Washington’s Lady by Nancy Moser is a fictionalized biography of Martha Washington, wife of the U.S.A.’s first president.
The story opens with Martha at age 26 having just lost her husband of seven years, preceded by the deaths of two children. One of her two remaining children was sick with the same illness that took her husband. Despite her grief, she had to deal with the affairs of their plantation, including the complications of her husband’s neglect to leave a will.
Because she was “the wealthiest widow in Virginia,” “expected to remarry in a timely fashion,” it wasn’t long before a number of suitors sought her hand. No one interested her, however, until she met Colonel Washington. They conversed easily and were drawn to each other, eventually marrying. George tried to help her sort out the issues at her plantation, but eventually they moved to his smaller estate at Mount Vernon.
Trouble was stirring, however, with “Mother England.” Ludicrous laws and taxes, low quality goods sold to colonists at inflated prices, and a number of other issues were moving the populace from dissatisfaction to revolt. George left Mount Vernon as a representative, but eventually became the leader of the armed forces, not returning home for six years.
The story is told from Martha’s point of view, so we hear of battles through letters and occasional visits Martha made to wherever the troops were camping. She put herself to good use, sewing and repairing uniforms, organizing sewing circles to do the same, and visiting the men. Once she and the family had to flee Mt. Vernon as British forces approached, but a storm kept the enemy back. Two schemes to kidnap her failed. Other times newspapers spread lies, such as one stating that she was loyal to Britain.
At one point, overwhelmed by the suffering of the men and the lack of food, clothing and supplies for them at Valley Forge, she lamented that she could not do more. But she realized “the fate of many men depended on the fate of this one. And this one I could help.”
As the conflict drew to a close, many realized the revolution was all for nothing if the fledgling country could not get off to a good start, so talks began as to how best to achieve that. The result was George’s being elected president, not something he wanted at first. He longed for nothing more than to go home and be with his family and get his neglected house in order. But many felt that, as he had unified an army of untrained disparate individuals, he was the best to try to do the same with the thirteen colonies.
Martha was not pleased. All she wanted was for both of them to go home, too. Plus there was nothing for her to do as the president’s wife. She couldn’t even take a walk with her husband without being mobbed, the price of fame neither of them wanted. Perhaps because of all this, the book skips ten years over the time of George’s presidency to the last day of his life, then sums up the couple of years that Martha survived him.
Like most people, Martha had a mixture of qualities. She was unpretentious, strong, feisty, practical, capable in many respects. She had a constant stream of visitors and enjoyed hospitality until it became almost constant as they became more well known. She was also a self-proclaimed worrier. Her one main weakness was her son, Jacky. Perhaps because her husband and other children all passed away, and this son had been dangerously ill, plus for reasons unknown she and George were not able to have their own children, she was over-protective of him, and not only did she not discipline him, she did not let George do so, either. Jacky ran into all kind of trouble as a teenager and young man, seemed to settle down somewhat when he married, but then went back to his undisciplined, self-willed ways later on, and died leaving a wife and four children, the youngest two of whom George and Martha took in. Martha blamed herself, but then she repeated the very same mistakes with her one grandson while being strict with her granddaughters.
After George’s death, she destroyed all but a couple of their letters, perhaps to keep at least that part of their private lives from public view, understandably.
I also enjoyed the author’s several pages at the end explaining her interest in Martha and what things were made up or compiled and what things were real. Conversations, of course, needed imagination to recreate, but she based the story on as much fact as she could discover.
Besides learning more about Martha and George, it was also neat to see glimpses of other historical figures as well and to get the feel of those times. This was a fascinating and enjoyable book.