George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Parke Custis, 15 July 1778

From John Parke Custis

New Kent [Va.] July 15th 78

Hond Sir

On my Return from Mt Vernon to this Place, I found the Packet, containing your Letter and Deed.1 I am much oblidged to you for the Trouble you have taken, to have a new Deed made out, from yourself to Me. It was the Method I proposed, but my Uncles Bassett and Dandridge thought it best, to have the Deed made from you to Henry; I shall be in no Hurry to have your Deed acknowledged, unless a good opportunity offers, as I hope, most sincerely, to see you in Virginia in Peace, long before the Time elapses.

I am happy in the thought, that my Plan of selling my Lands meets with your approbation, and I am thankful for your advice. I should most certainly have invested the Money ariseing from the Sales in the Funds, if the Purchase of Robert & Gerard Alexander’s Lands in Fairfax did not point out another Way. the Particulars of the Bargains you are probably acquainted with before now. the one with Robert, Besides the extravagancy of the Price, is a very disagreable one. Nothing could have induced Me to have given such Terms, but the unconquerable Desire I had, to live in the Neighbourhood of Mt Vernon, and in the County of Fairfax. I have agreed to give Him £12 per acre, and at the Experation of twenty four years, to pay Him the Principal with compound Interest. this is a hard and disagreable Article. I shall however guard against the Evil as much as possible, by investing the Sum in the Funds, for the particular Use of dischargeing this Debt. He cannot during the twenty four years, demand of Me a Farthing, either Principal or Interest. I have agreed to give Gerard £11 per acre, the Money to be paid at Christmas. the reason that induced Me to purchase his Land, was the advantage of having my Estate under my own Eye, and the probability of getting Phil’s, which I understand he wants to sell. if I should get his my Tract would be very complete, and good in Quality, Situated in a Part of the State where Lands will rise in Value, as much as in any other Part, or rather more.2 these Purchases have induced Me to think of selling all my Lands in this Part of the State, excepting my King William and N—Kent Tracts. these Tracts are better in Quality then any of my other Lands, and from their Situation, may be overlook’d by one Manager.3 my Estate on the Eastern Shore from Mismanagement, has not, I beleive cleared Me for the last three years £50 pr. Annum. my Hanover Land has been of no advantage to Me.4 my Land near Willmburg has by Hill’s liveing upon It, been more advantageous than any other, but that I am confident has not yeilded me the Interest of the Money it would now sell for.5 I should be glad to dispose of this Tract, as it will be very inconvenient for Me to hold it, and I shall be under the Necessity of buying Negroes and Horses at the very extravagant Price They now sell at. Hill has drawn the likeliest Negroes I own, to this Place, and still complains of the want of Hands; if I sell this Land, I shall have Negroes, Horses, Sheep, and Cattle to stock the two Plantations I propose reserving, and my Lands in Fairfax fully. the Expense of keeping this Plantation in culture, from the great Scarsity of Timber, the number of roads running through the Land, and the amazing Deal of Ditching necessary to inclose the Feilds, besides this the Necessity of keeping a Man, above the Rank of a common Overseer, at extraordinary Wages to overlook this Plantation, will render the Income less in Proportion, with equal Management, with this or the King William Estate. Hill by confineing Himself to that Plantation, left the Management of the other Plantations entirely to the Overseers, who neglected their Business shamefully. The Land near Willmsbg will now sell very high, as Money is as plenty and of as little Value as in any Part of the Continent. I should be very glad to dispose of It. if We could settle with regard to my Mother’s Dower, I shall willingly agree to any thing you shall propose, either to retain It, or dispose of it together with my Part of the Tract. My Mother says She shall willingly accede to any thing that shall be determined on between Us. I am confident that this Land will sell much higher at this Time than it will do for fifty years to come, as the Seat of Government will certainly be removed as soon as we have a Peace, and our Money will rise in Value.6 Lots in Willmsbg and Lands adjacent must fall greatly in Value—My Intentions are, after paying for the Lands above to put the remainder of the Money in the Funds for the Purpose of Building Me a House in Fairfax whenever I can do It conveniently.

Price Posey was at Davenport’s the Day before yesterday.7 He says that their is a promiseing Crop on the Ground, but is afraid it will suffer on Account of the Sickly Situation of the Negroes, their are several of the Best Hands now sick, one has been in a very low State for Some Time. I shall take the Liberty to direct Davenport to send him to my Quarter, in hopes the change of Air will recover Him. I shall cheerfully lend Davenport every assistance in recovering his People. He attributes their Sickness to the badness of the Water.

