I’m a life-long learner by nature. I guess that’s why I don’t mind researching to write historical fiction. I always learn something! While researching and writing Becoming Lady Washington, there was a lot I didn’t know about Martha Washington’s life and times. There’s probably more to know, too.
I don’t claim to be the expert on her, but I did do quite a bit of research into what life on a plantation was like, what the clothing/attire said about the person wearing it, 18th-century dances, and much, much more. I’ve visited many of the historical sites that Martha frequented such as Mount Vernon, Elsing Green, Colonial Williamsburg, the army headquarters in New York and New Jersey, the presidential house site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ve read two biographies written about Martha, a collection of her letters both sent and received, as well as a dictionary of the people who corresponded with George Washington (fascinating approach to knowing him, too). Plus many online and printed books on an array of subjects related to 18th-century America.
I mention that only to show that I’ve tried my best to write her story as authentically as I could with the knowledge I gleaned from many resources. Those who read the story to give me their feedback before I publish it all enjoyed the story and made few suggestions to improve on it. Therefore, I hope others will enjoy it, too. But I did learn a few things that I’d like to share that you won’t find spelled out in the book.
First, I learned how loving and faithful Martha was to her family and friends. Her “family” included everyone who lived and worked on the plantation. She seemed, from what I read in her letters, to admonish people to work hard, do their best, not be lazy, etc. Whether that person was her granddaughter or one of her enslaved maids, they both seemed to receive equal pressure on those fronts. I do not know, of course, how she treated them in person: facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice. But her words on paper seemed to me to be fairly even handed.
Second, I came across a line in one of her letters that I think nicely sums up her approach to life. In a letter to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, she wrote: “I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learnt from experianence [sic] that the greater part of our happiness or misary [sic] depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one, or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.” I agree with her.
Third, when she married George she may not have ever traveled farther from her home at Chestnut Grove than to reach Williamsburg, Virginia. Yet she moved with him to northern Virginia and Mount Vernon, far away from her family and friends. Moreover, during the entire seven years of the American Revolution she braved terrible roads and sometimes rivers in all kinds of weather, in a coach-and-six, or a carriage, or a sleigh, or even boats (which she didn’t like at all), so she could be with George at the army headquarters during the winter break from fighting. Keep in mind that the length of time it took to go from Mount Vernon to Annapolis, Maryland took two or three days, not hours. To New York was weeks, depending on whether she faced muddy roads or snow or a swollen river she couldn’t cross for days. Think of the many places she’d have to stay overnight and how she’d find food, or carried it with her, depending on the circumstances. I think that demonstrates just how much she loved George.
Finally, the general sense I have of Martha is of a philosophical woman who strove to be fair, informed, and constant, not flighty or overly emotional. I’ve read several mentions of her patriotism and of her exhorting others to fight for freedom from tyranny. Probably another reason she wanted to be with her husband, to show her support of his leadership.
Those are my main takeaways from delving into Martha Washington’s life and times. I’ve tried to reflect what I believe was important to her in Becoming Lady Washington. I hope you will also enjoy reading it and then please let me know what you learn about this remarkable woman.
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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.