WHERE WASHINGTON’S MOTHER SPENT HER LAST YEARS
The first property mentioned in connection with the name of Mary Ball, who became the mother of George Washington, was on the tract of four hundred acres ” in ye freshes of Rappa-h-n River,” bequeathed to her in her father’s will before she was six years old. Her father, Colonel Joseph Ball of Epping Forest, Lancaster County, thought he was about to die, but he lived some years longer.
Ten years later an unknown writer spoke of Mary Ball in pleasing terms :
” WmsBurg, ye 7th of Octr, 1722.
Dear Sukey, Madam Ball of Lancaster and her sweet Molly have gone Horn. Mama thinks Molly the Comliest Maiden She Knows. She is about 16 yrs old, is taller than Me, is verry Sensable, Modest and Loving. Her Hair is like unto Flax, Her Eyes are the color of Yours, and her Chekes are like May blossoms. I wish You could see Her.”
This ” Belle of the Northern Neck,” as she came to be called, continued her conquests of young and old until, at twenty-two, an orphan, she left Epping Forest to live with her brother, Joseph Ball, at ” Stratford-by-bow, Nigh London.” There, on March 6, 1730, she became the second wife of Augustine Washington, the second son of Laurence Washington, who was visiting England at the time.
Less than two years later, at Wakefield, on the Potomac, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, George Washington was born. He was not three years old when the mansion was burned.
The new home was at Pine Grove, in Stafford County, on the Rappahannock River, opposite Fredericksburg. For eight years the family circle was unbroken, but on April 12, 1743, Augustine Washington died. Laurence Washington, Mary Washington’s stepson, then be-came the owner of Mt. Vernon, while to George Washington was bequeathed Pine Grove, though the estate was to be managed by Mrs. Washington until the son became twenty-one.
With wonderful skill Mrs. Washington directed the plantation and with firm purpose she devoted herself to the care of her five fatherless children.
A picture of this capable woman at this period was recorded by Laurence Washington, a nephew of George Washington’s father. He wrote :
” I was often there [at Pine Grove] with George, his playmate, schoolmate, and young man’s companion. Of the mother, I was more afraid than of my own parents; she awed me in the midst of her kindness; and even now, when time has whitened my locks and I am the grandfather of a second generation, I could not behold that majestic woman without feelings it is impossible to describe.”
The death, in 1752, of Laurence Washington of Mt. Vernon made George Washington the owner of that property. Thereafter the twenty-five hundred acre estate became known as the home of the eldest son, while Mrs. Washington remained at Pine Grove with her younger children.
Only a few months later he stopped to see his mother, as he was on his way to the West to carry out a commission laid upon him by Governor Dinwiddie. As Mrs. Washington bade her son good-bye, she urged him to ” remember that God only is our sure trust.” Then she added, ” To Him I commend you.
Her words were remembered. In 1755, when General Braddock asked Colonel Washington to accompany him to Fort Pitt, Mrs. Washington hurried to Mt. Vernon and urged him not to go. He considered her objections, but said:
” The God to whom you commended me, madam, when I set out on a more perilous errand, defended me from all harm, and I trust He will do so now; do you? ”
One by one the children left Pine Grove. In 1750 Betty Washington was married to Colonel Fielding Lewis, who built for her the stately house Kenmore, not far from her mother’s home, but across the river, on the edge of Fredericksburg. This house is still among the show places of the old town.
In the early days of the Revolution Colonel and Mrs. Lewis tried to persuade Mrs. Washington that she was getting too old to live alone at Pine Grove, and urged her to make her home at Kenmore. At the same time Colonel Lewis offered to take over the management of the plantation. To both entreaties she turned a deaf ear; she said she felt entirely competent to take care of herself, and she would manage her own farm.
However, she consented to make her home in a house purchased for her in Fredericksburg, because ” George thought it best.” The dutiful son had time to help in the flitting to the new home before he hurried to the North. He was not to see her again for seven long years.
A member of the family described later the days of waiting when Mary Washington directed her household in the preparation of clothes, provisions, and other comforts for the General and his associates : ” During the trying years when her son was leading the Continental forces, the mother was watching and praying, following him with anxious eyes,” the story is told. “But to the messenger who brought tidings, whether of victory or defeat, she turned a calm face, whatever tremor of feeling it might mask, and to her daughter she said, chiding her for undue excitement, ` The sister of the commanding general should be an example of fortitude and faith.’ ”
It was November 11, 1781, when the victorious commander next saw Fredericksburg, on his way to Philadelphia from Yorktown. George Washington Parke Custis has described the meeting with his mother
” She was alone, ‘her aged hands employed in the works of domestic industry, when the good news was announced, and it was told that the victor was awaiting at the threshold. She bade him welcome by a warm embrace, and by the well-remembered and endearing name of George…. She inquired as to his health, for she marked the lines which mighty cares and toils had made in his manly countenance, and she spoke much of old times and old friends, but of his glory not one word.”
When the Peace Ball was given in Fredericksburg she was an honored guest. Her son walked with her into the gaily decorated ballroom. She remained for a time, but after a while, from the seat where she had watched the dance, she called him to her side. When she was near she said, ” Come, George, it is time for old folks to be at home.”
Lafayette visited Fredericksburg in 1784, that he might pay his respects to Mrs. Washington. He found her in her garden, dressed in a short linsey skirt, working among her flowers. After his visit he declared, ” I have seen the only Roman matron living at this day.”
She still went frequently to her plantation across the river, but as she became more feeble her son gave her a phaeton in which she could cross the ferry in comfort. Her great-granddaughter has written of her appearance when she rolled in the phaeton down the village street :
” In summer she wore a dark straw hat with broad brim and low crown, tied under her chin with black ribbon strings; but in winter a warm hood was substituted, and she was wrapped in the purple cloth cloak lined with silk shang (a present from her son George) that is described in the bequests of her will. In her hand she carried her gold-headed cane, which feeble health now rendered necessary as a support.”
One of the last visits paid by George Washington to his mother was on March 7, 1789. A Fredericksburg paper of March 12 said, ” The object of his Excellency’s visit was probably to take leave of his aged mother, sister, and friends, previous to his departure for the new Congress, over the councils of which, the united voice of America has called him to preside.” On March 11 Washington’s account book shows that the expenses of the trip were £1.8.0. He also noted that he advanced to his mother at the time ” 6 Guineas.”
At New York, on September 1, 1789, President Washington was dining with friends when a messenger brought word of the death of Mrs. Washington. The notice of her death, as given in the Gazette of the United States, on September 9, read :
” Fredericksburg, Virginia, August 27, 1789On Tuesday, the 25th inst. died at her home in this town, Mrs. Mary Washington, aged 83 years, the venerable mother of the illustrious President of the United States, after a long and painful indisposition, which she bore with uncommon patience. Though, a pious tear of duty, affection, and esteem is due to the memory of so revered a character, yet our grief must be greatly alleviated from the consideration that she is relieved from the pitiable infirmities attendant on an extreme old age.It is usual when virtuous and conspicuous persons quit this terrestrial abode, to publish an elaborate panegyric on their characterssuffice it to say, she conducted herself through this transitory life with virtue, prudence, and Christianity, worthy the mother of the grandest Hero that ever adorned the annals of history.”
“0 may kind heaven, propitious to our fate, Extend THAT HERO’S to her lengthen’d date; Through the long period, healthy, active, sage; Nor know the sad infirmities of age.”
The house in Fredericksburg which was occupied after 1775 by Mrs. Washington, is now the property of the Association for the Preservation of Virginian Antiquities.