Gossipers believed “Nelly” Custis’ demeanor wild and her contentious predilection towards life, love, relationships, and marriage half crazy. This is my conclusion supported by her own words in a letter to her friend, Elizabeth, below. I believe Nelly might also have been better born in the 20th Century.
And, based upon the authors’ blog “… I remain E P Custis Spinster for life,” posted today and recent book reviews of In the Words of Women, I placed my order and can’t wait to learn more about other 18th century women’s behaviors and attitudes.
The quotes and letter below appeared in today’s blog and page 186 of the book:
Quotes From: American Heritage February 1977, Volume 28, Issue 2
Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, to whom George Washington wrote the letter excerpted in the previous post, remarked to her friend Elizabeth Bordley that when her two older sisters married: “I shall be—Miss Custis— … Strange most passing strange.” She was referring to the custom for the oldest unmarried daughter in a family, now Nelly, to be addressed as “Miss.” The teenager enjoyed the excitement of Philadelphia life so much so that her grandmother Martha wrote, “I hope when Nelly has a little more gravitie she will be a good girl. At Present—she is I fear half crazy.”
Joshua Brookes, visiting Mount Vernon when Nelly was there described her: “She appeared to be about twenty, dressed in white sprig muslin tied around her waist with a skyblue silk cord with six round balls at the end, head-dress fillet round her head and hair hanging down in ringlets between three turns of the fillet; no powder, about 5ft 4 high, middling stature and size. Silk stockings. Black shoes with large roses. She appeared modest, well-bred, intelligent, and sensible, has a piercing eye, grecian nose, made judicious remarks and conversed with propriety.”
Quote by: Joshua Brookes in “George Washington’s Beautiful Nelly” by Donald Jackson .
In Nelly’s letter below, she wrote to her friend Elizabeth, where she expressed her determination to remain a spinster in spite of others gossip.
Mount Vernon, August 20, 
I am astonished my Dear at the report you mention … I wish the world would not be so extremely busy, & impertinent. E P Custis desires not its notice, & would thank those meddling reporters never to mention her name. I wish they would also allow her to marry who she pleases without perpetually engaging her to those whom she never had a chance of marrying, & never wished to be united to. The opinion of the wise (that friendship alone cannot exist between two young persons of different sexes) is very erroneous & ridiculous. I know it by experience, which is by far a better teacher than any of those, who pretend to know so much. I shall ever feel an interest & sincere regard for my young adopted Brother [George Washington de Lafayette]—but as to being in love with him it is entirely out of the question.
Therefore I shall certainly never be engaged or married to him—as whoever is my Husband I must first love him with all my Heart—that is not romantically, but esteem & prefer him before all others, that Man I am not yet acquainted with—perhaps never may be, if so—then I remain E P Custis Spinster for life.
I am a good deal surprised at the matrimonial news but Wonders never will cease. You are right not to think of making your choice this year as you have had so many bad precedents. The people of this earth how sadly have they degenerated—the next generation I think, & hope will be better (because they can hardly be worse than the present)…. E P Custis
About the Authors
In the Words of Women is the work of independent historians Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge and Landa M. Freeman (pictured left-to-right in the adjacent photo*), who tracked down, selected, and often transcribed material from the original manuscripts.
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