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Monday, February 23, 2015

George and Martha


George Washington was about to emerge a hero from the French and Indian War when he proposed to Martha Dandridge Custis.

 She was a young, beautiful, recently widowed and very sought after prize in the affluent and powerful Chesapeake society. Chances are good that George and Martha had known each other through mutual friends. They became engaged sometime in early summer 1758 and were married on January 6,1759.

There is always strong speculation that George Washington was passionately in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of his best friend George William.  It seems, however, that all parties "moved on" and the Washingtons and the Williams remained the closest of friends. 

When George proposed to Martha he was undoubtedly enamored by her independence and diminutive beauty (she was a full 13 inches shorter than he), but there is no doubt that Washington was taking care of his future and marrying someone with more wealth and power than he possessed. 

The marriage ended up to be a wonderful one. Martha had two young children by her previous marriage, and George Washington raised them as if they were his own. He was heartbroken over the loss of 17 year old, Patsy and had tried all attempts to save her from her illness. When his step son, Jack, now a young father himself, died from typhus,Washington raised his children and assumed responsibility for their futures.

Martha proved to be the perfect match for this straight forward, yet ambitious, man. She hated being away from home and hearth, but dutifully traveled to Valley Forge each year during the war campaign to bolster the morale of both the troops and her husband. I think the most telling aspect of their marriage is George's instruction to Martha that she destroy all correspondence between them in the event of his death. Clearly he poured out his heart and soul out to her and, being the very discreet man that he was, did not think that history should intrude on this private love.

During this president's weekend we will see the familiar image of an old George Washington on everything from dollars to car sale signs. Martha has been forever enshrined as the old woman wearing the bonnet. Let's, though, remember them for who they really were; he, a 27 year old handsome soldier just home from the battle front , and she a 27 year old, diminutive Southern Belle, mother of two, who wore purple silk shoes with spangled buttons on her wedding day.

 Love comes suddenly to some and gradually to others; the test is in the time. The Custis-Washingtons were happily married for 40 years.