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26 June, 2013
The True George Washington
IV. RELATIONS WITH THE FAIR SEX
by Ford, Paul Leicester


The book from which Washington derived almost the whole of his education warned its readers,--
"Young Men have ever more a special care That Womanish Allurements prove not a snare;"
but, however carefully the lad studied the rest, this particular admonition took little root in his mind. There can be no doubt that Washington during the whole of his life had a soft heart for women, and especially for good-looking ones, and both in his personal intercourse and in his letters he shows himself very much more at ease with them than in his relations with his own sex. Late in life, when the strong passions of his earlier years were under better control, he was able to write,--
"Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore, contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true in part only, for like all things else, when nourished and supplied plentifully with aliment, it is rapid in its progress; but let these be withdrawn and it may be stifled in its birth or much stinted in its growth. For example, a woman (the same may be said of the other sex) all beautiful and accomplished will, while her hand and heart are undisposed of, turn the heads and set the circle in which she moves on fire. Let her marry, and what is the consequence? The madness ceases and all is quiet again. Why? not because there is any diminution in the charms of the lady, but because there is an end of hope. Hence it follows, that love may and therefore ought to be under the guidance of reason, for although we cannot avoid first impressions, we may assuredly place them under guard."
To write thus in one's sixty-sixth year and to practise one's theory in youth were, however, very different undertakings. Even while discussing love so philosophically, the writer had to acknowledge that "in the composition of the human frame, there is a good deal of inflammable matter," and few have had better cause to know it. When he saw in the premature engagement of his ward, Jack Custis, the one advantage that it would "in a great measure avoid those little flirtations with other young ladies that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little to divide the affection," it is easy to think of him as looking back to his own boyhood, and remembering, it is to be hoped with a smile, the sufferings he owed to pretty faces and neatly turned ankles.

While still a school-boy, Washington was one day caught "romping with one of the largest girls," and very quickly more serious likings followed. As early as 1748, when only sixteen years of age, his heart was so engaged that while at Lord Fairfax's and enjoying the society of Mary Cary he poured out his feelings to his youthful correspondents "Dear Robin" and "Dear John" and "Dear Sally" as follows:
"My place of Residence is at present at His Lordships where I might was my heart disengag'd pass my time very pleasantly as theres a very agreeable Young Lady Lives in the same house (Colo George Fairfax's Wife's Sister) but as thats only adding Fuel to fire it makes me the more uneasy for by often and unavoidably being in Company with her revives my former Passion for your Low Land Beauty whereas was I to live more retired from young Women I might in some measure eliviate my sorrows by burying that chast and troublesome Passion in the grave of oblivion or etarnall forgetfulness for as I am very well assured thats the only antidote or remedy that I shall be releivd by or only recess that can administer any cure or help to me as I am well convinced was I ever to attempt any thing I should only get a denial which would be only adding grief to uneasiness."

"Was my affections disengaged I might perhaps form some pleasure in the conversation of an agreeable Young Lady as theres one now Lives in the same house with me but as that is only nourishment to my former affecn for by often seeing her brings the other into my remembrance whereas perhaps was she not often & (unavoidably) presenting herself to my view I might in some measure aliviate my sorrows by burying the other in the grave of Oblivion I am well convinced my heart stands in defiance of all others but only she thats given it cause enough to dread a second assault and from a different Quarter tho' I well know let it have as many attacks as it will from others they cant be more fierce than it has been."

"I Pass the time of[f] much more agreeabler than what I imagined I should as there's a very agrewable Young Lady lives in the same house where I reside (Colo George Fairfax's Wife's Sister) that in a great Measure cheats my thoughts altogether from your Parts I could wish to be with you down there with all my heart but as it is a thing almost Impractakable shall rest myself where I am with hopes of shortly having some Minutes of your transactions in your Parts which will be very welcomely receiv'd."
Who this "Low Land Beauty" was has been the source of much speculation, but the question is still unsolved, every suggested damsel--Lucy Grymes, Mary Bland, Betsy Fauntleroy, et al.--being either impossible or the evidence wholly inadequate. But in the same journal which contains the draughts of these letters is a motto poem--
"Twas Perfect Love before But Now I do adore"--
followed by the words "Young M.A. his W[ife?]," and as it was a fashion of the time to couple the initials of one's well-beloved with such sentiments, a slight clue is possibly furnished. Nor was this the only rhyme that his emotions led to his inscribing in his journal: and he confided to it the following:
"Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
  Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupids feather'd Dart
  And now lays Bleeding every Hour
For her that's Pityless of my grief and Woes
  And will not on me Pity take
He sleep amongst my most inveterate Foes
  And with gladness never wish to wake
In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close
  That in an enraptured Dream I may
In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose
  Possess those joys denied by Day."
However woe-begone the young lover was, he does not seem to have been wholly lost to others of the sex, and at this same time he was able to indite an acrostic to another charmer, which, if incomplete, nevertheless proves that there was a "midland" beauty as well, the lady being presumptively some member of the family of Alexanders, who had a plantation near Mount Vernon.
"From your bright sparkling Eyes I was undone;
Rays, you have; more transperent than the Sun.
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find.

