George Washington's letter about Martha Washington's son, John Parke Custis (known as Jacky when younger, and Jack as he got older), reveals that being a parent was no easier in the 18th century than it is today.
Written on January 26, 1769, a rather short note from George Washington to his stepson's schoolmaster, the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, explains why the young man was late getting back to school after the Christmas holidays and expresses the hope that "Jacky will apply close to his Studies and retrieve the hours he has lost...he promises to do so, I hope he will."
While, in this instance, John Parke Custis' tardiness was not due to any memorable cause, it does fit into a pattern in which his schoolwork took second place in the teenager's priorities, a fact that caused his stepfather considerable grief.
Jacky's education probably began at Mount Vernon under the eye of his mother, but became more serious in the fall of 1761, with the arrival of a Scottish tutor named Walter Magowan. After Mr. Magowan left for England in the fall of 1767, in order to be ordained, George Washington wrote to the Reverend Jonathan Boucher (1738-1804), an Anglican minister who ran a school for boys in Caroline County, Virginia, to see if he would be willing to "add [his stepson] to the number of your Pupils."
At that time, Washington noted that Jacky had been introduced to both Greek and Latin by his tutor and described his stepson as "a boy of good genius, about 14 yrs. of age, untainted in his morals, and of innocent manners." He considered Jacky “a promising boy" and expressed "anxiety" that as "the last of his Family," who would be coming into "a very large Fortune," he wanted to see the boy made "fit for more useful purposes, than a horse Racer."
Jacky would attend Boucher's school, staying with his teacher through the institution's move to Annapolis, for five years, from 1768 to 1773. These were very frustrating years for both George Washington and Reverend Boucher.
Washington, whose own education had been curtailed by the death of his father, read widely to make up for his deficiencies. He very much wanted the young people in his care to be given the educational opportunities he himself had missed. Washington could not understand why the young man he helped to raise could not or would not see the need to apply himself at school.
In a particularly telling exchange, written when the boy was sixteen, George Washington noted that Jacky's mind seemed to be centered on “Dogs Horses & Guns," as well as "Dress & equipage."
Boucher responded that Jack was the laziest boy he had ever known and also “so surprisingly voluptuous: one wd suppose Nature had intended Him for some Asiatic Prince."
Almost as damning, from his stepfather's perspective, was Boucher's opinion that "one of the worst Symptoms" about Jack was the fact that "He does not much like Books," even though his schoolmaster had been “endeavouring to allure Him to it, by every Artifice I cou'd think of."