At Valley Forge, Washington Dockets an Encouraging Letter From His Stepson
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In a letter to his stepfather at Valley Forge, John Parke Custis reports on the Virginia legislature’s passage of bills to help raise troops, announces the arrival of a French frigate with uniforms and military supplies, and relays family greetings. GEORGE WASHINGTON.
Autograph Docketing [Valley Forge, Pa.], “From Jno. Parke Custis Esq 29th May 1778,” on integral address leaf of a JOHN PARKE CUSTIS Autograph Letter Signed, to George Washington. Williamsburg, Va., May 29, 1778. 3 pp., 8 x 11¾ in.
“It is with much Pleasure I inform you of the safe Arrival of a French fifty gun Ship....[with] the most valuable Cargo that has arrived since the War. Cloth & Linen sufficient for fifteen thousand Men, four thousand Suits ready made, a great number of soldiers Blankets, some military Stores. The first Cost of the Cargo is five Millions of Livres....Three Bills have passed the House of Delegates for reinforceing the Army. One for raising 2000 Volunteers to serve one year, to induce the Men to inlist we have given 30 Dollars Bounty, an exemption from Militia Duty for as long a Time as they shall serve and these Persons from Taxation for the same time. A Second for raising 350 Horsemen to serve untill the End of the Campain. They have no Bounty but the same Priveledges with the foot. ... The third is to recruit the regiments. We have offered 150 Dollars to Him who inlists for the War & 100 to Him who inlists for three years.... I think we have now offered the most generous Terms and if they do not inlist, they must be drafted.... P.S. I presume before this reachs you Mamma will have left Camp. If she has not, be pleased to give my Love & thanks for her Affectionate Letter.”
John Parke Custis, at age 23, had been recently elected to the Virginia General Assembly. Here, he formally addressed Washington in the role of Commander-in-Chief, saving family news for the postscript. Martha Washington had joined her husband at Valley Forge in February 1778, but by late May, Custis presumed she had left “Camp.” Custis spent most of the letter reporting on Virginia’s preparations for war: mustering troops, creating regiments, and obtaining French supplies. The report must have been welcome news to Washington, who was about to leave Valley Forge after a winter he described as “little less than a famine.” Washington would start the summer fighting season bolstered by the French alliance and impressed with his troops’ performance, but the advantage remained with the British in most engagements.
As the war advanced, Custis grew increasingly frustrated with the Virginia Assembly’s decisions, often absenting himself from its sessions and drawing the ire of his stepfather. “I do not suppose, that so young a senator as you are, little versed in political disquisitions, can yet have much influence in a populous assembly,” Washington tersely wrote him in 1781, “But it is in your power to be punctual in your attendance (and duty to the trust reposed in you exacts it of you).” Custis made similarly poor decisions in his business dealings, and was in straitened circumstances at the time of his death on November 5, 1781, less than a month after Washington’s victory at Yorktown.
Very good. Treated by a professional paper conservator. Slight loss at folds, note in ink below Washington docket.
George Washington to John Parke Custis, The Writings of George Washington.
“Time Line: The American Revolution,” The George Washington Papers at the Library of