J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Notes for Martha Washington

In the Washington Papers is a document dated 25 Oct 1759, about a year and a half after George had met Martha and nine and a half months after they married.

It’s headed “An Account of the Sail of the Estate of Colo. Custis Decst in WmsBurg.”

“Colo. Custis” was Daniel Parke Custis, Martha’s first husband, who had died in 1757. With the help of her plantation manager, lawyer, and now her new husband, Martha was settling his estate.

This particular document was written out by manager Joseph Valentine. It lists more than £58 worth of property in eighty-six lots, starting with “Pewter Dishes and 6 Plates” and ending with “210 pounds oald Iron.” Beside each lot Valentine noted who had bought it, either on credit or for cash.

This part of Custis’s estate included 129 “Picturs,” not to mention “A parcel of old Broken picturs.” Unfortunately, Valentine provided no detail about what most of those pictures showed. He simply labeled them small or large or old. The exception was “1 picture of an horse,” purchased by Thomas Craig.

Craig also bought the “Large Looking Glass,” the most expensive item in the sale at £4.10.

John Greenhow bought “15 Picturs & a Bull Dogg,” plus fifteen more pictures, “5 Woodin Immageis,” “1 Tin Basket & other Lumber,” “1 Brass Gun & Close Stool Chear,” “15 Pains Large Glass,” “1 Case & Bottles & mose Trap,” “2 Bell mettle skillets 4 wheat stones 2 sullinges [?],” and “1 Large Press” (probably for clothing) at £2.12.

Valentine himself took “8 Low Leather Chears” and “3 maps.”

Why was Martha Washington having this yard sale? Because she had moved into George’s mansion at Mount Vernon and didn’t need all that stuff from her husband’s house. By liquidating his property, she could divide its value as the law required between herself and her children.

George Washington took over the task of settling John Parke Custis’s estate in 1759 and finally completed the task in 1761. The surviving documents comprise a discrete section of the Washington Papers.

John Valentine (who wrote his own name “Vallentine”) continued to work for the Washingtons until his death in 1771.


Anonymous said...

So who spelled his name"Valentine"? And why do we do it that way today?

J. L. Bell said...

George Washington himself spelled the name “Valentine.” So that’s the default spelling in the Washington Papers. Because George Washington could not tell a lie, you know.