When Betsey Custis wrote her grandfather to announce her engagement to Thomas Law, an enterprising businessman with two children, Washington gave his “approbation” of the marriage, although the unexpected announcement came as a “Surprize” to him. Betsey’s letter, written on 1 February 1796 and received by Washington on Saturday, 6 February, has not been found. Washington wrote in response to the engagement, one to Betsey (see George Washington to Betsey Parke Custis, 10 Feb. 1796) and another to her fiancé, Thomas Law. Original manuscript images of Washington’s letter to Law are courtesy of The Morgan Library, New York, NY. This letter is part of a series; more information can be found on the “Washington’s Advice on Love and Marriage” page. Please also see related documents below.
Betsey married Thomas Law (1759-1834), a recent arrival in the United States from Great Britain/India and the son of Edmund Law, bishop of Carlisle, on 21 March 1796. Their daughter Eliza, born in 1797, was their only child to survive infancy. By 1804 the couple had separated, and in 1811 they divorced.
Portrait from Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City (Allen C. Clark, 1901).
Philadelphia 10th Feb. 1796.
Yesterday’s Mail brought me your letter of the 4th Instant; and that of Saturday [6 February] announced from Miss Custis herself, the Union which is pending between you. No intimation of this event, from any quarter, having been communicated to us before, it may well be supposed that it was a matter of Surprise.
This being premised, I have only to add, that as the parties most interested are agreed, my approbation, in which Mrs Washington unites, is cordially given; accompanied with best wishes that both of you may be supremely happy in the alliance. I must however, tho’ it is no immediate concern of mine–be permitted to hope, as the young lady is in her non-age, that preliminary measures has been, or will be arranged with her Mother & Guardian, before the Nuptials are solemnized.
We shall hope that your fortunes (if not before) will, by this event, be fixed in America; for it would be a heart rending circumstance, if you should seperate Eliza from her friends in this country. Whether the marriage is to take place soon, or late, we have no data to judge from but be it as it will, if you should bring her to Philadelphia, we invite you both to this house. With very great esteem and regard I am Sir–Your obedt Hble Servant
Images of Washington’s letter to Thomas Law, 10 February 1796.
(courtesy of The Morgan Library, New York, N.Y.). Click on images for larger view.