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Encounters 3, Martha Custis

December 21, 2016

Patsy Dandridge was a pert and pretty teenager, but without a large dowry, her personal attributes might have been overlooked.

Daniel Parke Custis lived in New Kent County running one of his father’s plantations, down the river a few miles from Chestnut Grove, the smaller Dandridge plantation. He was an active dark haired man of average height, rather stout, with kind eyes. At age 37 to Patsy’s 17, he was a year younger than her mother. Patsy’s family knew him well, and their lives had crossed many times.

Daniel noticed the little girl becoming a lovely young woman, but there was a major obstacle. His father, a wealthy man, did not want to see him married, and certainly not to a Dandridge girl with a small dowry. He had managed to head off other wealthier girls his son had been courting, by threatening disinheritance. That had scared away the ladies.

After a courtship of three years, Patsy was not to be daunted. She managed to visit the old man, and to make an impression. A friend of Daniel’s intervened, and his father changed his mind, putting Daniel back in his will. He died shortly thereafter, several months before the wedding.

On May 15, 1750, Patsy Dandridge, nearly 19, married Daniel Custis, age 39, at her home in the parlor of Chestnut Grove. The couple moved to his home, White House, four miles away, but far away in wealth and power. Patsy Dandridge Custis was a wealthy woman with a social position. Daniel had inherited 18,000 acres of prime farmland, houses in Williamsburg and Jamestown, nearly 300 slaves, and several thousand pounds in English currency. Patsy brought him domestic happiness.

From England and France, Daniel purchased expensive items for their home and lavished gifts upon his wife. Daniel applied himself to business and managed his estates well. Patsy used her talents to manage the household. She treated the slaves well, but expected them to be loyal to her. Her home was attractive and busy. Visitors were welcome, well fed, and entertained. Inns were few and uncomfortable, so many guests stayed over on their way to Williamsburg or other cities.

In November, 1751, Patsy delivered a healthy baby boy they named Daniel Parke Custis for his father. She nursed him, but had a slave nursemaid give him a bath and tend to his daily needs. She enjoyed cuddling the sweet smelling infant, then handing him back to his attendant. His father was simply delighted by the infant.

They attended the social scene in Williamsburg, the theatre, balls, and entertainments the following year. In April, 1753, Patsy gave birth to Francis Parke Custis, but ten months later, two year old Daniel fell ill with a fever and died. Thereafter, Patsy developed a lifelong anxiety about her children, always fearful of losing them.

At about the time of the funeral, Patsy became pregnant, delivering John Parke Custis in the fall of 1754, and in 1756 she gave birth to Martha Parke Custis. At the same time her mother delivered her last child, a girl, Mary Dandridge.

There’s more –



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