…the general [George Washington] married a Widow Custis – of a large fortune – who has a son whose name is John Parke Custis – by her first husband – now Daniel Parke left two daughters in Virginia – one married Colonel [word illegible] and the other Colonel Custis – and this son-in law of General Washington is a great grandson of General Parke so that Washington’s first wife’s husband was your second cousin –
On August 21, 1775, a woman named Cecelia Parke Shee wrote this in a letter (pictured above) to her brother John Parke (1754-1789) who was serving with the Philadelphia Militia. She continues:
I think some time if you was in company of the General – you would modestly drop a hint that your father had an uncle who did live in Virginia – and ask if he left any descendants there you can do it without letting him [know] that you know that they are related to him – perhaps it may be of service to you –
These intriguing passages are from one item in a small collection of papers concerning the lives of Cecelia Parke Shee and her husband Bertles Shee (1742-1787) that HSP recently accessioned. Cecelia and Bertles, who lived in both Dover, Delaware, and Philadelphia, married in 1769. They had one son, Parke McGannon Shee (1776-1862), and a daughter Cecelia. Bertles served during the Revolutionary War as paymaster in John Patton’s Continental Regiment and as lieutenant colonel of artillery. Cecelia died sometime in the 1770s.
As you can guess from Cecelia’s letter, John Parke, during his time in the military, became well-acquainted with George Washington. Cecelia’s letters (there are 16 total in the collection) also suggest that the family was friends with Caesar Rodney (“Caesar Rodney has waited on me,” she mentioned in a letter to John dated December 3, 1775), members of the Bradford, Wharton, and Willing families, and Delaware lawyer and politician Thomas McKean.
One more tidbit and something to ponder: note that at the end of this letter, Cecelia told John to burn this letter as soon as you have read it. Why do you think she asked him to do this?
The finding aid for the Shee family papers (Collection 3154) is now online and is available on HSP’s website.