Is there a Martha Washington connnection in our family?

When I was in Arizona last fall attending a conference, I enjoyed a meal in the company of two of my first cousins, Sara Bergeson Wilson and Steven Parke Bergeson. After dinner, Steve asked me if I knew the accuracy of the family rumor that our grandmother Gladys Parke Bergeson was related to George Washington’s wife Martha. I said that I’d heard the story as well, but never done any research on it. I promised to do that and let him know what I found.

George Washington, the first president of the United States, was the second husband of his wife Martha Dandridge. Her first husband was named Daniel Parke Custis, the son of John Custis IV and his wife Frances Parke, the daughter of Colonel Daniel Parke, Jr. Daniel and Martha had four children, but Daniel died suddenly in the seventh year of their marriage, probably the result of a heart attack. Two of Daniel and Martha’s four children died before the age of five and the surviving two children, Jack and Martha Custis, are not related to our family in any way that I can find.

Julius Caesar Parke , the uncle of Daniel Parke Custis , was the only male child of Colonel Daniel Parke, Jr. and Jane Ludwell. However, I can’t find any information about his life past his birth, which often means that the person didn’t survive childhood. His lineage would need to be directly connected to William Parke (b. 1769 in North Carolina) to be related to our grandmother, Gladys Parke Bergeson, and consequently to us.

However, Colonel Daniel Parke, Jr.’s grandfather was named William and he had a brother named John who also emigrated to the colonies. There are many Williams and Johns in our Parke family tree, in fact, both William Parke’s (b. 1769 in North Carolina) father and grandfather were named John! But that’s where our facts stop and neither Ancestry.com nor the 1967 book,”Kinfolks of William Parke and Synah Perry & Josiah Wilson and Margaret Crow,” written by our relative Margie Howell of Kansas City (which I’ve consulted many times) offer any solid clues to our Parke ancestors earlier than 1769.

This isn’t categorical proof that Gladys Parke Bergeson wasn’t distantly related to Martha Washington’s first husband, but it doesn’t show that she was either. I have not been to North Carolina to visit gravesites or local historical societies, but Margie Howell did that extensively and the trail for her went cold prior to 1769. Most likely William Parke’s predecessors came from Virginia since it was just a few miles to the north, but she couldn’t find any physical proof. I intend to keep investigating this question!

The facts in brief:

Colonel Daniel Parke, Jr. (b. 1669 in Virginia) married Jane Ludwell

  • Frances Parke (b. 1685 in Virginia) married John Custis IV
    • Daniel Parke Custis (b. 1711 in Virginia)  married Martha Dandridge
  • Julius Caesar Parke (b. 1692 in Virginia)  no further information is available
Daniel Parke Custis
Daniel Parke Custis

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