George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jonathan Boucher, 8 April 1773

From Jonathan Boucher

Prince George’s County [Md.] 8th Apl 1773.

Dear Sir

I hardly remember ever to have been more surpris’d, than I was a few days ago, on being informed by the Governor of the Engagement that had taken Place between Mr Custis, & Miss Nelly Calvert; and, I beg Leave to assure You, on my Word & Honour, that, never till that moment, had I the most distant Suspicion of any such Thing’s being in Agitation. It gives Me great Uneasiness to learn, from the same Authority, that You think Me, in some measure, to blame. To this, I can only reply, that, if I have err’d, the Error was of the Head, & not of the Heart. Mr Custis will do Me the Justice to own, that I have repeatedly warn’d Him of the Hazard every Man must necessarily run, who precipitates Himself into so important an Attachment, ere the Judgement be fully matured. He has Reason to be thankful, that He runs as little as any One can. The peculiar & extraordinary Merits of the Lady He fortunately, has singled out to place his Affections on, assure Me He never will have Cause to repent it, from Her: I wish, I cou’d be half so sure, that his own future Conduct & altered opinions, may never tempt Him to wish, that He had let it alone, a little longer.

You will remember, I always thought, that He was enamoured of Miss Betsey;1 tho’ even in that, I suspected not, that there was any Likelihood of its becoming so serious, without my first knowing more of it. Why, He has carried it so far, without ever deigning to pay Me that common Compliment, which, I think, my Friendship for Him well entitled Me to, He best can tell: I will not, however, impute it to a worse Cause than a false Shame. If He had consulted Me, He would have found Me in that, as I hope, He has, in other Things, candid & indulgent. But, when I recollect, that He neglected also to inform You, I forbear my Murmurings, asham’d to insist too much on a Breach of Friendship, with your Example before Me, who have Forgiven a Breach of Duty.

I beg You to recall to your Mind, what my Conduct has been in other Instances respecting this young Gentleman: and I am sure You will do Me the Justice to own, that my not having advertis’d You of This also, has been owing solely to my not knowing it, myself. However infatuated I may have been in my political Pursuits, I wou’d not have been wanting in so essential an Instance of Duty. I therefore, will hope, that, You will not continue to judge harshly of my Negligence, in as much as I again assure You, that, if I have been to blame, I have been so unintentionally.

I shou’d belie my real Opinion, were I not to say, that, I think, it had been better for Mr Custis not to have engag’d Himself: but, since This could not be, I should hardly belie it less, not to own, that I think He cou’d nowhere have enter’d into a more prudent Engagement. Miss Nelly Calvert has Merit enough to fix Him, if any Woman can: and I do, from the fullness of a warm Heart, most cordially congratulate his Mother & Yourself, as well as Him, on the Happiness of his having made this most pleasing of all Connexions, with this the most amiable young Woman I have almost ever known. I know Her well, and can truly say, She is all that the fondest Parent can wish for a darling child. Warmed with the Ideas of her Merit, I can almost persuade myself to believe, that the Advantages which may be derivd to his Morals from this Engagement, rash as it has been, are enough to compensate for the ill Influence it may be supposed to have on his intellectual Pursuits. There is a Generosity, a Fortitude, a Manliness & Elevation of Mind, which such true Gallantry inspires, that is not so easily otherwise taught. As I will not suffer myself to think, but for a Moment, that He will ever be wanting in Honour or Integrity, so as to tempt Him to shrink from an honourable Engagement, I trust, He will also consider Himself as not less bound in Honour, to avoid all those sordid & less noble Pursuits, which wou’d debase, & render Him unworthy of Her. Nay, I trust, that He will find Himself enabled to collect the dissipated Powers of his Mind, & apply with Earnestness to his Studies, which, it seems, He now confesses, He has not been able to do these twelve months, owing to the Impression of this Passion. Upon the whole, it appears to Me, considering his Temper & Situation, that his Friends have rather Reason to rejoice, than be uneasy, at this Engagement.

I enclose You a Letter from Dr Cooper, which, I assure myself, will not be displeasing to You. He is a Man of True Merit, in every Sense of the Word; and You may safely depend on his doing every thing becoming such a Man.2 You see, You have all this & the next Month before You: He shou’d be there, before their Commencement in June, that He may not lose a Term And, as his Friend & old Companion Carr, has some thoughts of accompanying Him thither, on the same Errand, I will be obliged to You, if without Inconvenience to Yourself, You can give Him three weeks or a Month, to consult his Friends, & get ready.3

I am told, You have Business to our Provincial Court, the next week; I hope to see You either agoing, or returning. The Govr, Mr Calvert, the chief Justice, & Mr Dulany dine here on Monday: shou’d You set out on that Day, You know, You can be here in Time to Dinner.4 I am, most truly & cordially, Dr sir, Yr most obedt Hble servt

Jonan Boucher


1“Miss Betsey” is probably Elizabeth Calvert, eldest daughter of Benedict Calvert.

