WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:oWashington") to the Reverend Jonathan Boucher (1738-1804), Mount Vernon, 26 January 1769. 1 page, 4to (9¼ in x 7 7/16 in. ), integral address leaf addressed by Washington: "To the Revd. Mr. Boucher In St. Mary's Parish Caroline City," light, inoffensive stains at left-hand side and in bottom blank portion, seal hole to address leaf repaired.
A DOTING STEP-FATHER SENDS AN ABSENCE NOTE FOR JACKIE CUSTIS, AGE 14
A charming, very early letter of the future President in regard to his step-son, for whom his fondness is evident. His correspondent, the Reverend Johnathan Boucher, had emigrated from England in 1764 and became rector of St. Mary's Parish, Caroline County. There, about six miles from Fredericksburg, he and an unmarried sister opened a popular boarding school for the sons of the Virginia gentry, enrolling about thirty boys. It was to this school that George and Martha had sent Martha's only son, John Parke Custis (1754-1781), familiarly known as "Jackie," beginning in 1768 when he was only 13. Washington and Boucher, to judge by their letters of this period, enjoyed a warm and trusting friendship. Evidently, Jackie had been home at Mount Vernon over the holidays and was to have returned to his classes sometime after the New Year. Washington furnishes a graceful explanation of his step-son's absenteeism: "Your favour of the 11th coming into my hands but a few days ago, and Miss Custis's Indisposition since, are the reasons of Jacky's detention from School till this time; before your Letter came to hand we were in hourly expectation of the pleasure of a visit from you and are sorry for the disappointment, and concerned with the cause of it, as I can with pleasure assure you that your Company at Mount Vernon will always be agreeable. After so long a vacation, we hope Jacky will apply close to his Studies, and retrieve the hours he has lost from his Books since your opening School; he promises to do so, and I hope he will." At the end Washington replies to a query regarding a mutual friend, Jackie's previous tutor, who had entered the ministry: "Mr. Magowan is not here, he has been fortunate in a Presentation to a good Parish (Herring Bay I think it is calld, or known by) and is now living therein, in Maryland. With very great esteem I remain Sir..."
Washington and Boucher often exchanged letters regarding Jackie's progress, or lack of it, as the boy proved an indifferent student. After unstinting efforts on behalf of the youth, whom he considered one of his most important pupils, the Revd. Boucher was forced to admit that "I never did in my life know a youth so exceedingly indolent or so surprisingly voloptuous: one would suppose Nature had intended him for some Asiatic Prince." He considered himself partly to blame for Jackie's lack of success, though, and wrote that "remiss as I am, or may seem to be, I doubt not, in due Time to deliver him up to you a good man, if not a very learned one" (quoted by F. Grizzard, George Washington, p. 32). The Reverend urged the Washingtons to send Jackie to Europe to continue his education, but the idea was vetoed by Martha. Instead, Boucher arranged for Jackie to matriculate at Kings' College in New York (later Columbia University), but he remained only a short period, returning to Mount Vernon on the death of his sister Patsy (whose untimely death in 1773 was a severe shock to his mother). Jackie married Eleanor Calvert ("Nelly") in 1774, fathered five children and was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1781. But, in that year, while serving with Washington at Yorktown, he contracted "camp fever" and died, only a few days after the surrender of Cornwallis and the British Army.
Boucher, during the Revolutionary War, remained a loyalist and in 1775 returned to England. He made an unsuccessful effort to reopen a correspondence with Washington, his former friend, in 1784. Published in Fitzpatrick 2:498-499.