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Encounters 8, Domestic Tranquility

February 8, 2017

Domestic tranquility: To be desired but difficult to attain.When two souls are harmonious, it is not impossible. George dreamed of establishing himself at Mount Vernon, but White House, the Custis estate was more elaborate, completely furnished, and convenient to Williamsburg, the capitol of Virginia until 1800. Martha could not deny her husband his dreams. He had added four rooms to the small farm house, doubling its size. With the death of his brother’s widow and daughter, George became the owner of the small estate he had managed. He added windows, fireplaces, wallpapers, and furniture. Then Martha and he selected he best furnishings from the Custis estates to add to their comfort.

Martha had never been more than 20 miles from her home, but she made the move willingly. She would go with her husband wherever he wanted to go, and at first glance she recognized the comfortable and gracious home Mount Vernon would become.

With the familiar faces of servants and slaves, the children settled into their new home comfortably. George was a loving and generous stepfather, lavishing attention and gifts upon Jacky (age 5) and Patti (age 3). That they did not have children together was a source of dismay. Perhaps his bouts with smallpox or dysentery had left him sterile, or (as he preferred to believe) Martha had some obstruction after the birth of her fourth child. Nevertheless, the next 10 years were the happiest years for them.

George hired an estate manager to help him with the growing acreage, and hired a tutor to teach the children. Little was expected from Patti who enjoyed her lessons, but Jacky conceived reasons to abandon work and study, for he would inherit a large estate when he came of age. He took his servant and two horses with him to King’s College, now Columbia University. There he enjoyed the social life, and while a teenager he shocked his parents by announcing his engagement to Eleanor Calvert, age 15 0r 16.  Nelly was the lovely daughter of a descendant of Lord Baltimore with little wealth but secure social status. The parents eventually approved, but advised them to wait. Nelly and Jack married in 1774, and in 1776 had the first of four children. Baby Elizabeth Parke Custis delighted the grandparents.

Although this period was remembered as a happy one, there was sadness. In 1769 Patti experienced a seizure. She suffered from epilepsy and succumbed to the disease in 1773 at the age of 17. All marriages have unbearable moments; sometimes these moments bring couples even closer.

to be contd.


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