John Parke Custis: George Washington's Stepson

John Parke Custis: George Washington's Stepson

John Parke Custis was George Washington’s stepson.

George raised the boy as his own. As any father, he was alternately proud and disappointed.

He had every possibility of being an important Founding Father, but his life was tragically short.

John Parke Custis

When he was just a three year old, John Parke Custis inherited hundreds of slaves and thousands of acres of Virginia land.

Although this property was now his, he was still just a little boy who lived with his mother Martha.

By the time he was five, John’s mother remarried.  His new stepdad’s name was George Washington.


After coming of age, Custis gained access to the lands he inherited.  

Despite his parents’ reservations, John married Eleanor Calvert when he was still a very young man.  The couple spent two years on the Custis property before purchasing a new lot.

Unfortunately, the mortgage Custis agreed to left him paying more into the land then it was worth.  His stepfather scolded him for making a rash decision.

House of Burgesses

After serving on Washington’s staff in the early days of the American Revolutionary War, Custis returned to Virginia to handle his private affairs.

Eventually, John was elected to sit in the Virginia House of Burgesses (General Assembly). Apparently he spoke out of turn for such a young man.

Washington eventually contacted Custis, informing him that all he was expected to do was to be punctual.


When the Continental Army came south to Virginia, John volunteered as a civilian.

Although he did not serve as active military, he did act as an aide-de-camp for Washington. His most notable participation was in the Victory at Yorktown.

Unfortunately, Custis caught camp fever (probably dysentery) while in Yorktown.  He was sent to his aunts house where he died days after the Revolutionary War was won.  

Custis passed away when he was still just 26 years old.

Although Washington seems to have been often disappointed in Custis, this is most likely from a place of fatherly love.

George did not have any biological children of his own and therefore cared for John deeply throughout his life.  

The trust between father and son can be seen in the letter George wrote to Custis announcing he had be selected by the Continental Congress as Commander-in-Chief.  In the letter, Washington confides his feelings about the selection to John as well as instructs him to care for his mother, Martha, for the duration of the War.

You can read the letter Washington wrote to Custis here.

If you’re interested in learning more about George Washington’s family life, you might want to try ‘Martha Washington: An American Life.’ You can get it below through our affiliate bookseller Amazon.

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