With each book I write I do research. The extent and kind will vary depending on what I need to know to write the story accurately and authentically to the best of my ability. The longest book I’ve ever written, and the one that I had to do a ton of research to write, is my June 2 release, Becoming Lady Washington. Why June 2? Because that is Martha’s birthday. So today I’m going to talk about where Martha Dandridge was born.
Her parents, John and Frances Dandridge, welcomed her to their home called Chestnut Grove sometime between midnight and 1:00 a.m. on June 2, 1731. Chestnut Grove was located alongside the Pamunkey River in Kent County, Virginia. It was a two-story frame house with three rooms on each floor. Not a big house for a plantation in those days. You can see a sketch of what the house looked like here.
My hubby and I visited the area back in 2015 when I first started researching to write Martha’s life story. Well, at least from her teenage years! I wanted to see the lay of the land and at least try to imagine what it would have looked like when she was a girl. It was disappointing to find we couldn’t even get close to the site as it’s private property. So online research and pictures had to suffice to inspire my imagination. Here’s a short excerpt from my book where she sees the house:
“As we neared Chestnut Grove, I studied the main house as the boat angled toward the dock. The central sturdy door had been made from poplar, like the window casings. At either end of the good-sized clapboard house rose two brick chimneys poking through the white oak shingled roof. A variety of flowering bushes and plants softened the appearance of the brick-and-board structure. Around it, smaller buildings stood: the kitchen, laundry, smokehouse, privy. Chestnut Grove was the only home I’d ever known. If I’d succeeded in my mission, the two-story frame house would become my childhood home. I’d move away, to a new home, a new husband, a new life.”
But just like Martha’s life, that was only one the beginning. Knowing where she was born and grew up was one piece of the history I needed to learn more about, then understand, and then put myself in her shoes. I really wish the home hadn’t burned down in the early 1900s so I could have seen it for myself. It’s far easier to feel like I’ve walked in my character’s place when I can roam around the same spaces she did. See what the view from the windows would have been. Hear the sounds of movement by others.
I’ve worked hard to write her story in order for others to find out what a remarkable woman she was in her own right. Not just as the wife of a great man. In fact, after all I’ve learned about Martha I don’t believe George would have reached the heights of greatness he did without her support and love.
Becoming Lady Washington is available in hardback, paperback, and digital formats for preorder now. Like I said, it will publish on June 2 in honor of Martha’s 289th birthday.
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Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
Available for preorders now! Releases June 2, 2020…
Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband…no matter what the dangerous future may hold.