Ah! woe's me, that I should Love and conceal
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart."
When visiting Barbadoes, in 1751, Washington noted in his journal his meeting a Miss Roberts, "an agreeable young lady," and later he went with her to see some fireworks on Guy Fawkes day. Apparently, however, the ladies of that island made little impression on him, for he further noted, "The Ladys Generally are very agreeable but by ill custom or w[ha]t effect the Negro style." This sudden insensibility is explained by a letter he wrote to William Fauntleroy a few weeks after his return to Virginia:
"Sir: I should have been down long before this, but my business in Frederick detained me somewhat longer than I expected, and immediately upon my return from thence I was taken with a violent Pleurise, but purpose as soon as I recover my strength, to wait on Miss Betsy, in hopes of a revocation of the former cruel sentence, and see if I can meet with any alteration in my favor. I have enclosed a letter to her, which should be much obliged to you for the delivery of it. I have nothing to add but my best respects to your good lady and family, and that I am, Sir, Your most ob't humble serv't."
Because of this letter it has been positively asserted that Betsy Fauntleroy was the Low-Land Beauty of the earlier time; but as Washington wrote of his love for the latter in 1748, when Betsy was only eleven, the absurdity of the claim is obvious.

In 1753, while on his mission to deliver the governor's letter to the French, one duty which fell to the young soldier was a visit to royalty, in the person of Queen Aliquippa, an Indian majesty who had "expressed great Concern" that she had formerly been slighted. Washington records that "I made her a Present of a Match-coat and a Bottle of Rum; which latter was thought much the best Present of the Two," and thus (externally and internally) restored warmth to her majesty's feelings.

When returned from his first campaign, and resting at Mount Vernon, the time seems to have been beguiled by some charmer, for one of Washington's officers and intimates writes from Williamsburg, "I imagine you By this time plung'd in the midst of delight heaven can afford & enchanted By Charmes even Stranger to the Ciprian Dame," and a footnote by the same hand only excites further curiosity concerning this latter personage by indefinitely naming her as "Mrs. Neil."

With whatever heart-affairs the winter was passed, with the spring the young man's fancy turned not to love, but again to war, and only when the defeat of Braddock brought Washington back to Mount Vernon to recover from the fatigues of that campaign was his intercourse with the gentler sex resumed. Now, however, he was not merely a good-looking young fellow, but was a hero who had had horses shot from under him and had stood firm when scarlet-coated men had run away. No longer did he have to sue for the favor of the fair ones, and Fairfax wrote him that "if a Satterday Nights Rest cannot be sufficient to enable your coming hither to-morrow, the Lady's will try to get Horses to equip our Chair or attempt their strength on Foot to Salute you, so desirous are they with loving Speed to have an occular Demonstration of your being the same Identical Gent--that lately departed to defend his Country's Cause." Furthermore, to this letter was appended the following:
"DEAR SIR,--After thanking Heaven for your safe return I must accuse you of great unkindness in refusing us the pleasure of seeing you this night. I do assure you nothing but our being satisfied that our company would be disagreeable should prevent us from trying if our Legs would not carry us to Mount Vernon this night, but if you will not come to us to-morrow morning very early we shall be at Mount Vernon.

"S[ALLY] FAIRFAX,
"ANN SPEARING.
"ELIZ'TH DENT."
Nor is this the only feminine postscript of this time, for in the postscript of a letter from Archibald Cary, a leading Virginian, he is told that "Mrs. Cary & Miss Randolph joyn in wishing you that sort of Glory which will most Indear you to the Fair Sex."

