“I have lost a much valued Friend.”

MARTHA WASHINGTON and ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL did not have a great deal in common though they were fast friends and faithful correspondents. One thing that did bind them together was grief. They had both suffered losses: Martha of her first husband and her four children, and Powel of her husband (in September 1793 as a result of the yellow fever epidemic which had devastated Philadelphia) and her only offspring, two infant sons.

The sudden death of “the General” on Dec. 14, 1799 grieved both women. Ten days after the “late melancholy Event,” Elizabeth assured Martha that “tho’ the Season is far advanced, and the Roads bad, I would most certainly pay a Visit to your House of Mourning, could I afford to you the smallest consolation under this seemingly hard dispensation of Pro[v]idence; but I too well know that no Consolation can be effected by human Agency. . . . the healing Hand of Time, and pious resignation to the inscrutable decrees of God can alone tranquilize your Soul.” Concluding her letter she wrote: “I have lost a much valued Friend.”

Elizabeth Willing Powel never remarried, remaining a widow for thirty-six years. The portrait is of her in old age. As she had no direct heirs she formally adopted her nephew, John Powel Hare, the one for whom she had purchased Washington’s six coach horses. Hare changed his name to John Hare Powel. Elizabeth Willing Powel died on January 17, 1830 at the age of 87. She was by all accounts a truly extraordinary woman.

Portrait courtesy American Gallery. Mary V. Thompson, In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2008); LETTER from Elizabeth Willing Powel to Martha Washington, Dec. 24, 1799, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. This LINK provides a self-guided very informative tour of the Powel House in Philadelphia.

posted October 9th, 2017 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing, Washington, George, Washington, Martha


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