George Washington: A Father for All Time

Brass bookends

We revere George Washington as a great military and political leader and “father of our country”. However, not much is mentioned about his stepson, whom he raised, John Parke Custis, and understandably so, as the young man just didn’t seem to have the genes of leadership and accomplishment in him. He played around and largely squandered his educational years and dropped out of college, despite George’s constant attempts to inspire him to apply and better himself. They say hindsight is 20/20. Can you imagine what John Custis might think now if he could see, from the perspective of history, who he was so fortunate to be related to, and what opportunity he missed?

John Custis did get himself elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 1778, but it seems George was not impressed with his legislative showing. The latter wrote: “I do not suppose that so young a senator as you are, so little versed in political disquisition, can yet have much influence in a popular assembly, composed of various talents and different views, but it is in your power to be punctual in attendance.”

Sadly, Custis died of illness at the age of 27, leaving a wife and four living children (out of seven born to them). But to his credit, he showed great maturity by showing respect for his stepfather by writing to him in 1776: “It pleased the Almighty to deprive me at a very early Period of Life of my Father, but I can not sufficiently adore His Goodness in sending Me so good a Guardian as you Sir; Few have experience’d such Care and Attention from real Parents as I have done. He best deserves the Name of Father who acts the Part of one.” And in 1781, six months before his own death, Custis named his youngest son George Washington Parke Custis. A fitting tribute indeed.

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