After ten weeks I have spent lots of time researching and getting to know Martha Washington personally. To start out with reflecting on her life, we share a birthday. (which is irrelevant but I still think its pretty cool.)
Martha Washington, though still well followed her gender roles and class roles, still was an extraordinary woman. Though her life was full of loss, she still powered through any unfortunate events. She ran 18,000 acres on her own and took care of her finances. When the revolutionary war was in full swing, she would travel miles on miles to support her husband even though the camps terrified her and her life was at danger any moment.
By fully embarrassing the the FLOTUS role she set the standard for all the first ladies today, even though it was a role she did not want to have. She held salons to education the people she could, and often kept company for anyone who visited. She stayed positive any moment she could even though she lost most people in her life.
Though Martha still did the cleaning and cooking, she was remarkably strong and set standards not only for the offices she held, but also for anyone in tough situations. I have learned a lot over the ten weeks, both about Martha and the history of our country.
Life was much more peaceful after the war and my husband’s presidency was over. We moved back into Mount Vernon and though I was 65 years old by the time we went home, I spent most of my days trying to bring Mount Vernon back to its glory after it had been neglected with our leave. I was ecstatic to finally be home and be able to live a quite life with my husband. My grandson was practically an adult by now and were living lives of their own and attending school. Though now I had many grandchildren from my daughter. I often spent time with them, teaching the girls to sew and cook much like I was taught at their age.
There was a few conflicts that threaten to bring my husband back out into the political sphere. During President Adam’s term he appointed George to be command-in-chief during a conflict with France. George was luckily able to do most work from home and delegated a lot of his responsibilities to Alexander Hamilton, who was his second in command. The conflict never turned to war and George only had to leave home for around six weeks.
This peace did not last long. My husband tied and a half years after his service. Though the whole nation mourn, none knew my pain. I have had many lost within my life time. My first husband and two of our children died so young, I lost my son to the war without him ever entering the battle, and now I have lost my second and beloved husband. I locked up our room we shared and spent most of my time in a third floor guest room. My health quickly deteriorated and I died May 22, 1802, only two years after George’s passing.
When talking about Martha Washington, the discussion of slavery and the role it had both in her life is important to understanding how she lived. Because Martha did believe in the punishment of slaves when needed and white superiority, I wont be talking about this subject in character.
When Daniel Parke Custis passed away, his oldest born son (who was a minor at the time) inherented 2/3rds of Custis’s 300 slaves. Remaining third went to Martha and became what was known as her “dower slaves” and would be split between the remaning Custis family after her death. Considering George Washington had a little less than 50 slaves by the time him and Martha married, Martha was a very wealthy widow. After their marriage George was put in charge of Martha and her son’s slaves and together they ran the multiple farms and plantation houses of the Washington family.
The Washington’s were rather typical Virginia farmers. They believed in punishing slaves when necessary and often used the threat of selling and exile if needed. Martha was known to be a rather fair mistress though. She would listen to the request of the slaves and there are even reports of slaves threaten to turn in unfair overseers to her.
Martha and George were very unwilling to allow their slaves to be freed due to the economic benefit. One of example of this is of Oney Judge. Judge was Martha’s personal slave in the white house. They were very intimate and Judge often helped Martha with personal things such as bathing, styling her hair, and attending her at parties. After learning she would not be freed after Martha’s death, Judge ran away from the Washingtons. Martha was very upset by this and sent George to find her multiple times, though it never worked.
Slavery was a status symbol in 16th century Virginia. They represented personal wealth and economic gain, so the Washington and Custis slaves were just a integral part of their high society life. Martha, though considered kind, still believed in her white superiority and benefited off the enslavement of other humans.
The war finally came to an end in September 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed. We were now our own nation and had the freedom to create a new government. This new government was rocky for the first few years as George and many other great minds of the time tried to balance federal power while allowing the states and citizen to still have sovereignty. We didn’t want another monarch.
I spent most of the time at the end and after the war helping my daughter-in-law raise my late son’s children. By 1783 she has remarried, leaving her children at Mount Vernon with me. I reared them as my own since I had no children left to look after.
In June 1788 the Constitution of the United States was ratified and by 1897 my husband was voted into the highest office available in our government. He was the first president of the United States, allowing him to shape how the position should be handled and how a president should present himself. Being the first lady, I also had new, unheard exceptions for our government’s social life.
This new position scared me greatly. I spent most of my time interacting with guest, hosting parties and other social events, and even held a weekly reception. Anyone, even regular citizens were invited. As wonderful as it sounds, I often felt as though I was trapped in a prison. I truly loved living a quite life and hoped that is what the end of the war would bring me. But George was tied to his country, and I was tied to him. I tried my hardest to make a good model for any President’s wife after me.
(Citation: Martha Washington, “Letter, Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren, December 26, 1789,” in Martha Washington, Item #25, http://marthawashington.us/items/show/25 )
I feel as though I should elaborate on my time at the camps during the revolution.
My husband was away for war for many years, so once a year I would travel and visit him at the camps. I would stay for a month, helping with fundraising, and keep wounded soldiers and other women at the camp company. George found my company so valuable he commission congress to help pay for my traveling expenses.
As mentioned, I was not the only woman at the camp. Many other soldiers and general had their wives there with them and there were plenty of women there helping tend to the wounded and were paid to do duties such as cooking. I became very acquainted to many of these ladies. To spend our free time, we would sit together and do needlework while chatting. We were emotional support for each other in a hard time.
