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To George Washington from John Parke Custis, 8 August 1777

From John Parke Custis

Williamsburg [Va.] August 8th 17771

Hond Sir,

I do with the most unfeigned Pleasure congratulate You on Your Success in the Jerseys, over our Enemy. We are now anxious to know where these disturbers of our Peace will next bend their Course; but rest satisfied, that, at Your Approach, the Plunderers will quite any Part of the Country they may have seized upon, with the sam⟨e⟩ Disgrace they left the Jerseys.

You will no doubt be surprized to hear of the Acquital of Davis and his Accomplices, It has indeed astonish’d every One here,2 except the Judges, & the Lawyers who defended the Criminals, I was present at the Trial, and was clearly satisfied from the Evidence that Davis was guilty, the Jury brought in the Verdict to that Purpose; But Mr attorney having omitted to mention who the Enemys of America were, altho he accused Davis of [a]ddhearring to the Enemys of America, the Lawyers took hold of the Quibble, and perswaded the Judges to overset the Verdict. It is now determined that releaseing Prisoners of War, from their Place of confinement, is not Treason against the State, this Judgement in my Opinion does not reflect much honour, on the Talents of our Judges, and indeed it is much to be lamented, that our Assembly might have made a much better appointment, and did not do It. Their Decision I am afraid will be productive of much Injury, for no Tory or Prisoner of War can be kept in this State, as those who set Them at Liberty, are subject to no Penalty, Davis was not admitted as an Evidence, on account of his having been a Convict, and not having served his seven Years, for the Lawyers made this Quibble, that no Man can be an Evidence, unless he served the whole Time of his Conviction, Your kindness to Davis in giving Him two Years of his Time, had well nigh cost Him his Life in this Instance, and prevented him from bearing Testimony against two as great Villains as Himself.

I have the Pleasure to acquaint You that the Test is generally taken through the Country, few or none hesitateing to take It. I wish our Assembly had laid a Tax at the same Time they made the Test. I am convinced there would have been as little objection to the One as the other, but unfortunately for Us our Rulers like other Men cannot divest Themselves, of their Attachment to their private Gain, many of them being guilty of the Crime, they ought to punish in others, their whole Aim being to get immense Fortunes, which some have succeeded in. When at Philadela I thought nothing could exceed the Price of Goods at that Place, but I am soary that I have found good reason to change my Opinion, our Country is crouded with Harpies from Maryland, & Pensylvania, who buy up every Article, and retail them out again at the most intolerable Price, distressing the Poor at a cruel degree. Our Assembly provided No thing against this Evil, which We must submit to without any Hopes of redress, until October, unless the People fall upon Means to redress Themselves, which I fear, they will, from the great Want of Salt which these Devils have engross’d.

I am Happy to inform You that Your People at Devenport’s are recovered from their Sickness, They have had a dreadful Fever among Them3—which has at last subsided, You have a Prospect of a very Plentiful Crop this Year, which is the Same through the Country, I have heard some Old Gentlemen say, that do not remember such Prospects of a Crop, these twenty Years past. there has been more rain Since Havest, then I ever remember to have seen fall at this Season of the Year, We shall have plenty if not Peace this Year, but I hope to enjoy both before this Time twelvemonths.

I shall always acknowledge with Pleasure, the many Favours & Kindnesses I have received at your Hands, and shall always gladly do every thing to make You some return; I must now beg of You Sir to accept as an Instance of Gratitude in Me, a Horse Colt, which was got by Delany’s Horse, out of a very fine High bred Mare, given Me by Mr Calvert I wish the Colt was older, as he would be more acceptable, he was foalded only in June, He is a dark Bay, with a Blaze in his Face, and as I am inform’d is a very Fine made Colt, and large—I must beg of You not to be scrupolous about accepting the Colt, as by doing It, You will much oblidge Me.4

Nelly joins Me in wishing You Health and Victory over the Enemy and am Hon’d Sir yr most Affecte

J. P. Custis

ALS, ViHi. The text in angle brackets is mutilated.

1Custis may have accompanied his mother to Williamsburg from Eltham, her sister’s home on the Pamunkey River, a few days before this date, when the following news item appeared in Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg): “Last Tuesday [5 Aug.], about 11 o’clock in the forenoon, arrived here, from the seat of Burwell Bassett, Esquire’s, in New Kent, Lady Washington, the amiable consort of his Excellency General Washington. Upon her arrival she was saluted with the fire of cannon and small arms, and was safely conducted to Mrs. [Elizabeth Churchill Bassett] Dawson’s in this city, and intends setting out for the northward in a few days” (see also Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, [Williamsburg], 8 Aug. 1777). Mrs. Dawson was Burwell Bassett’s mother. The welcome given to Martha Washington at Williamsburg may have been the culmination of plans to honor her that the Virginia general assembly began when it passed the following resolutions on 1 Aug. 1777:

Resolved unanimously, That the most respectful testimony be presented to her on the occasion, of the high sense this hall entertains of General Washington’s distinguished merit, as the illustrious defender and deliverer of his country.

Resolved unanimously, That a golden emblematical medal be prepared, to be presented to the general’s lady, as the most suitable method of carrying that design into execution; and that the mayor be desired to form the device, and agree with some proper persons to execute the same.

Resolved unanimously, That the freedom of this city be presented to General Washington through his lady, and that the mayor be desired to wait upon her with the same, and with a copy of these several resolutions” (Moore, Diary description begins Frank Moore. Diary of the American Revolution from Newspapers and Original Documents. 2 vols. New York, 1859–60. description ends , 1:477).

2Thomas Davis was appointed deputy adjutant of Col. Patrick Henry’s 1st Virginia Regiment in September 1775, with the rank of lieutenant. Purdie’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.) on 30 May 1777 printed an extract of a letter written at Philadelphia on 20 May that gives the charges against Davis: “On Wednesday [28 May] last Thomas Davis and some other persons were brought down and committed to the publick jail, being accused of facilitating the escape of some prisoners of war from Alexandria, and other treasonable practices.” On 30 May Williamsburg’s other newspaper, Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette, printed an account of the prisoners’ arrival at Williamsburg: “Wednesday Thomas Davis (late Adjutant Davis) and six other Tories and traitors, mounted in a waggon, under a proper guard, making a very decent appearance, passed down the street on their way to the public gaol, from Alexandria, where they are to remain for trial.” Custis’s ire apparently was provoked by a notice that appeared in Purdie’s paper on 8 Aug. 1777: “Thomas Davis from Fairfax, For treason, convicted, but discharged on a motion in arrest of judgment.”

3Joseph Davenport managed GW’s Bullskin plantation in Frederick County, Va., from 1765 until the late 1760s, when he became the manager of GW’s dower plantation on the Pamunkey River in King William County, called Claiborne’s.

4An entry in GW’s public accounts under 16 June 1777 indicates that GW previously had paid £333⅓ to Custis “for a riding Horse” (Accounts with U.S., 1775–83, 25).

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