In 1756 Washington had occasion to journey on military business to Boston, and both in coming and in going he tarried in New York, passing ten days in his first visit and about a week on his return. This time was spent with a Virginian friend, Beverly Robinson, who had had the good luck to marry Susannah Philipse, a daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the largest landed proprietors of the colony of New York. Here he met the sister, Mary Philipse, then a girl of twenty-five, and, short as was the time, it was sufficient to engage his heart. To this interest no doubt are due the entries in his accounts of sundry pounds spent "for treating Ladies," and for the large tailors' bills then incurred. But neither treats nor clothes won the lady, who declined his proposals, and gave her heart two years later to Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Morris. A curious sequel to this disappointment was the accident that made the Roger Morris house Washington's head-quarters in 1776, both Morris and his wife being fugitive Tories. Again Washington was a chance visitor in 1790, when, as part of a picnic, he "dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Marriner at the House lately Colo. Roger Morris, but confiscated and in the occupation of a common Farmer."

[Illustration Removed: MARY PHILIPSE]

It has been asserted that Washington loved the wife of his friend George William Fairfax, but the evidence has not been produced. On the contrary, though the two corresponded, it was in a purely platonic fashion, very different from the strain of lovers, and that the correspondence implied nothing is to be found in the fact that he and Sally Carlyle (another Fairfax daughter) also wrote each other quite as frequently and on the same friendly footing; indeed, Washington evidently classed them in the same category, when he stated that "I have wrote to my two female correspondents." Thus the claim seems due, like many another of Washington's mythical love-affairs, rather to the desire of descendants to link their family "to a star" than to more substantial basis. Washington did, indeed, write to Sally Fairfax from the frontier, "I should think our time more agreeably spent, believe me, in playing a part in Cato, with the company you mention, and myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia, as you must make," but private theatricals then no more than now implied "passionate love." What is more, Mrs. Fairfax was at this very time teasing him about another woman, and to her hints Washington replied,--
"If you allow that any honor can be derived from my opposition ... you destroy the merit of it entirely in me by attributing my anxiety to the animating prospect of possessing Mrs. Custis, when--I need not tell you, guess yourself. Should not my own Honor and country's welfare be the excitement? 'Tis true I profess myself a votary of love. I acknowledge that a lady is in the case, and further I confess that this lady is known to you. Yes, Madame, as well as she is to one who is too sensible of her charms to deny the Power whose influence he feels and must ever submit to. I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand tender passages that I could wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive them. But experience, alas! sadly reminds me how impossible this is, and evinces an opinion which I have long entertained that there is a Destiny which has the control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest efforts of Human Nature. You have drawn me, dear Madame, or rather I have drawn myself, into an honest confession of a simple Fact. Misconstrue not my meaning; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know the object of my Love, declared in this manner to you, when I want to conceal it. One thing above all things in this world I wish to know, and only one person of your acquaintance can solve me that, or guess my meaning."
The love-affair thus alluded to had begun in March, 1758, when ill health had taken Washington to Williamsburg to consult physicians, thinking, indeed, of himself as a doomed man. In this trip he met Mrs. Martha (Dandridge) Custis, widow of Daniel Parke Custis, one of the wealthiest planters of the colony. She was at this time twenty-six years of age, or Washington's senior by nine months, and had been a widow but seven, yet in spite of this fact, and of his own expected "decay," he pressed his love-making with an impetuosity akin to that with which he had urged his suit of Miss Philipse, and (widows being proverbial) with better success. The invalid had left Mount Vernon on March 5, and by April 1 he was back at Fort Loudon, an engaged man, having as well so far recovered his health as to be able to join his command. Early in May he ordered a ring from Philadelphia, at a cost of £2.16.0; soon after receiving it he found that army affairs once more called him down to Williamsburg, and, as love-making is generally considered a military duty, the excuse was sufficient. But sterner duties on the frontier were awaiting him, and very quickly he was back there and writing to his fiancée,--
"We have begun our march for the Ohio. A courier is starting for Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to one whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to you as another Self. That an all-powerful Providence may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affectionate friend."
Five months after this letter was written, Washington was able to date another from Fort Duquesne, and, the fall of that post putting an end to his military service, only four weeks later he was back in Williamsburg, and on January 6, 1759, he was married.

Very little is really known of his wife, beyond the facts that she was petite, over-fond, hot-tempered, obstinate, and a poor speller. In 1778 she was described as "a sociable, pretty kind of woman," and she seems to have been but little more. One who knew her well described her as "not possessing much sense, though a perfect lady and remarkably well calculated for her position," and confirmatory of this is the opinion of an English traveller that "there was nothing remarkable in the person of the lady of the President; she was matronly and kind, with perfect good breeding." None the less she satisfied Washington; even after the proverbial six months were over he refused to wander from Mount Vernon, writing that "I am now, I believe, fixed at this seat with an agreeable Consort for life," and in 1783 he spoke of her as the "partner of all my Domestic enjoyments."

