What A Gown Says: Martha Washington’s Wedding Attire #BecomingLadyWashington #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amreading #books #ReadIndie

British author L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between gives us a popular quote: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” In many ways that is true. On the other hand, there are similarities in those differences. The language of clothing is one of those areas where you can see similar desires and expectations between the 18th century and what we do today. For example, what we wear depends on what we’re going to do (workout at the gym, go to the office, graduate from college, etc.), how much we want to conform to society’s expectations of appropriate attire and modesty, and how much we can afford to spend on our apparel to meet that expectation. The same was true in the past.

I’d like for you to consider Martha Washington’s wedding attire as one example, but first let me share some insights into what clothing says about the wearer.

In the 18th century, how you dressed spoke volumes about your status in the community and society. The fashionableness of the style, the quality and hue of the fabric, as well as the wearer’s movements and stance combined to tell others the person’s status, whether high or low or somewhere in between. Keeping up with fashion trends then, as now, meant following the European fashion magazines which were sent to the colonies regularly. Indeed, it’s recorded that Thomas Jefferson sent Parisian fashion magazines to his daughter when he was visiting France.

The style could also indicate, though not always, where the person was from, either by American colony or another country. Clothing suggested the gender and occupation, how rich or poor, and what kind and amount of activity they engaged in. And much like today, what a person wears can also reveal their attitude toward the society they live in. Consider how differently a person would dress if she were a scullery maid versus a personal maid to a planter’s wife versus the planter’s wife, for instance. The same would be true of a field hand versus a dancing tutor versus a lawyer in town.

Image of Martha Washington as a young woman showing the lace, ruffles, bows, and hair decor.
Young Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. Courtesy Library of Congress.

At the time of Martha and George Washington’s marriage on January 6, 1759, women of a higher status preferred silks brocaded with colorful flowers on a white background. (Brocade is an intricate design on fabric, often raised.) Martha was no exception in preferring silk, especially on her wedding day. Who wouldn’t want the gentle swish and sway of silk, right? Another aspect of choosing her gown is that she would have wanted something she could wear again for other special occasions. They didn’t buy a gown to wear once and put away as a keepsake then. Nor would she have considered a white gown; that fashion came later, in the 19th century.

According to the Mount Vernon historians, Martha’s gown was made of yellow silk damask (meaning reversible) with a petticoat of cream silk highlighted with interwoven silver threads with (perhaps Dresden) lace trim. Her dainty high-heeled shoes were made of purple satin with silver ornamentation. The historians interpret the message of her outfit as, “The combination of expensive, imported yellow and purple silks with silver and gold decorations would have produced a regal appearance that conveyed her elevated social and economic standing.” You can see a photo of the dress and shoes at the above link. I’ve been to the museum where the outfit is on display and it is far lovelier in person than in the photo. But I do agree with their interpretation.

Here’s a short snippet from the book where Martha is preparing for her marriage ceremony, waiting for her sister to come and style her hair:


Where was Nancy? Soon I must go downstairs. I checked the lay of my deep yellow brocade overdress, arranging the silver lace trim at the edge of the bodice until satisfied with its appearance. A white silk petticoat with silver woven into the fabric peeked through the split skirt of the overdress. I stepped into purple satin heels, smiling with pleasure at the silver trimmings. I didn’t often have reason to don such finery, but marrying one of the most distinguished and respected men in the colony certainly justified my choice. Fortunately, the outfit had arrived from London in time to tailor the dress to fit my small figure. Why couldn’t the London factors send clothing meeting the measurements sent instead of sending garments either too big or, worse, too small?

A light rap sounded at the door to my bedroom. I turned as it swung open and Nancy beamed at me. “You’re beautiful, Patsy.”

“I’m glad you’ve arrived. Come, dress my hair for me.”

“I’m sorry for being so late. Now we must hurry. It’s almost time for the ceremony. Everyone is so happy for you.” Nancy pranced into the room and then stopped suddenly to perform a quick pirouette. “What do you think of my gown?”

I inspected the rich green dress with rhinestones sewn across the bodice, a cream silk petticoat visible through the sheer material brushing the tips of her gold satin shoes. “It’s quite lovely. But then you always dress divinely.”


The cover of my historical fiction story of Martha’s life, Becoming Lady Washington, includes an artist’s interpretation of George and Martha’s wedding, an image housed in the Library of Congress. It is not accurate, though, in portraying her attire. In 1759, there were no photographs (obviously) and no sketch artist or portraitist hired to create an image, at least not one that has been found to date. I imagine the man who created the image based it on other similar weddings he’d attended. I particularly enjoy the group of women to the right, apparently oohing and ahhing over the proceedings!

