Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Washington's Mother -- A Legacy Reconsidered

Is it true that George Washington did not love his mother? At least one biographer has made this surprising claim. I will admit that nearly every Washington biography I have read hardly mentions her except to provide her name and minor facts. Mrs. Washington is rumored to have been irritating, commanding, and unlovable. A single author ventured to state without hesitation that, “George Washington did not love his mother.”

While reading Daughters of Destiny, compiled and edited by Noelle Wheeler Goforth, I was surprised by her positive approach toward Mary Ball Washington. What good might be written of her?

How delighted I was to find nuggets of Christian faith and character exhibited through the life of Mrs. Washington. Although it is true that she could be a commanding individual, she “…was not given to any display of petulance or rage, but was steady, well balanced, and unvarying in her mood.” Daughters of Destiny brought her wonderful Christian character to light. She was a prayerful woman who read the Bible almost to the exclusion of other books. The entire family and their servants gathered for prayer and Bible reading in the morning and evening.

Widowed early in life, Mary Washington was left to raise her many children and manage the property on her own. She was equal to the task. A capable housewife, teacher, and mother, it is said that she had a commanding personality with “gentle qualities which made obedience to her wishes an easy task.”

Contrary to other sources, Daughters of Destiny informs us that Mrs. Washington was loved by all, including her oldest son George. He wrote her many letters. In time of war General Washington worried for her safety and moved her to a safer location.

George Washington Parke Custis, the President’s adopted son, gave a moving account of Mary Washington’s last meeting with her son.

“Immediately after the organization of the present Government, the Chief Magistrate [Washington] repaired to Fredericksburg to pay his humble duty to his mother, preparatory to his departure for New York. An affecting scene ensued. The son feelingly remarked the ravages which a torturing disease had made upon the aged frame of the mother, and addressed her with these words: 'The people, madam, have been pleased, with the most flattering unanimity,
to elect me to the Chief Magistracy of these United States, but before I can assume the functions of my office I have come to bid you an affectionate farewell. So soon as the weight of public business which must necessarily attend the outset of a new Government can be disposed of, I shall hasten to Virginia, and— Here the matron interrupted with, "And you will see me no
more; my great age, and the disease which is fast approaching my vitals, warn me that I shall not be long in this world; I trust in God that I may be somewhat prepared for a better. But go, George, fulfill the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you; go, my son, and may that Heaven's and a mother's blessing be with you always."

Custis continued his narrative,

“The President was deeply affected. His head rested upon the shoulder of his parent, whose aged arm feebly, yet fondly, encircled his neck. That brow on which fame had wreathed the purest laurel virtue ever gave to created man relaxed from its lofty bearing. That look which could have awed a Roman Senate in its Fabrician day was bent in filial tenderness upon the time-worn features of the aged matron. He wept. A thousand recollections crowded upon his mind, as memory, retracing scenes long passed, carried him back to the maternal mansion and the days of youth, where he beheld that mother, whose care, education and discipline caused him to reach the topmost height of laudable ambition. Yet, how were his glories forgotten while he gazed upon her whom, wasted by time and malady, he should part with to meet no more! Her predictions were but too true. The disease which so long had preyed upon her frame, completed its triumph, and she expired at the age of eighty-five, rejoicing in the consciousness of a life well spent, and confiding in the belief of a blessed immortality.”

“Her children rise up and call her blessed.” Proverbs 31:28


Sparky's Baseball said...

Good. Very good. Tell your dad I like his new security measures (I unfortunately had to read a very rude comment

Marlyn said...

Elizabeth,thank you for your inspirational site. Have you seen the lithograph published in 1864 of Washington's last fairwell to his mother? In it he is kneeling in front of her chair and her hand is raised above his head in blessing.On a table there is a bible and her glasses. Written under the picture is the quote from George Washington Parke Custis, "And you will see me no more...."Do you know where the lithograph is now? Marlyn

Elizabeth Ellen Moore said...


Thank you for stopping in. No, I had not heard of the lithograph you mentioned. After I read your comment I did an online search for it. I did not find it. It could not have been that easy. I did find another depiction of the same event. You can take a look at it HERE. I would love to see the lithograph. Have you seen it?