I do with the most heartfelt Pleasure congratulate you on the Victory you obtain’d over the Enemy on the Plains of Monmouth, and do sinc[e]rely wish you a continuance of Success. I also congratulate you on the appearance of a French Fleet on our Coast. They have drove on the Eastern an English Frigate of 28 Guns. the greatest Part of the Crew are Prisoners on the Eastern Shore. They have taken or sunk two others.8 this is the report, and I beleive it is true; I live in the most retired Part of the State, I seldom heare any thing. I did not hear of your Victory for some time after the Express went down—I have the Pleasure to inform you that my little Family are in tolerable Health. Nelly joins Me in wishing you every Blessing. I am Hond Sir yr most affecte

J.P. Custis

ALS, LNHiC: Butler Family Papers.

1See GW to Custis, 26 May. The deed was for the Pleasant Hill plantation in King and Queen County, which Custis was selling to James Henry (see Custis to GW, 14 Jan., and note 2 to that document; see also Henry to GW, 2 June 1784).

2For more on Custis’s purchase of land belonging to Gerard and Robert Alexander that lay along the Potomac River roughly where Reagan National Airport and Arlington National Cemetery are today, see Custis to GW, 11 May, and note 5 to that document. Philip Alexander (died c.1790), another brother, owned the middle section of the tract that the three had inherited from their father. For Robert Alexander’s memorandum of his agreement with Custis’s agent Robert Adam, dated 1 July, see ViFfCh: Fairfax County Land Records, Liber D, no. 4 (1861–1863).

3Custis’s lands, some of which he owned outright and others of which he was renting while they were in dower to Martha Washington, derived mostly from the estate of his father, Daniel Parke Custis, who died intestate in 1757 (see Settlement of the Daniel Parke Custis Estate, 20 April 1759–5 Nov. 1761, Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 6:201–315). The King William County lands were a dower plantation called Claiborne’s, consisting of 2,880 acres on the Pamunkey River above Eltham, and Romancoke, about 1,780 acres adjacent to Claiborne’s. The four plantations in New Kent County, totaling 6,264 acres, were Rockahock, on the Pamunkey River about five miles west of New Kent Court House; Brick House, near where the Pamunkey enters the York River; Old Quarter, below Rockahock; and Harlow’s. On 25 July, Custis advertised a New Kent plantation, probably Harlow’s: “Two thousand one hundred and eighty three acres of land lying in New Kent county, about three miles from Cumberland … will be exposed to sale on Thursday the 10th of September … for ready money, or loan office certificates” (Purdie’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 21 Aug.).

4The Custis lands on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, totaling 4,650 acres, were Smith Island, Mockhorn Island, and Arlington, all in the southern part of Northampton County. In October, Custis advertised them for sale (Purdie’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 16 Oct.). Custis owned about 1,000 acres in Hanover County, “twelve miles from Richmond, eight from Page’s, and eleven from Newcastle,” for which he scheduled a September auction (ibid., 21 Aug.).

5Custis’s land near Williamsburg included four plantations totaling about 3,074 acres on Queen’s Creek in York County. Ship Landing, Bridge Quarter, and the Mill, or New Quarter, were dower lands that Custis was renting, while Custis owned the Great House plantation unencumbered. Another 250-acre tract called Jackson’s Quarter was purchased for Custis by GW in 1771.

6In October, GW consented to the proposed sale of the dower lands (see GW to Custis, 12 Oct.; and deed of release to Custis, 12 Oct., photocopy at ViMtvL).

7In late 1778 or early 1779 Custis placed his childhood friend John Price Posey (d. 1788), a son of GW’s former neighbor Capt. John Posey, in charge of his plantations. For subsequent allegations of his mismanagement of Custis’s estate, see Bartholomew Dandridge to GW, 13 March 1784, and note 3; James Hill to GW, 24 Sept. 1786; GW to Posey, 12 Jan. 1787; and Posey to GW, 27 Jan. 1787. Joseph Davenport was manager of Claiborne’s.

8The Maryland Journal, and Baltimore Advertiser of 21 July reported: “The Mermaid British Man of War, of 28 Guns, commanded by James Hawker, Esq: … was lately chased ashore by Part of Count d’Estaing’s Fleet, near Chingoteague, where, it is expected, she will be entirely lost. The whole Ship’s Company are Prisoners on the Eastern Shore of this State.” This encounter took place on 7 July. On 5 and 6 July the Lydia had been sunk and the Rose captured.

Index Entries