"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Nelly Custis

Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis

This c. 1804 painting of Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (Mrs. Lawrence Lewis) by Gilbert Stuart hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (March 31, 1779 – July 15, 1854), known as Nelly, was the granddaughter of Martha Washington and the step-granddaughter of George Washington.

Nelly was the daughter of John Parke Custis and Eleanor Calvert Custis. Her father was the only surviving child of Daniel Parke Custis and his widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, who married George Washington in 1759. She was also the granddaughter of Benedict Swingate Calvert, illegitimate son of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, whose mother may have been a granddaughter of George I. He was certainly descended from Charles II through the King's daughter by Barbara Villiers, Charlotte FitzRoy. Nelly was most likely born at Mount Airy, her maternal grandfather's estate in Prince George's County, Maryland, although local tradition holds that she was born at Abingdon, her father's estate in Arlington, Virginia (now the site of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport).

Following the premature death of John Parke Custis in 1781, Nelly and her brother, George Washington Parke Custis, were informally adopted by the Washingtons, and grew up at Mount Vernon. -- Wikipedia

This engraving of a rather similar portrait of Mrs. Lawrence Lewis appears in Rufus Wilmot Griswold's 1867 book, The Republican Court: or, American society in the days of Washington. The original is said to have been then in the possession of George Carter Lee Esq in 1867.

Nelly also appears as a young woman in Edward Savage's painting of The Washington Family 1789-1796.

On February 22, 1799, George Washington's last birthday, Nelly Custis married Lawrence Lewis a nephew of George Washington; Lawrence was the son of George Washington's sister Betty.

Percy Moran's 1912 painting Marriage at Mount Vernon depicts the event. 

William H. Snowden, in Some Old Historic Landmarks of Virginia and Maryland, 1904 has this photo of Nelly Custis in 1841, at age 62

Eleanor Park Custis Lewis died in 1852 at Audley in Clark County, and was buried at Mount Vernon. This obelisk marks her grave.

Sacred to the memory of
Eleanor Parke Lewis,
Granddaughter of Mrs & adopted daughter of General Washington
Reared under the roof of the
Father of his County,
this Lady was not more remarkable
for the beauty of her person
than for the superiority of her mind.
She lived to be admired, and died
to be regretted on the 15th of July 1852
in the 74th year of her age.

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