Friday, May 20, 2016

Martha Washington...Mother of our Country

In the last year I've been reading about Martha Washington, partly because in the years before that I've been reading about her husband, George Washington.

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While we were visiting Mount Vernon last May (in 18th century costume) , my daughter bought this book for me as a Mother's Day present. How appropriate! If George Washington was the Father of our Country, then surely Martha Washington was the Mother of our Country.

Since this book was published by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, I trusted it would be an excellent source of information. At our dialectic history presentation, I portrayed Martha Washington. (This was in the days before I had been immersed in 18th century culture at Colonial Williamsburg, so the clothing we wore were definitely costumes!) It was quite moving for me to portray her as she received and read letters from her dear husband announcing that he would not be returning home, since he had been assigned Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. I could relate in a small way, since my husband (and dad) had served in the military and receiving news that they had to leave for military matters was always difficult. Yet like Martha Washington, I was supportive of the mission.

The book is a quick and easy read, with 54 pages, yet they are full of content from historical details to photography of items in museum collections. Following are some of my favorite quotes from the primary source documents that are referenced in the book. These quotes certainly motivate me as a mother, wife, and woman.

"I am now I believe fixed at this Seat with an agreeable Consort for life and hope to find more happiness in retirement than I ever experienced amidst a wide and bustling World." (p20, George Washington in a letter to his English agent, 1759)

"...I think the Complacency of her Manners speaks at once the Benevolence of her Heart, and her affability, Candor and Gentleness Quallify her to soften the hours of private Life or to sweeten the Care of the Hero and smooth the Rugged scenes of War..." (p33, Mercy Otis Warren in a letter to Abigail Adams, 1776)

"Mrs. Washington is excessive fond of the General and he of her." (p35, General Greene in a letter to his wife, 1777)

"Mrs. Washington combines in an uncommon degree great dignity of manner, with the most pleasing affability, but possesses no striking marks of beauty. I learn from the Virginia officers that [she] has ever been honored as a lady of distinguished goodness...amiable in temper and deportment, full of benignity, benevolence and charity..." (p36, Army Surgeon James Thatcher, in his diary, 1779) 

 "I have learnt from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances." (p5, Martha Washington in a letter to a friend, 1789)

"Mrs. Washington is one of those unassuming characters which create Love and Esteem." (p5, Abigail Adams in a letter to her sister)

"She reminded me of the Roman matrons of whom I had read so much, and I thought that she well deserved to be the companion and friend of the greatest man of the age." (p3, Pierre Etienne du Ponceau who had visited the Washingtons in 1780)

"She loves to talk and talks very well about times past." (p49, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, 1798)

"She was a worthy partner of the worthiest of men." (p54, a quote from Martha Washington's obituary in the Alexandria newspaper, 1802)

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