Archive for the ‘Washington, Martha’ Category

Ona Judge “Never Caught . . . . “

I am looking forward to reading the first full-length nonfiction account of the escape of Ona Judge known as Oney, a dower slave belonging to Martha Washington, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (New York: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, 2017). Ona was the daughter of Betty, a seamstress, and Andrew Judge, a white indentured tailor at Mount Vernon. See previous posts here, here, and here. Oney became a skilled seamstress and was taken by Martha to Philadelphia, the capital of the United States during Washington’s presidency, to be her personal maid. Oney escaped, fled to New Hampshire, and married a seaman Jack Staines. Washington went to great lengths to try to recover her. Without success.

Eric Foner, a historian whom I admire, has called the book “a fascinating and moving account of a courageous and resourceful woman. Beautifully written and utilizing previously untapped sources it sheds new light both on the father of our country and on the intersections of slavery and freedom in the flawed republic he helped to found.”

Historic sites in recent years have introduced exhibitions and tours on the theme of slavery; Mount Vernon’s “Lives Bound Together” runs through September 2018.

posted February 20th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Judge Staines, Ona "Oney",Philadelphia,Slaves/slavery,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“Your Excellency’s Old Devoted Servant”

ELIZABETH THOMPSON was seventy-two years old when she accepted the position of housekeeper to George Washington and his military family. The Irish widow exhibited the stamina and vigor of a much younger woman, following Washington as he moved up and down the northeastern coast. Her duties included overseeing the cooking, cleaning, and the washing of clothes, as well as supervising female servants in the General’s household for which she received “50 £ New York money” a year. She replaced MARY SMITH who left (or was discharged) shortly before it became known that she was part of a loyalist group whose intention was to help the British secure New York City.( Above is Mary Smith’s signature indicating she had received of Caleb Gibbs $216 for the use of Washington and his family.)

Washington had asked the help of Colonel James Clinton in finding a replacement for Mary, as he was “entirely destitute” of a housekeeper, and had heard good reports of Thompson. He hired her but she served for less than a year (July 1776 to April 1777) when she was let go because the spring campaign was about to begin. Apparently Martha Washington was upset when she learned that her husband had dismissed Thompson without consulting her and urged him to rehire her, if not for his military household then for Mount Vernon. Mrs. Thompson was located and agreed to return—to army headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey.

Mrs. Thompson proved to be more than competent in discharging her many responsibilities—quite amazing considering that she could neither read nor write. When she retired in 1781 she was asked to “assist in the enquiries and examination” of a new cook. Washington preferred a German, “a Person that has an understanding in the business, who can order, as well as get a dinner; who can make dishes, and proportion them properly, to any Company which shall be named to him. . . .” Apparently someone satisfactory was found.

When Mrs. Thompson left Washington’s employ, the General invited her to come and live at Mount Vernon but she was too infirm to make the trip. On October 10, 1783 John Trumbull, writing for Elizabeth Thompson, sent a letter to George Washington.

Sir,
When I had the favour of seeing your Excellency at Princeton you desired that I should make an Account for my Services in your Family to be laid before the Financier.

I came in to Your Excellency’s Service as Houskeeper in the month of June 1776 with a Zealous Heart to do the best in my Power. Although my Abilities had not the Strength of my Inclinations Your goodness was pleased to approve and bear with me untill December 1781 when Age made it necessary for me to retire.

Your Bounty and goodness in that time bestowed upon me the sum of £79 ..6..8 which makes it impossible for me to render an Account: my Service was never equal to what your Benevolence has thus rated them.

And being now in my Eightieth Year should I ever want, which I hope will not be the Case, I will look up to Your Excellency for Assistance where I am sure I will not be disappointed.

And that the Father of Mercies may pour on you his Choicest Blessings shall ever be the Prayer of
Your Excellency’s
Old Devoted Servant
Elizabeth Thompson

Thompson applied for and, in 1785, received a lifetime pension from the Continental Congress for her service: £100 a year. She died in 1788.

Frank e. Grizzard, Jr. George! a Guide to All Things Washington (Mariner Companies, Inc., 2005), 305; see entry on Thompson HERE. See also the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799; Elizabeth Thompson to George Washington, October 10, 1783. 373-74. For further information check the Mount Vernon SITE.

posted January 6th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Employment,Smith, Mary,Thompson, Elizabeth,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“he will make thee a good husband”

After DOLLEY PAYNE TODD recovered from yellow fever and the death of her husband and her younger son in 1793 she began to be seen in Philadelphia society once again. Soon she received a note from a friend conveying a request from Aaron Burr that she meet James Madison who very much wanted make her acquaintance. The two met at her home and soon the attentions of the “great little Madison” (he was 5′ 4″) resulted in talk of an engagement. According to a memoir compiled by Dolley’s grand niece the rumor reached the President and Mrs. Washington. The niece recounted a conversation said to have taken place when Mrs. Todd and Martha Washington met.

“Dolly,” said Mrs. Washington, “is it true that you are engaged to James Madison? ” The fair widow, taken aback, answered stammeringly, *’No,” she “thought not.” ” If it is so,” Mrs. Washington continued, “do not be ashamed to confess it: rather be proud; he will make thee a good husband, and all the better for being so much older. We both approve of it; the esteem and friendship existing between Mr. Madison and my husband is very great, and we would wish thee to be happy.”

It seems there was substance to the rumor. Dolley and James Madison were married in September of 1794 in her sister’s home, Harewood, in Virginia. After the wedding celebration the couple resided in the Madison home, Montpelier, but by the end of the year they were back in Philadelphia. At Madison’s request Dolley shed her Somber Quaker attire and joined in the gaiety of the Philadelphia social scene.

