Edited by Josephine Little Zuppan
John Custis IV of Williamsburg is most often remembered only because of his notorious tombstone on Virginia's Eastern Shore and because his son's widow, Martha, married George Washington. He was, however, an important figure in his own right—a wealthy planter, slave owner, and third-generation member of the governor's council.
This absorbing letterbook, meticulously edited and thoroughly annotated, provides a remarkable window into the life and struggles of John Custis from 1717 to 1742. The letters are especially revealing about economic life, the material culture of colonial Virginia, and the treacherous legal and financial conditions in which even important planters operated. The correspondence shows how a wealthy colonial planter used and could be misused by the British mercantile system. The letters also provide a view of the personal side of the sober and overly frugal Custis: his fashionable passion for gardening (at which he was "inferior to few if any in Virginia"); his turbulent relations with his wife, son, and daughter; and the mixed roles he fulfilled for his more than 200 slaves.
Although the original handwritten letterbook resides in the Library of Congress, the time-consuming process of transcribing the pages and the knowledge required to understand the letters' context have deterred all but the most dedicated researchers. Now, this important resource is available to all interested in the fascinating world of eighteenth-century Virginia.
271 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 094561280X, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005.
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