“The Mother of our Country”– The Unwavering Martha Washington

Most histories of America’s founding were written by men.  So, it is little wonder that the great and vital contributions of the women are often neglected.  The Founding Mothers played a crucial role in the birth of our nation.

In her most famous letter to her husband, Abigail Adams pleaded for the Founding Fathers to, “remember the ladies.” The three most famous Founding Mothers are: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison.   The were true heroes and role models.

Childhood         

Martha Dandridge was born on June 13, 1731 on the family plantation in Virginia.

Most women at the time were not literate. In those days, schools were not for girls.  Martha learned to read from her mother at an early age. Throughout her life, Martha found great enjoyment and comfort in reading.

Widowed Plantation Owner

At the age of 18, Martha married 38-year-old Daniel Custis, a rich planter. They lived together at his  White House Plantation, and they had four children together: one died in childhood, one died as a teenager, one died as a young adult, and one was killed in the Revolutionary War. Sadly, all of Martha’s children died before her.  

After seven years of marriage, Martha’s husband died. At age 25, she became the richest woman in Virginia. Her biographer wrote, “she capably ran five plantations, bargaining with experienced London merchants for the best tobacco prices.”

Marriage to George Washington

At age 27, Martha met and married the tall handsome 27-year-old George Washington.  He was 6’ 4” tall.  Martha was only 5’ 0” feet. George was a moderately wealthy landowner. With their marriage and their combined estates, George Washington would become our richest president.  (Until Donald Trump.)

The wedding was grand. It took place at Martha’s mansion. George wore a dark blue suit with red trim. Martha wore an elegant yellow silk gown highlighted with silver thread. The gown was trimmed in the finest German lace. She wore expensive purple silk shoes with spangled buckles. (White wedding dresses were not popular until after Queen Victoria chose a white dress for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840.)

The Martha and George honeymooned at the Martha’s White House Plantation before setting up house at George’s  Mount Vernon estate. They had no children together.

Martha and George were looking forward to living a quiet private life together at Mount Vernon.  In later years, Martha reflected: “Though the General’s feelings [she often referred to her husband as “the General”] and my own were perfectly in unison with respect to our predilection for private life, yet I cannot blame him, for having acted according to his ideas of duty, in obeying the voice of his country.”  

Martha was a strong, intelligent, and capable woman.  She supported George every way possible during his military and political career. When he was away for extended periods she raised the children and managed the plantations. George and Martha were a team. Without Martha’s contributions, George would not have accomplished what he did.

Martha’ Contribution to the War Effort

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, General Washington’s advisers were afraid that Martha might be a kidnapped by the British. They could easily sail up the Potomac River at night to Mt. Vernon and grab Martha. But the threat of the great British Army and Navy was not enough to intimidate Martha. She refused to leave Mt. Vernon. She was confident that she could get on her horse and outrun the British military.    

When General Washington left Mount Vernon for the war in 1775 he did not return for eight years. During the long winter months, Martha left her comfortable Mt. Vernon mansion and joined her husband at his winter encampments, including the Valley Forge. Martha greatly boosted the morale of the troops. They adored her. She became their surrogate mother. She walked through the camp encouraging the soldiers and checking on their welfare. She nursed the sick, and she personally knitted hundreds of stockings. 

General Washington believed that Martha’s contribution to the troops during winter was so vital, that he lobbied congress to pay for her travel expenses. She served as the General’s sounding board and closest adviser. She acted as his secretary and representative, copying letters and representing him at official and social functions.  Martha was the ultimate military spouse.

These winter trips were Martha’s first excursions outside her native Virginia. She found the journeys exhausting and the horrors of war depressing. She missed the routines of her daily life at Mount Vernon. But she faithfully endured.

Most of all Martha missed her only son Jacky and her grandchildren. In 1781, Jacky was killed in the war. In making these sacrifices, Martha demonstrated that she, no less than her husband, was committed to the patriot cause.

During the war, when the Ladies Associations throughout the colonies raised large sums of money for the soldiers, they entrusted Martha, not the government, to distribute the funds.

During and after the war, Martha nursed veterans who were ill or dying. She urged local women to do the same. Her commitment to the welfare of the veterans would remain lifelong. They addressed her as “Lady Washington,” and a ship was named, “Lady Washington” in her honor.

First Lady

After the war, Martha wanted to finally settle down at Mount Vernon with her husband.  She was very disappointed when George became president in 1789. They spent most of their time in New York City, the nation’s temporary capital.

President Washington’s advisers convinced him that he and Martha should not socialize with friends or accept private invitations, in order to avoid showing favoritism.  This decision was devastating to Martha.  It cut her off from seeing her friends, and it isolated her completely.  She lamented, “I lead a very dull life here [in New York City] . . .  I am not allowed to go to any public place, —indeed I am more like a prisoner than anything else.” In essence, she was in a state of house arrest.  How tragic and unnecessary!

Widowhood and Death

George Washington died in 1799.  Martha said this was the saddest day of her life. She was so devastated that she could not bring herself to attend his funeral. 

Under the provisions of his will, George Washington declared that his slaves were to be granted their freedom upon Martha’s death. (He was one of the few founding fathers to grant his slaves freedom.) Rumors spread that some of the slaves might murder Martha in order to be free. So, at the urging of Martha’s worried relatives, she freed her slaves after one year. 

Image result for george washington grave

Martha died in Mount Vernon on May 22, 1802, and she was buried next to her beloved husband at Mount Vernon. 

Martha Washington is a wonderful role model for women’s education and literacy, for caring for the needy, for being a loyal and equal partner in marriage, and for being a true patriot who made great sacrifices for this country. She is a great Founding Mother. 

She must be remembered and honored.

(P.S. My daughter named her rescued 70-pound Old English Bulldog “Martha” in honor of Martha Washington.)

(Sources: Multiple tours of Mount Vernon; Personal research for speeches on founding fathers and mothers; Coke Roberts, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation; “Martha Washington,” Wikipedia; “Ladies of Liberty,” American Ride, BYUtv.)

One thought on ““The Mother of our Country”– The Unwavering Martha Washington

  1. This and the other Editions that have history and patriotism themes are such breaths of fresh air for the mind and heart. Love of country is not in fashion any more; these writings are pieces of light.

    Like

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