Source: The Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States, edited by her Grand-Niece (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., The Riverside Press, Cambridge: 1886) 14-17. Dolley’s portrait, dated 1804, is by Gilbert Stuart and is in the Library of Congress.

posted September 22nd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Courtship,Madison, Dolley,Madison, James,Marriage,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“our Lady Presidentess”

After the death of her child in 1789, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY and her husband John embarked on a six-month journey, via horse-drawn carriage, from Gloucester to a Universalist convention in Philadelphia. She wrote letters to her parents describing her encounters along the way. In 1790 she wrote from New Rochelle, New York, describing a meeting with Martha Washington in New York City, which was then the capital of the United States. This is a repeat of a blog posted in 2011.

About Six O-clock we took a coach for the presence … Colonel Humphry’s, offering his hand, ushered us into the drawing room, a number of Ladies were with Mrs Washington, and her matronlike appearance, and Lady like condescension, soon dissipated every painful idea of distance—taking my hand she seated me by her side, and addressing herself particularly to me, as the only stranger present, she engaged me in the most familiar, and agreeable Chat—. … Mrs Washington’s face is an index of a good heart, and those Virtues which I am told she eminently possesseth, are impressed upon every feature—need I add, that her countenance is irresistibly prepossessing. … Thursday, very unexpectedly opened another scene—I was sitting in my little apartment, alone, and buried in thought—strange that I possessed not the smallest presentiment, of the distinction which awaited me—but so it was … Mrs Washington, and Mrs Lear [the wife of Tobias Lear George Washington’s secretary and friend] were immediately ushered in. If any thing could exceed my surprise, it was the charming freedom with which Mrs Washington took her seat—The unmeaning fopperies of ceremony seem to make no part of this Lady’s Character, inborn benevolence, beams upon her countenance, points her address, and dictates the most pleasing expressions to her lips—one whole hour she condescendingly devoted to me, and so much friendship did her salutations connect, so interesting and animated was our conversation, that a bystander would not have entertained an idea of the distance between us, would hardly have supposed, that we met but for the second time, thus benignly good, and thus adorned with social virtues is our Lady Presidentess, and I confess that in a way perfectly correspondent with my feelings, I have been most highly gratified. …”

Note the use of the word condescension” above. It has a pejorative connotation today, but in the eighteenth century its use was intended to be flattering, connoting the virtue of “generosity.” Judith Murray continued to speak out and write on social and political issues. She wrote plays that were performed at the Boston Theatre on Federal Street and she was the first woman to self-publish a book, The Gleaner, in 1798. After John Murray died Judith went to live with her daughter and her husband Adam Lewis Bingaman in Natchez. She died in 1820 at the age of 69.

This excerpt is from From Gloucester to Philadelphia in 1790: Observations, Anecdotes, and Thoughts from the 18th-Century Letters of Judith Sargent Murray, Bonnie Hurd Smith, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Judith Sargent Murray Society and Curious Traveller Press, 1998), pages 246, 248-250, 254. Portrait from Phebe A Hanaford, Daughters of America (Augusta: True and Company, 1882), page 109,

posted June 16th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Murray, John,Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens,New York,Washington, Martha

“He communed with his God in secret”

Concluding the month of February’s posts on the Washingtons is a letter by Nelly Custis, granddaughter to Martha and adopted daughter of George Washington, to Jared Sparks in 1823 in reply to Jared’s questions about the Washingtons’ religious beliefs and practices as well as how they spent their Sundays.

I hasten to give you the information you desire.
Truro Parish [Episcopal] is the one in which Mount Vernon, Pohick Church [the church where George Washington served as a vestryman], and . . . are situated. Fairfax Parish is now Alexandria. Before the Federal District was ceded to Congress, Alexandria was in Fairfax County. General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria. He was very instrumental in establishing Pohick Church, and I believe subscribed largely. His pew was near the pulpit. I have a perfect recollection of being there, before his election to the presidency, with him and my grandmother…
He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles [a one-way journey of 2-3 hours by horse or carriage]. In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day [Sunday]. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect. My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service. On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother.
It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o’clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, “that they may be seen of men” [Matthew 6:5]. He communed with his God in secret [Matthew 6:6].
My mother [Eleanor Calvert-Lewis] resided two years at Mount Vernon after her marriage [in 1774] with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. (The king of England was the head of the church and apparently Washington would not recognize him as such after the war). When my aunt, Miss Custis [Martha’s daughter] died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event [before they understood she was dead], he [General Washington] knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectingly, for her recovery. Of this I was assured by Judge [Bushrod] Washington’s mother and other witnesses.
He [George Washington] was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little generally; never of himself. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war. I have often seen him perfectly abstracted, his lips moving, but no sound was perceptible. I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits. I was, probably, one of the last persons on earth to whom he would have addressed serious conversation, particularly when he knew that I had the most perfect model of female excellence [Martha Washington] ever with me as my monitress, who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me as only a mother can love, and never extenuating [tolerating] or approving in me what she disapproved of others. She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian. She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity.
Is it necessary that any one should certify, “General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?” As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, “Deeds, not Words”; and, “For God and my Country.”
With sentiments of esteem,
I am, Nelly Custis-Lewis

Excerpts from the letter were included in a blog post by Barbara Wells Sarudy paying tribute to Martha Washington. Read a more complete version of the letter HERE.

posted February 28th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, Martha "Patsy",Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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