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Encounters 4, Martha CustisG

January 10, 2017

We are encountering presidential ladies, the wives of our presidents, and they are a very interesting assortment of women. I cannot aspire to depicting the lives of 45 women, so please allow me to pick and choose. I’ve chosen the first and most remote in our long history to begin, Martha (called Patsy) Dandridge Custis Washington. (see Encounters 2 and 3)

Happily married to the now wealthy heir to the Custis estate, Daniel Parke Custis, Patsy is now applying her talents to her new home, a large plantation called White House, and her growing family.

A few months after the birth of her second child, Frances Parke Custis (Fanny) in 1753, Patsy’s little son, Daniel Parke Custis, died, probably of “swamp fever” or malaria. It was a heart wrenching time, but there was little time for grief. She soon became pregnant, and little John Parke Custis, called Jacky, was born in the fall of 1774.

Two years later in 1776, Martha Parke Custis (called Patsy) was born. The three children delighted their parents, who ordered expensive items from London for them. Jacky had toys and a little saddle and bridle. Fannie received a pair of red shoes and ribbons, and a slate for learning her letters. Unfortunately Fanny died before her 4th birthday, joining her brother in the family plot. Birth and death were frequent visitors in daily life in Virginia.

Three months after Fanny’s death, little Jacky and his father fell ill. Jacky survived, but Daniel at age 48 died on July 8, 1757. He was buried beside his mother and two of his four children. Patsy ordered a handsome and expensive tombstone from London, signing her name Martha Custis.

After seven years of a happy marriage, Martha Custis was  wealthy widow with two children and a large estate to manage and a future to plan.

Meanwhile, the thriving colony of Virginia eyed the Indian territory to the west to expand, but they feared their settlement opportunities were being blocked by the French with the cooperation of some Indians. A young officer, George Washington, was sent to this Ohio Territory to affirm British claims to the territory. He enlisted the aide of Indians with whom he had made friends while previously engaged in surveying the land. When the Indians massacred a French officer and scalped him, he returned to Williamsburg, the capitol of Virginia, to report his failure to Governor Dinwiddie. The incident began the French and Indian War in the colonies, called the 7 Years War in England and France.

to be contd.

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