John Adams, in one of his recurrent moods of bitterness and jealousy towards Washington, demanded, "Would Washington have ever been commander of the revolutionary army or president of the United States if he had not married the rich widow of Mr. Custis?" To ask such a question is to overlook the fact that Washington's colonial military fame was entirely achieved before his marriage. It is not to be denied that the match was a good one from a worldly point of view, Mrs. Washington's third of the Custis property equalling "fifteen thousand acres of land, a good part of it adjoining the city of Williamsburg; several lots in the said city; between two and three hundred negroes; and about eight or ten thousand pounds upon bond," estimated at the time as about twenty thousand pounds in all, which was further increased on the death of Patsy Custis in 1773 by a half of her fortune, which added ten thousand pounds to the sum. Nevertheless the advantage was fairly equal, for Mrs. Custis's lawyer had written before her marriage of the impossibility of her managing the property, advising that she "employ a trusty steward, and as the estate is large and very extensive, it is Mr. Wallers and my own opinion, that you had better not engage any but a very able man, though he should require large wages." Of the management of this property, to which, indeed, she was unequal, Washington entirely relieved her, taking charge also of her children's share and acting for their interests with the same care with which he managed the part he was more directly concerned in.

He further saved her much of the detail of ordering her own clothing, and we find him sending for "A Salmon-colored Tabby of the enclosed pattern, with satin flowers, to be made in a sack," "1 Cap, Handkerchief, Tucker and Ruffles, to be made of Brussels lace or point, proper to wear with the above negligee, to cost £20," "1 pair black, and 1 pair white Satin Shoes, of the smallest," and "1 black mask." Again he writes his London agent, "Mrs. Washington sends home a green sack to get cleaned, or fresh dyed of the same color; made up into a handsome sack again, would be her choice; but if the cloth won't afford that, then to be thrown into a genteel Night Gown." At another time he wants a pair of clogs, and when the wrong kind are sent he writes that "she intended to have leathern Gloshoes." When she was asked to present a pair of colors to a company, he attended to every detail of obtaining the flag, and when "Mrs. Washington ... perceived the Tomb of her Father ... to be much out of Sorts" he wrote to get a workman to repair it. The care of the Mount Vernon household proving beyond his wife's ability, a housekeeper was very quickly engaged, and when one who filled this position was on the point of leaving, Washington wrote his agent to find another without the least delay, for the vacancy would "throw a great additional weight on Mrs. Washington;" again, writing in another domestic difficulty, "Your aunt's distresses for want of a good housekeeper are such as to render the wages demanded by Mrs. Forbes (though unusually high) of no consideration." Her letters of form, which required better orthography than she was mistress of, he draughted for her, pen-weary though he was.

It has already been shown how he fathered her "little progeny," as he once called them. Mrs. Washington was a worrying mother, as is shown by a letter to her sister, speaking of a visit in which "I carried my little patt with me and left Jacky at home for a trial to see how well I could stay without him though we were gon but wone fortnight I was quite impatient to get home. If I at aney time heard the doggs barke or a noise out, I thought thair was a person sent for me. I often fancied he was sick or some accident had happened to him so that I think it is impossible for me to leave him as long as Mr. Washington must stay when he comes down." To spare her anxiety, therefore, when the time came for "Jacky" to be inoculated, Washington "withheld from her the information ... & purpose, if possible, to keep her in total ignorance ... till I hear of his return, or perfect recovery;... she having often wished that Jack wou'd take & go through the disorder without her knowing of it, that she might escape those Tortures which suspense wd throw her into." And on the death of Patsy he wrote, "This sudden and unexpected blow, I scarce need add has almost reduced my poor Wife to the lowest ebb of Misery; which is encreas'd by the absence of her son."

When Washington left Mount Vernon, in May, 1775, to attend the Continental Congress, he did not foresee his appointment as commander-in-chief, and as soon as it occurred he wrote his wife,--
"I am now set down to write to you on a subject, which fills me with inexpressible concern, and this concern is greatly aggravated and increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you. It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defence of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it.

