The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington, by Martha Saxton

The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington, by Martha Saxton

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The Widow Washington is the first life of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother, based on archival sources.  

Mary Ball, the daughter of a wealthy planter and a formerly indentured servant, was orphaned young and grew up working hard, practicing frugality and piety. Stepping into Virginia’s upper class, she married an older man, the planter Augustine Washington, with whom she had five children before his death eleven years later.

As a widow deprived of most of her late husband’s properties, Mary struggled to raise her children, but managed to secure them places among Virginia’s elite. In her later years, she and her wealthy son George had a contentious relationship, often disagreeing over money, with George dismissing as imaginary her fears of poverty and helplessness.

Yet Mary Ball Washington had a greater impact on George than mothers of that time and place usually had on their sons.   Mary’s demanding mothering imbued him with many of the moral and religious principles by which he lived. The two were strikingly similar, though the commanding demeanor, persistence, athleticism, penny-pinching, and irascibility that they shared have served the memory of the country’s father immeasurably better than that of his mother.

Martha Saxton’s The Widow Washington is a necessary and deeply insightful corrective, telling the story of Mary’s long, arduous life on its own terms, and not treating her as her son’s satellite.

“Saxton offers a sensitive, sharply drawn portrait of a resourceful woman whose early losses made her anxious and fearful for life . . . A sympathetic look at George Washington’s mother [and] a fresh perspective on Colonial America.” - Kirkus Reviews