young children to raise and provide for. She managed the property with some guidance from her brother, Bartholomew, who was a lawyer in Williamsburg, but she ordered goods from her factors in London and oversaw the daily operation of the entire plantation. She was quite a remarkable lady.
Remember that I’m throwing her a birthday party and you’re invited!
The party will take place on Sunday, May 31, 3-4 pm CDT, a few days before the actual date of her birth. I’m inviting all of you to join in virtually from your own computer or device, too. We’ll each put a single birthday candle in a baked good (cake, cupcake, cookie, brownie, etc.) or other dessert. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday” to Martha Washington and by extension her story, Becoming Lady Washington, which will release on June 2. Then we’ll blow out the candles and I’ll read an excerpt from the book and answer any of your burning questions about her life or my writing and research.
How will it work? After you RSVP here, the week of the party I’ll send out a newsletter to only the party guests with the party favors and the Zoom meeting invitation link. You can dress up in period costume (like me?) if you’d like, or just wear a party hat for the occasion. You might really get into the spirit and decorate a bit for a birthday party, too. I’m going to see what decorations I can scare up here. If you’re interested in attending the party, be sure to RSVP or you won’t receive the party invite! (Yes, it will sign you up for a newsletter, but only one time so I can send you the information. Then that group of subscribers will be deleted. Promise!)
Thanks for reading! I hope to “see” you at the party!
P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!
Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
Available for preorders now! Releases June 2, 2020…
Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband…no matter what the dangerous future may hold.