The wedding attire of George and Martha Washington is typical finery of the 18th century but is not accurate since the dress she's wearing in the image is not the same one in the museum.
Artist concept of the marriage ceremony of George and Martha Washington. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Another portrait in the LOC comes from the C.M. Bell collection, dated between 1873 and 1916, and shows how fashionably dressed Martha was as a young woman. Please note that Martha died in 1802. The LOC dated this image based on the fact that it is contained in Bell’s collection and those were the years he was a photographer. I think he likely took a photo of an earlier oil portrait. You can see in the picture the fine fabric and bows and lace, her posture and hair style all speak to her status. Women wearing such attire would not be working in the kitchen, but have the wealth necessary to support a more leisurely life style.

So while the styles and fabrics we wear today have changed, the way we interpret another’s position in society hasn’t changed all that much. We still tend to believe the clothes make the man/woman, that we “dress for success,” or to reveal our rebellion toward societal expectations by wearing clothing others deem in appropriate. I think that attribute of people will likely never change.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

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.

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My Dearest: Letters of Martha and George Washington #BecomingLadyWashington #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amreading #books #ReadIndie

I want to talk today about the three letters known to exist that were written between George and Martha Washington.

That number may surprise you, as back in their time letters were the only means of conveying information and news. No telegrams, or faxes, or cell phones, that’s for sure! So why only three? When I first started researching Martha Washington’s life and times, I was dismayed to learn that there are only three because she burned all the rest shortly before she died. Here’s why, taken from the opening scene in Becoming Lady Washington:


Our love nestled in my hands. Pen and ink applied to linen pages were the only tangible evidence remaining of the love I shared with my husband. He called to me, softly, urgently. I sensed him more than heard his voice, but he summoned me nonetheless. Alone in my chamber, I knew the time drew near for me to answer his command, but delayed doing so until I’d done what I’d come upstairs to my bedchamber to do. I owed him that and so much more.

Voices along with the parakeets’ incessant chatter floated up from the portico below, the reassuring sounds drifting up and into my room. Another more subtle voice in my mind urged me to follow George’s private secretary’s circumspect example for far different reasons than to protect that awful Jefferson. I’d left everyone below to escape to my private space, using my ailment as an excuse to rest. I didn’t tell any one my true intention because I’m sure they’d try to stop me.

I gripped one of the many packets of letters stacked on my bedside table, each tied with a red satin ribbon faded to dusty rose. The papers were creased and stained from their travels from one state to another, from the multitude of hands which passed on the letters, and from the repeated reading of their contents. Words of love. Of private jokes between a man and his wife. Words of anger and dismay, of fear and courage, all kept mostly secure from the eyes of strangers. Safe from being abused and published in the paper, their meaning twisted and contorted to suit nefarious aims by my husband’s enemies. Men like that blasted betrayer, Thomas Jefferson. I shall never forgive him for intentionally working to defame my precious life mate. The wounds from Jefferson’s actions never healed. How could Tobias Lear have wanted to protect that man’s reputation? Nonetheless, I’d defend George’s reputation until the day I died. Maybe longer.

I looked around my bedchamber. Not the one I had shared for so many years with my love. No, that one I’d closed up tight upon his death three long years ago before moving into this third floor chamber. I smiled at the sight of the four-post bed with its pink roses dominating against a cheery yellow backing. They brought a bit of my garden inside to keep me company, now that I no longer had the interest or strength to work among the flowers. My gaze rested on the dark wood dresser, a looking glass framed above it. The fire snapped and crackled, its flames dancing merrily along the logs. The sound of the greedy flames reminded me of my mission.

Pulling a chair away from the writing desk, I positioned it close to the fire with one hand, clutching the treasured missives against my chest. Sitting, I tugged on the ribbon, freeing the folded pages to tumble into my lap. I leaned forward, and began feeding the letters into the fire. Watched the ancient pages burn and curl as they blackened into ash. As each letter shriveled and disappeared, my mind drifted back over my life. A life of love, grief, and peril. Starting with the precocious decision that set the rest into motion.


Now, although she burned all of the private correspondence in her possession, others retained their letters so we do have a collection of letters written to and from Martha. Joseph E. Fields gathered them into a book, “Worthy Partner”: The Papers of Martha Washington which is invaluable as a source for understanding what her concerns and worries and joys consisted of.

I am going to share the three letters, or parts of them, to give you a glimpse into their relationship and what I tried to convey in my depiction of their love for each other. The spelling and punctuation used within “Worthy Partner” are retained as I have to believe that is how it was in the actual letters.

