Mary Washington Colonial Chapter
National Society Daughters of the American Revolution
New York, New York
Mary Ball Washington
Mary Washington Colonial Chapter founders chose to honor a woman and a concept in their name. Mary Ball Washington was the second wife of Augustine Washington, and George was her first child. She was deemed by the chapter founders to be the most sacred and noble character among women in the annals of American colonial and revolutionary history. Certainly history has shown that she had a profound influence on the life of the first President of the United States. Colonial was added to the name to acknowledge the debt which the Revolution owed to the colonial years when the foundation of the republic was laid, and the principles of self- government fostered.
HER EARLY YEARS
Mary Ball Washington was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, in 1708 to Joseph Ball and Mary Montague Johnson Ball. Each of her parents had been previously married and had children by their previous marriages. The family home was Epping Forest. Her grandfather, William Ball, had been born in England and had immigrated to Virginia around 1650.
By age thirteen, both of Mary’s parents had died, and family friend George Eskridge was appointed her guardian. For the next decade, she lived with Eskridge and family and her married half sister – Elizabeth Bonum. Not much is known about her life at this time, but we know that she could read and write, and that she was an avid horsewoman.
MARRIAGE TO AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON
In 1731, Mary married Augustine Washington. She was about 23, which was somewhat old for a first marriage by the standards of the day. Augustine was also from a family that had been in the colony since the mid-1600s, and he had been educated in England, as was the custom of the day. He was a well-established widower, fourteen years her senior, with three children, Lawrence, Augustine, and Jane.
After marriage, Mary lived at Pope’s Creek Plantation, later called Wakefield. The next year, on February 22, she gave birth to her first child, George, named for her guardian George Eskridge. While living at Wakefield, she gave birth to two more children, Betty and Samuel, who were named for Mary’s other guardians, her sister and brother-in-law. Also at Wakefield, Augustine’s daughter Jane died at age 13.
In 1736, the family moved to Epsewassen (or Hunting Creek), later renamed Mt. Vernon, and Mary gave birth to two more children, John Augustine and Charles. Two years later, Augustine purchased Ferry Farm to be closer to his iron business, and the family moved. Mary’s last child, a daughter, Mildred, was born (probably) at Ferry Farm. The child died at 16 months.
THE FERRY FARM YEARS
In 1743, Augustine died unexpectedly at the age of 49. Mary, who had been orphaned at age 13, became at age 35 a widow with five young children. George was 11 at the time of his father’s death. Under Augustine’s will, Mt. Vernon was left to George’s half-brother Lawrence, and Ferry Farm was left to George. Provision was made for Mary to receive the benefit of the crops for five years, and possession of Ferry Farm until George came of age.
Augustine Washington’s death certainly had a profound effect on his son George. Augustine’s two older sons were already out of the house, and so it meant that George became “the man of the house” at a young age. Furthermore, he would be unable to go to England to be educated like his older brothers. George looked to his older half-brother Lawrence as a role model. Lawrence was educated abroad, and Lawrence gained military experience fighting for Britain against Spain in the Caribbean. In fact, it was Lawrence who renamed Epsewassen or Hunting Creek “Mt. Vernon” in honor of Admiral Vernon.
After a couple of years, Mary allowed George to leave Ferry Farm to live with Lawrence at Mt. Vernon. At age fourteen, George was offered, no doubt through Lawrence’s assistance, a position as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. Mary was uncertain whether to permit it for some time. The tale is that his trunk was already aboard ship when Mary Washington rushed to Mt. Vernon and demanded that he not enlist. Another part of the tale is that she later gave him a pen-knife that he fancied as a consolation gift, engraved “Always Obey your Superiors.”
Mary Washington continued to live at Ferry Farm and worked the land. In fact, she lived more than 45 years after the death of her husband, and she never remarried. Clearly she was a strong-willed woman, and she was obliged, once George came of age, to rely on his financial support. There is correspondence to suggest that she was not always satisfied with his level of support.
HER FINAL YEARS AT FREDERICKSBURG
In 1772, when Mary was about 64 years old, George purchased a home for her in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she would live out the remaining 17 years of her life. George continued until the end to pay her “rent” for the livestock and slaves at Ferry Farm. He strongly urged her in 1787 to move from the house and live with one of her children. It was thought that she might move in with her son John; however, John died before she ever moved, and she never agreed to go elsewhere.
George Washington paid his last visit to his mother at the house in Fredericksburg in April 1789, four months before she died, en route to New York for his inauguration. The Mary Washington House, open to the public, is located at 1200 Charles Street, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It is now owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Mrs. Washington died in this home on August 25, 1789. She was buried a short distance away.
A MONUMENT TO MARY WASHINGTON
In 1830, the women of Fredericksburg banded together to raise the money to fund a monument. The next year, Silas Burrows of New York offered to pay for it himself. In laying the cornerstone, Andrew Jackson said this about her:
“Mary Washington acquired and maintained a wonderful ascendancy over those around her. This true characteristic of genius attended her through life, and she conferred upon her son that power of self-command which was one of the remarkable traits of her character. She conducted herself through this life with virtue and prudence worthy of the mother of the greatest hero that ever adorned the annals of history.”
Unfortunately, the principals involved in the project passed away, and the uncompleted monument was damaged during the Civil War. Remarkably, the women of America were successful thereafter in raising the monument. It is said to be the first instance of a monument to a woman financed by contributions of women. Another cornerstone was laid in October 1893 and dedicated by President Cleveland in May 1894. It has a simple inscription: “Mary the Mother of Washington.”
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