2Cooper’s letter to Boucher is dated 22 Mar. 1773, although it is dated 1770 in the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress and in Hamilton, Letters to Washington description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed. Letters to Washington and Accompanying Papers. 5 vols. Boston and New York, 1898–1902. description ends , 4:5–8. Cooper’s threes look very much like zeros. The letter, dated from King’s College, reads: “My dear Sir, I hold myself much obliged to you for good Will, as well as good Offices, towards this College, as instanced in your Conduct respecting Mr Custis: and I am under still weightier Obligation, when I consider your very friendly Suspension of Belief, with Regard to some Reports, which, You tell me, have been circulated in your Parts to our prejudice. I am conscious that we have Enemies in Abundance—that every Dissenter of high principles, upon the Continent is our Enemy—that many of their Missionaries, from the northern into the southern provinces, make it their Business, nay, have it in Charge from their Masters, to decry this Institution by all possible Means; because they are convinced, from its very Constitution—(being in the Hands only of Churchmen, which is very far indeed from being the Case of any other College to the northward of Virginia—and I know of none to the southward of it—they are convinced) that it must eventually prove one of the firmest Supports to the Church of England in America.

“Hence there arose an Opposition coeval with the College itself—or, rather, with the very first Mention of an Institution so circumstanced; which hath been continued, without Interruption, to this very Day, with much Resentment, Inveteracy and Malice. The College of New-Jersey—and those of New-England—were already in their own sole Direction and yet they could not be satisfied that the poor Church should have any Influence in one: not that Dissenters of any Denomination are excluded from either Learning or Teaching; nay, we have educated many and have several at this very Time, who do Honour both to us and themselves.

“However, oweing either to the very Opposition, or to our own Care & Circumspection, which may perhaps, have arisen from the former, our Numbers yearly increase, and our present Apartments overflow. It would ill become any one, to boast of the Advantages enjoy’d by a Seminary over which he himself presides; but I will venture to affirm that, with Respect to Discipline (which, it seems, is one heavy Accusation exhibited against us,) we are far from being outdone by any College on the American Continent: and I know of none in Europe, to which in this Article we are really inferior. Add to this, that the Expence—however such things may be magnified by our Adversaries, is not half so much as at any of the latter; and, I believe very little, if at all, more, than at most of the former. Our Tuition is only five pounds—one Dolr passing for 8 Shillings—New York Currency; Room-rent four; and Board, including Breakfast, Dinner and Supper, at the Rate of eleven Shillings a week, for the Time each Student is actually in College. These, (saving Firewood, Candles & Washing which must be had every where) are the principal Expences, indeed almost the only ones, of the truly Collegiate Kind. Others indeed, may run higher—as in Dress, and sometimes in Company, than they do at Colleges in the Country; tho’ even These will not be materially different to a Student of real Gentility: For such a one will chuse to appear handsomely-habited in all Situations; and when he does go into Company, he will chuse the best for his Associates.

“With Regard to our plan of Education, it is copied, in the most material parts, from Queen’s College in Oxford; with the wh⟨mutilated⟩ System of which, (having been for many Years both Learner and ⟨illegible⟩ in that Seminary, with the Character of which You are by no Means unacquainted;) I looked upon myself as perfectly familiar.

“The young Gentleman’s Guardian may rely on every Thing in my Power for his Ward’s Emolument: but as to my turning private Tutor as it were—it seems to me so inconsistent with my Office (whatever others in my Situation may think fit) that I must beg to be excused. But I repeat—That I will shew Mr Custis every Mark of Care & Attention, and see that his other Teachers shall do the same.

“I have only to add, that I wish he may be here in June, as we do not enter pupils when absent—that I beg my best Respects to Coll Washington, whom I shall be exceedingly happy to wait upon in New-York (yourself, I hope, in Company)—and that I am, Dr Sr yr affte Friend and very obedt Servant &c. M. Cooper.” The postscript says: “I hope you will have patience with me, at present I suffer much by a severe fit of the Gravel.”

3Overton Carr did not accompany GW and John Parke Custis to New York in May.

4GW and Custis arrived at Boucher’s on Monday, 12 April, in time to dine and lodge “at Mr. Bouchers with Govr. Eden & others” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:172). For references to GW’s suit against Daniel Jenifer Adams in the Maryland provincial court, see Robert Hanson Harrison to GW, 12 Feb. 1773 and note 2 of that document.

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