Note: This story is from the January-February 2015 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
We all know a lot about George Washington, the Father of Our Country, but how much do you know about his mother, Mary Washington? Would she be called the Grandmother of Our Country?
Born November 30, 1708, in Lancaster County, Virginia, Mary Ball was the only child of Joseph Matthäus Ball and his wife, Mary Johnson. Her father died when she was three and her mother when she was just twelve years old, and the young girl was placed under the guardianship of George Eskridge, a lawyer and friend of the family.
She was 23 years old when she married a 37 year old widower named Augustine Washington, who had four children by his first wife, only two of whom survived their childhood. Together they had six more children, one dying in infancy. Their oldest was George, who was born in 1732. They lived at Pope’s Creek (now Washington’s Birthplace in Westmoreland County, Virginia) and then at their 600 acre Stafford County plantation, Ferry Farm.
Widowed at age 35 when Augustine died in 1743, Mary defied local tradition and never remarried. In a time when women were not expected to be capable of managing their own business affairs, she ran the family plantation herself after her husband’s death. The single-parent family had the necessities of life but they were far from wealthy. By all accounts, Mary was a loving but stern mother who believed in hard work and did not coddle her children.
An independent woman and a staunch Loyalist, Mary Washington did not hide her opposition to her son’s political views and his involvement in the growing Independence movement.
As she grew older, managing Ferry Farm became too hard for Mary, and in 1772, George Washington purchased a comfortable house located at 1200 Charles Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia for his 64 year old mother. She spent the last seventeen years of her life there.
The white frame house on the corner of Charles and Lewis Streets was within walking distance of Kenmore, the home of Mary’s daughter Betty Washington Lewis. Mary enjoyed spending time in the garden in the back of her house, where tradition has it that during the American Revolution, she met with General Lafayette.
And while many places make the same claim, Washington really did sleep here! The President-to-be came to the home before attending his inauguration in 1789 to receive his mother’s blessing, and slept in this bedroom. Sadly, it would be their final visit.
Today visitors can tour the house and see several items owned by Mary Washington while a tour guide dressed in period clothing talks about her life and points out details of the home. The garden and original kitchen, a rare surviving 18th-century outbuilding, are also open to visitors. A gift shop next door offers gifts and souvenirs.
Preservation Virginia acquired the Mary Washington House in 1890, and after restoration it was opened to the public. Washington Heritage Museums received the building as a gift from Preservation Virginia on January 3, 2013. The home is open daily for guided tours for a small admission fee. Because it has been restored to its original state, the building is not handicapped accessible. For more information, including hours and entrance fees, call (540) 373-1569 or visit www.WashingtonHeritageMuseums.org on the internet.
At a small cemetery on Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg we stopped to pay our respects at the grave of Mary Washington. When she was alive, she spent many hours at a favorite spot near her daughter’s home meditating and praying. At her request, when she died in 1789 she was buried there. President Andrew Jackson laid a cornerstone for a marble monument at the site in 1833, with over 5,000 people present. But the monument was never completed, and what there was there was damaged during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg. Failing to get the government to erect a new monument, the National Mary Washington Memorial Association was formed. Donations were collected from women throughout the country to complete the monument. The new granite monument was completed and unveiled by President Grover Cleveland in May 1894, the first monument in the country funded by women for a woman.
Have you entered our latest Free Drawing yet? This week’s prize is an audiobook of Slow Falling, book six in my friend George Weir’s excellent Bill Travis mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – It is better to be seen than viewed.