George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Parke Custis, 1 February 1778

To John Parke Custis

Valley-forge Feby 1st 1778

Dear Sir,

I will just write you a few lines in acknowledgment of your Letter of the 14th Ulto; which was detaind by the Posts not being able to cross Susquehanna, till the Evening before last. I congratualte you upon the birth of another daughter, & Nelly’s good health; & heartily wish the last may continue, & the other be a blessing to you.

The money received for your Land was, I think, well applied, unless you could have laid it out for other Lands, more convenient—which method I should have preferrd, as Land is the most Permanent Estate we can hold, & most likely to increase in its value. Your Mamma is not yet arrived, but if she left Mount Vernon on the 26th Ulto as intended, may, I think, be expected every hour—Mead set of yesterday (so soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her.1 We are in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided—for other matters, I shall refer you to the bearer, Colo. Fitzgerald, who can give you the occurrances of the Camp &ca better than can be related in a Letter. My best wishes attend Nelly & the little ones⟨, &⟩ with sincere regard I am & shall ever remain Dr Sir Yr Most Affecte

Go: Washington

ALS, ViHi: Custis Papers. GW addressed the letter to Custis at Mount Vernon and wrote “Favor’d by Colo. Fitzgerald” on the cover. Custis apparently had left Mount Vernon for Mount Airy, across the Potomac River in Prince Georges County, Md., by the time this letter arrived. Benjamin Dulany of Shuter’s Hill near Alexandria, Va., and a Mr. Smith, apparently Edward Smith (1752–1826) who managed the Herbert & Co. fishery at Clifton’s Neck (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:173), took responsibility for forwarding the letter to Custis. Dulany wrote on the cover: “Mr B. Dulany desires that Mr Smith wou’d send this Letter by the first safe opportunity to Mr Calverts.” Custis’s father-in-law, Benedict Calvert, lived at Mount Airy, from where Custis wrote GW on 12 February.

1Martha Washington left Mount Vernon in late January, traveling by way of Baltimore to Valley Forge where her arrival was much anticipated. A few days before her arrival, GW ordered his aide Richard Kidder Meade to meet Martha and escort her to camp; for this purpose Caleb Gibbs provided him with $130 for expenses. On 1–2 Feb., Meade spent $8 on “Beer[,] Supper, Breakfast on the 2d & Horses” and “Dinners,” and on 3–4 Feb. he spent $12 “at the Ferry for Suppers Breakfasts Dinners & Horses,” returning the remainder of the money to Gibbs on his arrival back at Valley Forge (vouchers and receipted accounts, 1776–80, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 29; Gibbs recorded an expenditure of £7.10 “To Cash paid Colo. Meade when to meet Mrs Washington as ⅌ bill” in the daily expense accounts for 7 Feb. [household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28]). On 5 Feb., Nathanael Greene wrote Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall that “Mrs Washington arrivd in Camp this evening” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 2:276).

A severe food shortage was just beginning to take hold at Valley Forge when Mrs. Washington arrived, but she had little to say about the privations in a letter she wrote to Mercy Otis Warren on 7 Mar.: “I came to this place about the first of February whare I found the General very well—I left my Children at our House . . . The General is camped in what is called the great Valley on the Banks of the Schuykill officers and men are chiefly in Hutts, which they say is tolarable comfortable; the army are as healthy as can well be expected in general—the Generals appartment is very small he has had a log cabben built to dine in which has made our quarter much more tolarable than they were at first” (MHi). Benson J. Lossing provided further details on the log-cabin annex in what he claimed was a letter written by Martha in March 1778: “The general’s head-quarters have been made more tolerable by the addition of a log-cabin to the house, built to dine in. The apartment for business is only about sixteen feet square, and has a large fireplace. The house is built of stone. The walls are very thick, and below a deep east window, out of which the general can look upon the encampment, he had a box made, which appears as a part of the casement, with a blind trap-door at top, in which he keeps his valuable papers.” In 1848 Lossing visited GW’s former headquarters in what had been the home of Isaac Potts, noting the “window depository” and making a sketch of the house and cabin (Lossing, Mary and Martha description begins Benson J. Lossing. Mary and Martha: The Mother and the Wife of George Washington. New York, 1886. description ends , 171–72). For more on GW’s quarters at Valley Forge, see General Orders, 20 Dec. 1777, n.1.

Before and during her stay at Valley Forge, Martha Washington was involved in another project that GW earlier had declared must be deferred until such time as “I am remov’d from the busy Scenes of a Camp, & ought to be at a time when the Mind is not bent down with care” (GW to Samuel Washington, 15 Mar. 1777). The project was the painting of GW’s portrait. For that purpose artist Charles Willson Peale had left Philadelphia for GW’s headquarters on 18 June 1777, but although Peale managed to sketch the general near Quibbletown, N.J., on 26 June, he was forced to return home after a few days without making a proper portrait. On 28 Sept., ironically during a busy time shortly before the Battle of Germantown, Peale finally obtained a sitting for a portrait of GW from life at Samuel Pennypacker’s house at Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. By 11 Dec., Peale was working on a miniature of GW that he completed five days later; immediately afterwards he began work on a copy that he finished on 8 Jan. 1778. On 11 Jan. he started on a wax bust of GW. Peale went to Valley Forge again in the following month, and while there on 16 Feb. he delivered a “Pictur” of GW to Martha, charging her $56; on 24 Mar. he gave her “2 miniatures,” and a few days later he began other miniatures of GW and Mrs. Washington (Miller, Peale Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller, ed. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 5 vols. New Haven, 1983–2000. description ends , 1:230, 236–37, 246, 258–59, 263–64, 266, 271); see the frontispiece.

Peale was not the only artist working on a rendition of GW at this time. On 3 Mar., Henry Laurens wrote his son John that “In my last dispatches [presumably when he sent his letter of 1 Mar. to GW] I forwarded a miniature of the General to Mrs Washington, from Majr Rodgers which he packeted in my presence & requested my care of. . . . The Major says the General has a remarkable dead Eye—this did not strike me in either of the three or four times when I saw him once I had as good a view as Candle Light could afford & I am seldom deficient in such strictures” (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:505). John Laurens replied to his father on 9 Mar. that “Mrs Washington has received the Miniature, and wishes to know whether Major Rogers is still at York—the defects of this Portrait I think are that the visage is too long, and old age is too strongly marked in it—he is not altogether mistaken with respect to the Languor of the Generals Eye—for altho’ his Countenance when affected either by Joy or Anger is full of expression—yet when the Muscles are in a state of repose, his eye certainly wants animation” (ibid., 533). Nicholas Rogers (1753–1822) painted a “ring Size” portrait of Mrs. Washington in Elizabethan “Ruff and Hood” in 1779, an effort of which GW apparently approved (see Rogers to GW, 6 May, and GW to Rogers, 28 May 1779, both in DLC:GW; for more on Rogers, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:31–32).

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