"You may believe me, my dear Patsey, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years.... I shall feel no pain from the toil or danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone."
To prevent this loneliness as far as possible, he wrote at the same time to different members of the two families as follows:
"My great concern upon this occasion is, the thought of leaving your mother under the uneasiness which I fear this affair will throw her into; I therefore hope, expect, and indeed have no doubt, of your using every means in your power to keep up her spirits, by doing everything in your power to promote her quiet. I have, I must confess, very uneasy feelings on her account, but as it has been a kind of unavoidable necessity which has led me into this appointment, I shall more readily hope that success will attend it and crown our meetings with happiness."

"I entreat you and Mrs. Bassett if possible to visit at Mt. Vernon, as also my wife's other friends. I could wish you to take her down, as I have no expectation of returning till winter & feel great uneasiness at her lonesome situation."

"I shall hope that my friends will visit and endeavor to keep up the spirits of my wife, as much as they can, as my departure will, I know, be a cutting stroke upon her; and on this account alone I have many very disagreeable sensations. I hope you and my sister, (although the distance is great), will find as much leisure this summer as to spend a little time at Mount Vernon."
When, six months later, the war at Boston settled into a mere siege, Washington wrote that "seeing no prospect of returning to my family and friends this winter, I have sent an invitation to Mrs. Washington to come to me," adding, "I have laid a state of difficulties, however, which must attend the journey before her, and left it to her own choice." His wife replied in the affirmative, and one of Washington's aides presently wrote concerning some prize goods to the effect that "There are limes, lemons and oranges on board, which, being perishable, you must sell immediately. The General will want some of each, as well of the sweetmeats and pickles that are on board, as his lady will be here to-day or to-morrow. You will please to pick up such things on board as you think will be acceptable to her, and send them as soon as possible; he does not mean to receive anything without payment."

Lodged at head-quarters, then the Craigie house in Cambridge, the discomforts of war were reduced to a minimum, but none the less it was a trying time to Mrs. Washington, who complained that she could not get used to the distant cannonading, and she marvelled that those about her paid so little heed to it. With the opening of the campaign in the following summer she returned to Mount Vernon, but when the army was safely in winter quarters at Valley Forge she once more journeyed northward, a trip alluded to by Washington in a letter to Jack, as follows: "Your Mamma is not yet arrived, but ... expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her. We are in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided." And of this reunion Mrs. Washington wrote, "I came to this place, some time about the first of February where I found the General very well,... in camp in what is called the great valley on the Banks of the Schuylkill. Officers and men are chiefly in Hutts, which they say is tolerably comfortable; the army are as healthy as can be well expected in general. The General's apartment is very small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in, which has made our quarters much more tolerable than they were at first"

Such "winterings" became the regular custom, and brief references in various letters serve to illustrate them. Thus, in 1779, Washington informed a friend that "Mrs. Washington, according to custom marched home when the campaign was about to open;" in July, 1782, he noted that his wife "sets out this day for Mount Vernon," and later in the same year he wrote, "as I despair of seeing my home this Winter, I have sent for Mrs. Washington;" and finally, in a letter he draughted for his wife, he made her describe herself as "a kind of perambulator, during eight or nine years of the war."

Another pleasant glimpse during these stormy years is the couple, during a brief stay in Philadelphia, being entertained almost to death, described as follows by Franklin's daughter in a letter to her father: "I have lately been several times abroad with the General and Mrs. Washington. He always inquires after you in the most affectionate manner, and speaks of you highly. We danced at Mrs. Powell's your birthday, or night I should say, in company together, and he told me it was the anniversary of his marriage; it was just twenty years that night" Again there was junketing in Philadelphia after the surrender at Yorktown, and one bit of this is shadowed in a line from Washington to Robert Morris, telling the latter that "Mrs. Washington, myself and family, will have the honor of dining with you in the way proposed, to-morrow, being Christmas day."

With the retirement to Mount Vernon at the close of the war, little more companionship was obtained, for, as already stated, Washington could only describe his home henceforth as a "well resorted tavern," and two years after his return he entered in his diary, "Dined with only Mrs. Washington which I believe is the first instance of it since my retirement from public life."

Even this was only a furlough, for in six years they were both in public life again. Mrs. Washington was inclined to sulk over the necessary restraints of official life, writing to a friend, "Mrs. Sins will give you a better account of the fashions than I can--I live a very dull life hear and know nothing that passes in the town--I never goe to any public place--indeed I think I am more like a State prisoner than anything else; there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from--and as I cannot doe as I like, I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal."