The only letter written by Martha to George, however, is short and sweet. It’s dated March 30, 1767. George had gone to Williamsburg to attend the House of Burgesses and then on to the Dismal Swamp area before returning to Mount Vernon:

My Dearest

It as with very great pleasure I see in your letter that you got safely down. We are all very well at this time but it still is rainney and wett. I am sorry you will not be at home soon as I expected you. I had reather my sister woud not come up so soon as May woud be much plasenter time than April. We wrote you last post as I have nothing new to tell you I must conclude myself

Your most Affectionate
Martha Washington

I wonder if George may have been a bit disappointed in this short note while he was away. Talking about the weather and to request that her sister hold off visiting for another month. In contrast, Martha’s other letters included in the book were sometimes long indeed.

No letters from George to Martha exist until one dated June 18, 1775 from Philadelphia. George is explaining why he will not be coming home to Mount Vernon for the foreseeable future:

My Dearest

I am now set down to write you on a subject which fills me with inexpressible concern – and this concern is greatly aggravated and increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you – It has been determined in Congress that the whole Army raised for the defence of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it. You may believe me my dear Patcy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the Family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my Capacity and that I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you, at home, than I have the most distant prospect of reaping abroad, if my stay were to be Seven times Seven years. But, as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this Service, I shall hope that my undertaking of it, is designed to answer some good purpose – You might, and I suppose did perceive, from the Tenor of my letters, that I was apprehensive I could not avoid this appointment, as I did not even pretend to intimate when I should return – that was the case – it was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment without exposing my Character to such censures as would have reflected dishonor upon myself, and given pain to my friends – this, I am sure could not, and ought not be pleasing to you, & must have lessend me considerably in my own esteem. I shall rely therefore, confidently, on that Providence which has heretofore preservd, & been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall – I shall feel no pain from the Toil, or the danger of the Campaign – My unhappiness will flow, from the uneasiness I know you will feel at being left alone – I beg of you to summon your whole fortitude Resolution, and pass your time as agreeably as possible – nothing will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your own pen. …

I shall add nothing more at present as I have several Letters to write, but to desire you will remember me to Milly & all Friends, and to assure you that I am with the most unfeigned regard,

My dear
Patcy Yr Affecte
Go: Washington

I left out two paragraphs in George’s letter. His is a much longer one than hers because he had important news to share and he wanted to console her as much as possible over the upcoming separation.

Enclosed in this letter was his will because as he says, “As Life is always uncertain, and common prudence dictates” he wanted to ease her mind and any future aggravation of not stated his wishes should the worst happen. I can only image the mixture of relief and terror that swept through upon receiving a will from her beloved husband. Relief because she’d seen the outcome of having a husband who possessed a fortune die without a will, and probably hoped to never have to go through such an overwhelming situation again. Terror stemming from the fear she’d need to use the will, that her husband wouldn’t come home alive but in a box. If he came home at all.

Five days after that letter, George wrote again to Martha from Philadelphia…

My dearest,

As I am within a few minutes of leaving this City, I could not think of departing from it without dropping you a line, especially as I do not know whether it may be in my power to write you again till I get to the Camp at Boston – I go fully trusting in that Providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve, & in full confidence of a happy Meeting with you sometime in the Fall – I have no time to add more, as I am surrounded with Company to take leave of me – I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change. My best love to Jack & Nelly and regard for the rest of the Family concludes me with the utmost truth & sincerity,

Yr entire
Go: Washington

In fact, he didn’t step foot on Mount Vernon until late in 1781 before the battle at Yorktown.

I so wish I had had more of their correspondence to refer to in order to better understand their relationship, their feelings for each other and the separation they endured. On the other hand, I can totally understand her need to protect her beloved husband’s reputation in a time when personal letters were being printed in the newspapers, or quote out of context. Even from these few samples, though, it’s obvious that they loved each other very, very much.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

Cover of Becoming Lady Washington showing the marriage of Martha and George Washington

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.

