Mary Ball Washington

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Mary Ball Washington
Mary Ball Washington(Pine).jpg
Born (1708-11-30)November 30, 1708
Lively, Lancaster County, Colony of Virginia
Died August 26, 1789(1789-08-26) (aged 80)
Spotsylvania County, Colony of Virginia
Spouse(s) Augustine Washington
Children George Washington, 5 others
Closeup of the Mary Ball Washington House (1772-1789) in Fredericksburg, Virginia

Mary Ball Washington, born Mary Ball (November 30, 1708 – August 26, 1789), was the second wife of Augustine Washington, a planter in Virginia, and the mother of George Washington, the first President of the United States, and five other children.


Mary Ball was born in 1708 in Lively, Virginia in Lancaster County. She was the only child of Joseph Matthäus Ball and his second wife, the widow Mary Johnson. She was of three quarters English and one quarter Dutch descent.[1] Fatherless at three and orphaned at twelve, Mary Ball was placed under the guardianship of George Eskridge, a lawyer, in accordance with the terms of her mother's will, for whom her son George Washington, was named, consistent with the naming conventions at the time. (see the appendix of the book "Albion's Seed" by David Hackett Fischer for an insightful discussion of four naming conventions in use at the time in Great Britain.)

Mary Ball first met Augustine Washington at the home of her brother Joseph Ball outside London, England when he was in England on business and visiting his sons Lawrence and Austin (Augustine, Jr.) who were students at the prestigious preparatory school, Appleby's. Augustine Washington was sick and Mary Ball nursed him back to health. Augustine returned to Virginia and learned his wife Jane Butler Washington had died during his journey abroad. When the widower Augustine Washington heard that Mary Ball returned to Virginia, he went over to where she lived and proposed. They married on March 6, 1731 when she was 22 years old. It was her first marriage and his second. At age 37, Augustine had four children by his first wife, Jane Butler Washington; however, only two of them survived to adulthood.[citation needed]

Together, Mary and Augustine had the following children:

Her third son, John Augustine Washington, was the father of Bushrod Washington who was nominated by President John Adams to the U.S. supreme Court, and confirmed by the Senate in 1798, while his Uncle George was living in retirement at Mount Vernon. Charlestown, West Virginia is named for her fourth son Charles Washington, the national capital and many other cities, towns and villages are named "Washington" for her first son George Washington.

The Ancestry of George Washington can also be found on the Mount Vernon website.[2]

Augustine died in 1743 when son George was 11 years old. On his deathbed, "Gus" gave his son George three books on prayer. In some of those books, now in the Lyceum in Boston, Mary Ball Washington, also wrote her name. Unlike most widows in Virginia at the time, Mary Ball Washington never remarried. When George was 14, his 14-year older half-brother Lawrence Washington, who commanded a unit of Virginia Militia that served on board with British Admiral Edward Vernon, for whom Mount Vernon was named, arranged for young George to become a British Navy Midshipman. However, Mary's highly respected brother Joseph Ball, who the Virginia House of Burgesses had voted money to pay the cost for Virginia's young men to go study for the ministry under Joseph Ball, wrote a reply to her letter requesting advice, where Joseph Ball said do NOT allow your son George to join the British Navy, for they will "...treat him worse than a slave or a dog". Many historians harshly criticize Mary Ball Washington for being overbearing and selfish, but the facts of history they ignore show she was wise and sought wise counsel from her highly respected older brother.

Mary managed the home (estate) and 276 acres of Ferry Farm (plantation) with the help of others until her eldest son came of age and well beyond. She lived to see that son, George Washington, command the Continental Army to independence and be inaugurated as the first President of the United States in 1789. The day in April 1789 after learning from Charles Thomson that he had been elected President, George Washington with Martha Washington's grandson George Washington Parke Custis, traveled the 50 miles or so from Mount Vernon to the home of Mary Ball Washington in Fredericksburg. There Mrs. Washington informed her son that she was in poor health and expected soon to die. Her son George said that he would need to decline to serve as President. George's mother Mary responded, saying, "Go and fulfill the high destiny which Heaven has foreordained you to fill. Go, knowing that you go with a Mother's and Heaven's blessings!" George was inaugurated on 30 April 1789 in New York City at the Federal Building on Wall Street with his hand on a King James Bible, and added to the Oath prescribed in this Constitution for the United States of America, the profound and powerful words, " help me God." This visit to Mary Ball Washington was recorded by George Washington Parke Custis in his biography, "Recollections and Private Memoirs of George Washington".

While there is a legend that Mrs. Washington was said to be openly opposed to her son's revolutionary politics and, according to French officers based in Virginia during the war, she was a Loyalist sympathizer, there is no credible source to support that legend. The facts are that other than her son George who was Commander in Chief of the Continental forces (Army and Navy), Mary's other three son's Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles, all served in the Virginia Militia, and her daughter Betty's husband, Fielding Lewis, made cannon and rifles for use by the American Revolutionary forces, going bankrupt in the process. Further, the biography of Washington by the President of Princeton, later President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, has an illustration of General Washington escorting his beloved mother, Mary Ball Washington, into the Victory Ball in Fredericksburg after the British surrender in Yorktown.[3]

Mary Washington was by no means poor despite the fact that she petitioned the Government of Virginia claiming, in response to a Virginia government notice to citizens to do so, asking to be reimbursed for farm animals, horses and cattle that she gave to support the American war effort.[4] Her son, George, purchased her a fine house in Fredericksburg, four blocks from some "Prayer Rocks" Mary frequented to pray for her children and only two blocks from Kenmore, where George's sister Betty (Mrs. Fielding Lewis) lived. Mary lived in her home nearby from 1772 until her death in 1789, but George also arranged for water from the "medicine springs" on the Ferry Farm property, her home for many years, to be brought to his mother in town each day. In her will, Mary Washington left George the majority of her lands and appointed him as her executor.

Mary Washington frequently visited her daughter Betty and her husband Fielding Lewis at their Kenmore Plantation two blocks from her home in Fredericksburg. She had a favorite "prayer rock" that was close to the Lewis mansion. Tradition has it that this was her favorite retreat for reading and prayer. She asked Betty to bury her there after her death, and her daughter arranged that. So not to offend some modern listeners of History, the Prayer Rocks where Mary Ball Washington often went to pray have been renamed to the "Meditation Rocks".

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Several monuments have been erected to Mary Ball Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she lived from 1772 until her death in 1789.
  • The Mary Washington House in Fredericksburg has been preserved by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities)who, in mid-2012, signed an agreement passing ownership to the "Washington Heritage Museums" beginning by 2015. The residence is open to the public and operated as a historic house museum. It contains a fine collection of antique furnishings, some with Washington family provenance.
  • Mary Ball Washington is buried on the grounds of Kenmore, the former home of her daughter and son-in-law Fielding and Betty Lewis. Kenmore is operated as a house museum and is open regularly for public tours.
  • A monument to Mary Ball Washington was erected in 1833 and dedicated by President Andrew Jackson. It was left unfinished until a women's organization formed in the late nineteenth century and raised money for the monument. The Mary Washington Memorial Association used social events and balls to raise money for the cause. The new memorial was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 at her grave site. [1]
  • The University of Mary Washington, a public university in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was named for her.
  • The Mary Washington Hospital,[5] located in Fredericksburg, is named for her.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "George Washington Genealogy". Archives. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Archived May 24, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ George Washington: A Life by Willard Stearne Randall (1997). New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. page 440. ISBN 0-8050-5992-X
  4. ^ George Washington: A Life by Willard Stearne Randall (1997). New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. page 440. ISBN 0-8050-5992-X
  5. ^

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