Sunday, May 10, 2015

People: Mother of Her Country?

Mary Ball

Happy Mother's Day

I was not going to do a blog for this Mother's Day, but I thought at the last minute a small piece on George Washington's mother would be in order. The lady, born Mary Ball  in 1708 or 1709 in Lancaster County, Virginia, is a fitting subject. She was the only child of Joseph Ball and his second wife, Mary Johnson.  Joseph Ball was a leader in the militia and a ranking justice on the Lancaster County court making him a member of the gentry class.  He was also elected to the House of Burgesses in 1695 and served until 1702.  Mary Johnson was a young widow who caught the eye of Joseph Ball.  At the time of their meeting she was most likely a housekeeper for the Ball family.

Mary's Early Life

Mary had good prospects being born into Virginia landed folk. For the first few years of Mary’s life, she was raised at her father’s plantation, “Epping Forest.”  But life would turn on her at an early age.Her father died when she was three years old and left Mary three slaves, fifteen cattle, a good feather bed and 400 acres of land up the Rappahannock River. Mary's mother remarried Captain Richard Hues and they moved to Cherry Point on the Potomac River.  When Hues died he left all of his assets to his wife and her children. But Mary Hues herself died when Mary Ball was twelve. Mary was then placed under the guardianship of Colonel George Eskridge, a lawyer, in accordance with the terms of her mother's will. Although under
Colonel George ESkridge
Eskridge's guidance, Mary continued to live at Cherry Point with her sister Elizabeth Bonum and not with her guardian.  By the time she was eighteen, Mary had three horses along with numerous acres of land. As part of the landed gentry, she learned social graces, but she also learned to ride, handle a boat and shoot. Clearly, her streak of independence was forged during this period. When John, her half brother, died in 1721, Mary also received 600 acres in his will.  At age 14, Mary had acquired over 1000 acres to her name. She was a prime marriage prospect for any up and coming man.

Marriage: Better Late than Never?

Mary married Augustine Washington, of Pope's Creek, Westmoreland County, on March 6, 1731. Augustine was a widower with three children. He was also a leader in the areas iron mining enterprises. In fact, he mined the land adjacent to Mary's. Eskridge's sister in law, Jane Butler, was Augustine's first wife. When she died suddenly, Eskridge recommended Mary to be Augustine’s second wife, due to her immense wealth and assets. Augustine and Mary were married in 1731 at Yeocomico Church in Westmorland County.  Augustine and his company gained Mary’s land and mined the 600 acres in Stafford county.

Augustine Washington
Mary Ball Washington

Mary and Augustine moved to his family home called Pope’s Creek Plantation also located in Westmorland County.  Mary was twenty-two when she married Augustine.   Twenty-two was considered somewhat old for a woman (unless a widow) to marry  during this time period.  Because there is a nine-year period of Mary’s life that historians have little or no information on her, it is unclear why Mary wed at an older age.   In 1732, Mary gave birth to her first child George, named after George Eskridge, at Pope’s Creek Plantation. Although the circumstances of her life were somewhat typical in that age of early deaths and many remarriages, Mary Ball Washington's would stand out from all others in Virginia: she gave birth to " the man of his age."

A Complex Woman and Mother

Virginia has several places
dedicated to Mary Washington

I shall save a recounting of Washington's upbringing by his mother, and his very unusual relationship with her. For now, it can be said that Mary was a strong willed person. Stubborn to the point of ornery. She loved her son to a fault. But she did not coddle him. As she aged, her personality grew more flinty, and although Washington loved her dearly, he stayed clear of her, especially during his time of ascent and the struggles of the times. Perhaps I will save the second part of this tale for... Sigmund Freud's birthday...

Mother of Her Country?

Still, in the spirit of Mother's Day, we will close with a quote from Mary Ball Washington about the success of the revolution, and her son George, in 1784. Since Washington was the man of his age, his mother was, despite her traits, the mother of her age. And since the greatest joy of a mother is to dote on their children, her understated compliment is telling: "I am not surprised at what George has done, for he was always a good boy."

The Mother of Her Country?

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