[Illustration Removed: MRS. DANIEL PARKE CUSTIS, LATER MRS. WASHINGTON]

None the less she did her duties well, and in these "Lady Washington" was more at home, for, according to Thacher, she combined "in an uncommon degree, great dignity of manner with most pleasing affability," though possessing "no striking marks of beauty," and there is no doubt that she lightened Washington's shoulders of social demands materially. At the receptions of Mrs. Washington, which were held every Friday evening, so a contemporary states, "the President did not consider himself as visited. On these occasions he appeared as a private gentleman, with neither hat nor sword, conversing without restraint."

From other formal society Mrs. Washington also saved her husband, for a visitor on New Year's tells of her setting "'the General' (by which title she always designated her husband)" at liberty: "Mrs. Washington had stood by his side as the visitors arrived and were presented, and when the clock in the hall was heard striking nine, she advanced and with a complacent smile said, 'The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede him,' upon which all arose, made their parting salutations, and withdrew." Nor was it only from the fatigues of formal entertaining that the wife saved her husband, Washington writing in 1793, "We remain in Philadelphia until the 10th instant. It was my wish to have continued there longer; but as Mrs. Washington was unwilling to leave me surrounded by the malignant fever which prevailed, I could not think of hazarding her, and the Children any longer by my continuance in the City, the house in which we live being in a manner blockaded by the disorder, and was becoming every day more and more fatal; I therefore came off with them."

Finally from these "scenes more busy, tho' not more happy, than the tranquil enjoyment of rural life," they returned to Mount Vernon, hoping that in the latter their "days will close." Not quite three years of this life brought an end to their forty years of married life. On the night that Washington's illness first became serious his secretary narrates that "Between 2 and 3 o'clk on Saturday morning he [Washington] awoke Mrs. Washington & told her he was very unwell, and had had an ague. She ... would have got up to call a servant; but he would not permit her lest she should take cold." As a consequence of this care for her, her husband lay for nearly four hours in a chill in a cold bedroom before receiving any attention, or before even a fire was lighted. When death came, she said, "Tis well--All is now over--I have no more trials to pass through--I shall soon follow him." In his will he left "to my dearly beloved wife" the use of his whole property, and named her an executrix.

As a man's views of matrimony are more or less colored by his personal experience, what Washington had to say on the institution is of interest. As concerned himself he wrote to his nephew, "If Mrs. Washington should survive me, there is a moral certainty of my dying without issue: and should I be the longest liver, the matter in my opinion, is hardly less certain; for while I retain the faculty of reasoning, I shall never marry a girl; and it is not probable that I should have children by a woman of an age suitable to my own, should I be disposed to enter into a second marriage." And in a less personal sense he wrote to Chastellux,--
"In reading your very friendly and acceptable letter,... I was, as you may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain American words, 'my wife.' A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible contagion--domestic felicity--which same, like the small pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life; because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America--I don't know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is, that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same domestic felicity during the entire course of your mortal existence."
Furthermore, he wrote to an old friend, whose wife stubbornly refused to sign a deed, "I think, any Gentleman, possessed of but a very moderate degree of influence with his wife, might, in the course of five or six years (for I think it is at least that time) have prevailed upon her to do an act of justice, in fulfiling his Bargains and complying with his wishes, if he had been really in earnest in requesting the matter of her; especially, as the inducement which you thought would have a powerful operation on Mrs. Alexander, namely the birth of a child, has been doubled, and tripled."

However well Washington thought of "the honorable state," he was no match-maker, and when asked to give advice to the widow of Jack Custis, replied, "I never did, nor do I believe I ever shall, give advice to a woman, who is setting out on a matrimonial voyage; first, because I never could advise one to marry without her own consent; and, secondly because I know it is to no purpose to advise her to refrain, when she has obtained it. A woman very rarely asks an opinion or requires advice on such an occasion, till her resolution is formed; and then it is with the hope and expectation of obtaining a sanction, not that she means to be governed by your disapprobation, that she applies. In a word the plain English of the application may be summed up in these words: 'I wish you to think as I do; but, if unhappily you differ from me in opinion, my heart, I must confess, is fixed, and I have gone too far now to retract.'" Again he wrote:
"It has ever been a maxim with me through life, neither to promote nor to prevent a matrimonial connection, unless there should be something indispensably requiring interference in the latter. I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one's life, the foundation of happiness or misery. To be instrumental therefore in bringing two people together, who are indifferent to each other, and may soon become objects of disgust; or to prevent a union, which is prompted by the affections of the mind, is what I never could reconcile with reason, and therefore neither directly nor indirectly have I ever said a word to Fanny or George, upon the subject of their intended connection."
The question whether Washington was a faithful husband might well be left to the facts already given, were it not that stories of his immorality are bandied about in clubs, a well-known clergyman has vouched for their truth, and a United States senator has given further currency to them by claiming special knowledge on the subject. Since such are the facts, it seems best to consider the question and show what evidence there actually is for these stories, that at least the pretended "letters," etc., which are always being cited, and are never produced, may no longer have credence put in them, and the true basis for all the stories may be known and valued at its worth.