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Witnessing America’s First Aerial Flight #BecomingLadyWashington #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amreading #books #ReadIndie

Can you guess when and where America’s very first aerial flight took place? I have to admit I was very surprised to come across mention of the balloon launch while researching for Becoming Lady Washington. I was reading a (to me) fascinating book by Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., entitled George Washington: A Biographical Companion. This book is comprised of encyclopedia-style entries on various topics and individuals important to George Washington. The entries provide some insights into the people and events associated with him. Under the “Balloons” entry, is the following:

“Washington was especially pleased when during his presidency another French aeronaut decided to fly a balloon in Philadelphia, offering him a chance to actually witness firsthand these amazing feats against gravity. The Frenchman, Jean Pierre Blanchard, appealed to Washington for a ‘passport’ on the day of his flight, 9 January 1793, which Washington gladly provided:

“To all to whom these presents shall come. The bearer hereof, Mr. Blanchard, a citizen of France, proposing to ascend in a balloon from the city of Philadelphia at 10 A.M. this day to pass in such direction and to descend in such place as circumstances may render most convenient.

“These are there to recommend to all citizens of the United States and others that in his passage, descent, return, or journeying elsewhere, they oppose no hindrance or molestation to the said Mr. Blanchard: and that on the contrary, they receive and aid him with that humanity and good will which may render honor to their country and justice to an individual so distinguished by his efforts to establish and advance his art in order to make it useful to mankind in general.”

During my reading about Martha Washington and her life and times, I found mention of her taking the children up to the roof to watch the fireworks for Independence Day while George was president. So, knowing the details of the balloon flight, I included her watching the balloon launch from the roof of the President’s House in Philadelphia. Here’s how I envisioned the scene:

The new year of 1793 brought a unique opportunity for the residents of Philadelphia. On a cold day in January, a French aeronaut, Jean Pierre Blanchard, launched a hydrogen-gas balloon from the center of the city. Actually, he launched from the center of the yard of the Walnut Street Prison a few blocks away from the presidential mansion. Although the ascension wouldn’t occur until ten in the morning, two field artillery pieces fired every fifteen minutes beginning at six to remind everyone of the event. I took the family up onto the roof of the kitchen, to listen to the brass band playing the martial music from within the court yard of the prison and to watch the yellow silk balloon inflated with gas. We had a wonderful view of the massive crowds gathered for the event.

George went in his coach to deliver a handwritten pass to Blanchard, asking on his behalf for any one he met to provide assistance as needed. The pass was a necessity since Blanchard spoke little English and didn’t know where exactly he might land. Once on the ground, he’d need help to bring the balloon safely back into the city. I suppressed a giggle as I imagined some startled farmer in a panic at the strange sight of a flying man in a balloon. What I wouldn’t give to witness such a sight for myself.

Fifteen cannon boomed, acknowledging the president’s arrival at the launch site. Another blast of the cannon several minutes later announced the launch of the apparatus, and in another minute we could see the yellow balloon gently rise into the air. Blanchard stood in the basket, waving a flag in one hand and holding his hat in the other as he nodded to the crowd’s exclamations.

Indeed, every roof and steeple surrounding us teemed with astonished people, waving and mouths open in awe. The streets appeared to be impassable with the thousands of onlookers. Blanchard rose slowly in a vertical fashion until a light breeze took charge and carried him toward the Delaware and eventually out of sight. January 9, 1793 would go down in the history books as the day of the first-ever aerial voyage in our young country’s history. The entire family relished witnessing history in the making. And yet my heart longed for our imminent journey home in a few short months.

While I do not know if this is indeed how she watched, or even if she watched, I do believe if given the opportunity she would welcome the chance to witness this amazing feat. She went to plays and curiosities and wax museums and to see the elephants on multiple occasions. So why wouldn’t she go up on the roof with the children to let them also experience the thrill of seeing a man fly in the sky?

It’s frequently surprising to me what I stumble across during my reading and researching. I hope you enjoy this tidbit of American history, too!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

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.

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Martha Washington and Motherhood #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #motherhood #amreading #books #novel #ReadIndie

Martha Washington was fiercely devoted to her family. You can learn more about her first marriage and children here. Every letter I’ve read written by her to family members included her love and advice and guidance. She was known for sending little gifts with her letters, showing she thought about and cared for the recipient. While she didn’t have children with George, many people do not know that she had four children with her first husband, Daniel Custis.

George and Martha Washington with Martha’s daughter Patcy and son Jacky Custis.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018697463/ Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Their first child was Daniel Parke Custis II who was born November 19, 1751 at White House Plantation upriver from Chestnut Grove on the Pamunkey. I can only imagine the worry Martha must have felt her first time with child. I imagine she summoned her mother and sisters as well as a midwife to assist with the delivery. Did she shoo Daniel out to wait downstairs? Probably, that being typical of the times, but we don’t know for certain.

Child number two was Frances Parke Custis who was born April 12, 1753 at the home plantation. While still a worrisome time, depending on how the first birth had gone, perhaps she wasn’t quite as worried. There’s no record, of course, of how easy or difficult the birth may have been.