My duties were much different than many of the other women though. I acted as George’s secretary for much of the time, doing tasks such as writing and copying his letters or representing him at meetings he could not attend. I also spent a large amount of my time trying to boost morale by spending time in the wounded tent and organizing social events such as balls.
My quarters became a social hub, where generals, political leaders, foreign dignitaries would come to visit. I acted has hostess as I often did back at Mount Vernon. I also worked as a median for individuals and generals, spreading news and request. Though it was hard to convince him, I often got my way with my husband, which made me pretty good at my job.
As we all know, in 1775 our new country declared war on Great Britain to gain our independence and become a sovereign state. I stay very quite with my opinions on the mother country but George became very vocal and militant with the months before the war. Once war was declared and we had a bloody loss in June, my husband became commander in chief of our new professional army. After this I unwilling became a symbol for the american revolution.
We were often on edge with the idea that I may be target for assassins now, and George often encouraged me to take the children to travel and visit family. I still went to visit him at camp during the winters. I was highly welcomed and greeted by the members fighting for america’s cause. There would be dances and dinner hosted in my honor when I came to visit. As said before, I was seen as a symbol.
I very much accepted my new role though. I led massive fundraising for the troops and delivered money for socks, food, etc. to George when I went to visit. I also spent plenty of time writing letters to peers such as Mrs. Jefferson, encouraging them to also start fund raising. Though it was hard, I understood that members of my family including my beloved George were sacrificing their own lives for the cause, but I never expected I would loose my son.
He spent the majority of the beginning of the war with his wife and children, but once he gained the chance he went to the front lines to help fight. Shortly after arriving he contracted camp fever and was sent home. He died November 5, 1781 with me, George, and his wide and children by his side.
After our marriage, we combined our estates and me and my children moved into Mount Vernon. I gave up most of my traditionally male jobs such as running the financial side of the estates and worrying about trade, and focused on the domestic side of running a plantation. I brought 12 house hold slaves with me which did the drudgery work such as spinning thread or running the kitchen. I spent most of my time managing my slaves and making sure the domestic affairs of the plantation ran smoothly.
For example, I designed the menu for the day by choosing many recipes I had learned over the years (though I cheated using many cook books as well). In my garden I grew various fruits and vegetables to be integrated into our meals and I also supervised the curing of multiple different types of meats.
My favorite activity had to be needlework. Though the females slaves spun thread and weaved cloth, I loved to sew and knit. Our estate was covered with many of my works, such as button bags and stools. I taught many of the women in our house new sewing techniques and heavily criticized any needlework I did not see fit.
Being the woman of the house, I was also in charge of being hostess. Mr. Washington was a popular man and we often had uninvited guest visit our house, many of which would also stay the night. Women were expected to be charming and open to guest, as well as provide entertainment and lead conversations on interesting and relevant topics. Though I busy with managing the house, I often received many good complements on my sociability. These busy schedule of pleasing guest and making sure the domestic affairs of the house did not cause everything to go burning down was just in a days work at Mount Vernon. Though I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(The featured picture is an anonymous painting of the Payne family and their nurse made. This is an example of the drudgery work house slaves did in families who could afford it, much like my own.)
My second marriage happened quiet briefly after the death of my dear Daniel Custis. I was running his estates and mine just fine (I got quite good at bartering with merchants about tobacco prices) and and do to my inheretence I had many rights that a man of the time has as well. I could control finances, take people to court, etc. Though, I believed that accounting and finances was a mans job and decided to start looking for another husband. Around eight months of widowship I opened myself to courting. I had gained enough wealth that I did not have to look to move up classes like most women of my age and was granted with much more freedom for picking a husband that I had ever had.
One of my suitors was George Washington. He was an attractive and well-respected war veteran. After fighting with the British in the French and Indian War he rose to colonel of the Virginia Regiment. We married a few months after meeting and began our life together. I fully trusted Washington as a spouse. Even thought my assets were greater than his, I didn’t draft a premarrital contract to define what property was mine, much like many wealthy women of my age did. After our marriage Washington owned all of my “widow’s third” (my slaves, land, and money) and became the legal guardian of my two children, being in charge of their financial affairs.
The header image seen above is a beautiful rendition of Washington’s proposal to me. In my photo gallery bellow I will post a few pictures of the shoes and jewelry I purchased for our wedding, as well as a picture of Washington when he was young. Because I am beginning to become sentimental, next week I will begin to talk about our marriage and how the revolution effect our life. Thank you for reading.
This is the excerpt for your very first post.
As I began to write this I was not sure of my feelings for writing to the public about my life. After plenty of revisions I believe it will be good to share my life and experiences with all of you. So please allow me to introduce myself.
I was born in Virginia on June 2, 1731 as Martha Dandridge. My parents, John Dandridge and Frances Jones, though not part of the local government or part of high class society, were still well respected and belonged to a minor local gentry. I was born at Chestnut Grove, a small plantation much like many Virginians would live in (Pictured above). I was taught to be a respectable young women like many of my time. From a young age I was expected to marry a man in my social class as soon as I was of age.
Which I practically did. By the age of 18, I married Daniel, a member of high society, in 1750. We married at my childhood home and move a few miles away to live in White House plantation (I’ll leave a picture in the Gallery below for anyone interested). We had four children together within our marriage before his death in 1757. I inherited around 17,500 acres of land and 300 slaves, along with a dower inheritance I controlled my whole life and also had the control of a trustee for my children. Though I did mourn the death of my late husband, I couldn’t let it stop me and successfully ran 5 plantations almost completely on my own.