In the year 1776 there was printed in London a small pamphlet entitled "Minutes of the Trial and Examination of Certain Persons in the Province of New York," which purported to be the records of the examination of the conspirators of the "Hickey plot" (to murder Washington) before a committee of the Provincial Congress of New York. The manuscript of this was claimed in the preface to have been "discovered (on the late capture of New York by the British troops) among the papers of a person who appears to have been secretary to the committee." As part of the evidence the following was printed:
"William Cooper, soldier, sworn.

"Court. Inform us what conversation you heard at the Serjeant's Arms?

"Cooper. Being there the 21st of May, I heard John Clayford inform the company, that Mary Gibbons was thoroughly in their interest, and that the whole would be safe. I learnt from enquiry that Mary Gibbons was a girl from New Jersey, of whom General Washington was very fond, that he maintained her genteelly at a house near Mr. Skinner's,--at the North River; that he came there very often late at night in disguise; he learnt also that this woman was very intimate with Clayford, and made him presents, and told him of what General Washington said.

"Court. Did you hear Mr. Clayford say any thing himself that night?

"Cooper. Yes; that he was the day before with Judith, so he called her, and that she told him, Washington had often said he wished his hands were clear of the dirty New-Englanders, and words to that effect.

"Court. Did you hear no mention made of any scheme to betray or seize him?

"Cooper. Mr. Clayford said he could easily be seized and put on board a boat, and carried off, as his female friend had promised she would assist: but all present thought it would be hazardous."



"William Savage, sworn.

"Court. Was you at the Serjeant's Arms on the 21st of May? Did you hear any thing of this nature?

"Savage. I did, and nearly as the last evidence has declared; the society in general refused to be concerned in it, and thought it a mad scheme.

"Mr. Abeel. Pray, Mr. Savage, have not you heard nothing of an information that was to be given to Governor Tryon?

"Savage. Yes; papers and letters were at different times shewn to the society, which were taken out of General Washington's pockets by Mrs. Gibbons, and given (as she pretended some occasion of going out) to Mr. Clayford, who always copied them, and they were put into his pockets again."
The authenticity of this pamphlet thus becomes of importance, and over this little time need be spent. The committee named in it differs from the committee really named by the Provincial Congress, and the proceedings nowhere implicate the men actually proved guilty. In other words, the whole publication is a clumsy Tory forgery, put forward with the same idle story of "captured papers" employed in the "spurious letters" of Washington, and sent forth from the same press (J. Bew) from which that forgery and several others issued.

The source from which the English fabricator drew this scandal is fortunately known. In 1775 a letter to Washington from his friend Benjamin Harrison was intercepted by the British, and at once printed broadcast in the newspapers. In this the writer gossips to Washington "to amuse you and unbend your minds from the cares of war," as follows: "As I was in the pleasing task of writing to you, a little noise occasioned me to turn my head around, and who should appear but pretty little Kate, the Washer-woman's daughter over the way, clean, trim and as rosy as the morning. I snatched the golden, glorious opportunity, and, but for the cursed antidote to love, Sukey, I had fitted her for my general against his return. We were obliged to part, but not till we had contrived to meet again: if she keeps the appointment, I shall relish a week's longer stay." From this originated the stories of Washington's infidelity as already given, and also a coarser version of the same, printed in 1776 in a Tory farce entitled "The Battle of Brooklyn."

Jonathan Boucher, who knew Washington well before the Revolution, yet who, as a loyalist, wrote in no friendly spirit of him, asserted that "in his moral character, he is regular." A man who disliked him far more, General Charles Lee, in the excess of his hatred, charged Washington in 1778 with immorality,--a rather amusing impeachment, since at the very time Lee was flaunting the evidence of his own incontinence without apparent shame,--and a mutual friend of the accused and accuser, Joseph Reed, whose service on Washington's staff enabled him to speak wittingly, advised that Lee "forbear any Reflections upon the Commander in Chief, of whom for the first time I have heard Slander on his private Character, viz., great cruelty to his Slaves in Virginia & Immorality of Life, tho' they acknowledge so very secret that it is difficult to detect. To me who have had so good opportunities to know the Purity of the latter & equally believing the Falsehood of the former from the known excellence of his disposition, it appears so nearly bordering upon frenzy, that I can pity the wretches rather than despise them."

