Historic Valley Forge

"Pet name" for Martha Washington

Q.What "pet name" did George Washington use for his wife Martha?
Natalie, DE

A.After the death of George Washington, Martha burned all of their correspondence. Only a few pieces survive. When Martha wrote of her husband, she would always refer to him as Mr. Washington or "the General." In at least one surviving letter to his wife, George refers to her as "Patsy."

The name "Martha," biblical in origin, had been popular first in France and then, after the Reformation, in England, where it evolved the shortened form "Matty" as well as "Patty." Among American colonists "Patty" transformed further into "Patsy" and was a common nickname for "Martha."

When Washington married Martha, she was a widow with two children: John "Jacky" Custis and Martha "Patsy" Custis.

John Custis married a woman from New York and they had four children, Elizabeth, Martha, Eleanor and George. In their early years, the two youngest — Eleanor and George — went to live with their grandparents, George and Martha Washington. They essentially became the children they never had. Both children grew up at Mount Vernon as well as the Presidential homes in Philadelphia and New York. (The two eldest girls remained with the mother after the death of John Custis.) All of these children had nicknames of some sort.

  • Elizabeth Parke Custis — "Betsy"
  • Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis — "Nelly"
  • George Washington Parke Custis — "Wash"

. . . and of course Martha Parke Custis was called "Patsy"


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