Washington was too much of a man, however, to have his marriage lessen his liking for other women; and Yeates repeats that "Mr. Washington once told me, on a charge which I once made against the President at his own Table, that the admiration he warmly professed for Mrs. Hartley, was a Proof of his Homage to the worthy Part of the Sex, and highly respectful to his Wife." Every now and then there is an allusion in his letters which shows his appreciation of beauty, as when he wrote to General Schuyler, "Your fair daughter, for whose visit Mrs. Washington and myself are greatly obliged," and again, to one of his aides, "The fair hand, to whom your letter ... was committed presented it safe."

His diary, in the notes of the balls and assemblies which he attended, usually had a word for the sex, as exampled in: "at which there were between 60 & 70 well dressed ladies;" "at which there was about 100 well dressed and handsome ladies;" "at which were 256 elegantly dressed ladies;" "where there was a select Company of ladies;" "where (it is said) there were upwards of 100 ladies; their appearance was elegant, and many of them very handsome;" "at wch. there were about 400 ladies the number and appearance of wch. exceeded anything of the kind I have ever seen;" "where there were about 75 well dressed, and many of them very handsome ladies--among whom (as was also the case at the Salem and Boston assemblies) were a greater proportion with much blacker hair than are usually seen in the Southern States."

At his wife's receptions, as already said, Washington did not view himself as host, and "conversed without restraint, generally with women, who rarely had other opportunity of seeing him," which perhaps accounts for the statement of another eye-witness that Washington "looked very much more at ease than at his own official levees." Sullivan adds that "the young ladies used to throng around him, and engaged him in conversation. There were some of the well-remembered belles of the day who imagined themselves to be favorites with him. As these were the only opportunities which they had of conversing with him, they were disposed to use them." In his Southern trip of 1791 Washington noted, with evident pleasure, that he "was visited about 2 o'clock, by a great number of the most respectable ladies of Charleston--the first honor of the kind I had ever experienced and it was flattering as it was singular." And that this attention was not merely the respect due to a great man is shown in the letter of a Virginian woman, who wrote to her correspondent in 1777, that when "General Washington throws off the Hero and takes up the chatty agreeable Companion--he can be down right impudent sometimes--such impudence, Fanny, as you and I like."

Another feminine compliment paid him was a highly laudatory poem which was enclosed to him, with a letter begging forgiveness, to which he playfully answered,--
"You apply to me, my dear Madam, for absolution as tho' I was your father Confessor; and as tho' you had committed a crime, great in itself, yet of the venial class. You have reason good--for I find myself strangely disposed to be a very indulgent ghostly adviser on this occasion; and, notwithstanding 'you are the most offending Soul alive' (that is, if it is a crime to write elegant Poetry,) yet if you will come and dine with me on Thursday, and go thro' the proper course of penitence which shall be prescribed I will strive hard to assist you in expiating these poetical trespasses on this side of purgatory. Nay more, if it rests with me to direct your future lucubrations, I shall certainly urge you to a repetition of the same conduct, on purpose to shew what an admirable knack you have at confession and reformation; and so without more hesitation, I shall venture to command the muse, not to be restrained by ill-grounded timidity, but to go on and prosper. You see, Madam, when once the woman has tempted us, and we have tasted the forbidden fruit, there is no such thing as checking our appetites, whatever the consequences may be. You will, I dare say, recognize our being the genuine Descendants of those who are reputed to be our great Progenitors."
Nor was Washington open only to beauty and flattery. From the rude frontier in 1756 he wrote, "The supplicating tears of the women,... melt me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I know my own mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy, provided that would contribute to the people's ease." And in 1776 he said, "When I consider that the city of New York will in all human probability very soon be the scene of a bloody conflict, I cannot but view the great numbers of women, children, and infirm persons remaining in it, with the most melancholy concern. When the men-of-war passed up the river, the shrieks and cries of these poor creatures running every way with their children, were truly distressing.... Can no method be devised for their removal?"

Nevertheless, though liked by and liking the fair sex, Washington was human, and after experience concluded that "I never again will have two women in my house when I am there myself."

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