Sadly, Daniel and Martha’s first born son, Daniel II, died on February 19, 1754. At under two-and-a-half years old, his death must have hit home with his parents. Even though deaths were a part of the fabric of life, losing your first child would have to be devastating. I don’t know the cause of death for him, but given the time of year, perhaps a virus or flu?

Next came John “Jacky” Parke Custis on November 27, 1754. Nine months after little Daniel had been buried. Martha now has an infant and a toddler to occupy her hands and time.

Finally, Martha “Patcy” Parke Custis was born sometime in 1756. I haven’t found anywhere that cites a month and day, not even at the Mount Vernon link above. Knowing how Martha felt about her family later in life, I imagine she was proud of her little brood. Three healthy, happy children (I presume) to call her mother and for her to dote on. However, later analysis suggests that this birth wasn’t an easy one which may have left Martha unable to bear more children. However, there is no evidence one way or the other.

(By the way, Daniel’s father, John Custis, put in his will that every descendent had to have “Parke” in their name in order to inherit anything from his estate. He was a crusty, angry, bitter man…)

But the following year, 1757, brought tragedy to Martha’s doorstep. First, little Frances died suddenly in April. My resources don’t include the cause of death, but I can feel for Martha. Two of her four children were now buried at the Queens Creek cemetery beside their grandmother Frances Custis. At least Martha still had her other two children living.

In June, possibly wishing to preserve the likeness of his remaining family, Daniel insisted on having the family portraits painted by the itinerant English Painter John Wollaston. His foresight ensured that Martha would have images to remember her husband and two of four children.

But by July, one month later, little Jacky became seriously ill and Daniel sent to Williamsburg for medicine. Soon, Daniel was also struck with a serious illness and took to his bed, from which he continued to manage the business of the plantation. This time Martha sent for medicine, but it did no good. Daniel died July 8, possibly of a heart condition, but it’s not clear.

What about little Jacky? He stayed in bed while they buried his father at Queens Creek on July 12. Dr. Carter stayed at the plantation after Daniel’s death to tend to Jacky, and slowly the boy recovered by the end of July. After all the strain, Martha herself had to ask for the doctor’s help in August. Can you blame her?

Martha was left the mistress and manager of thousands of acres of property and all of the buildings and people that occupied it. She also had two young children to raise and provide for. She managed the property with some guidance from her brother, Bartholomew, who was a lawyer in Williamsburg, but she ordered goods from her factors in London and oversaw the daily operation of the entire plantation. She was quite a remarkable lady.

Remember that I’m throwing her a birthday party and you’re invited!

The party will take place on Sunday, May 31, 3-4 pm CDT, a few days before the actual date of her birth. I’m inviting all of you to join in virtually from your own computer or device, too. We’ll each put a single birthday candle in a baked good (cake, cupcake, cookie, brownie, etc.) or other dessert. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday” to Martha Washington and by extension her story, Becoming Lady Washington, which will release on June 2. Then we’ll blow out the candles and I’ll read an excerpt from the book and answer any of your burning questions about her life or my writing and research.

How will it work? After you RSVP here, the week of the party I’ll send out a newsletter to only the party guests with the party favors and the Zoom meeting invitation link. You can dress up in period costume (like me?) if you’d like, or just wear a party hat for the occasion. You might really get into the spirit and decorate a bit for a birthday party, too. I’m going to see what decorations I can scare up here. If you’re interested in attending the party, be sure to RSVP or you won’t receive the party invite! (Yes, it will sign you up for a newsletter, but only one time so I can send you the information. Then that group of subscribers will be deleted. Promise!)

Thanks for reading! I hope to “see” you at the party!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

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Should we sing Happy Birthday to Martha Washington? #birithday #song #party #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amreading #books #novel #ReadIndie

People have held celebrations throughout our existence, though naturally the extent and tone of them not only varied but also morphed over time. Today I want to talk about birthdays, Martha Washington’s – well, Martha Dandridge’s – in particular.

Martha was born on June 2, 1731 at Chestnut Grove, a middling plantation on the Pamunkey River in Virginia. In the 18th century, the pregnancy of the mother and the birth of a baby was a time filled with fear and anxiety. Many pregnant women made out a will in case they died during the ordeal of birthing the baby. Complications could take her life even after the baby had been born. Reproduction may be a natural occurrence, but it doesn’t come without difficulties of one kind or another. Think about all of the precautions and preparations made today when a child is on the way. They didn’t have those same medicines and apparatus to use to safely deliver the child.

I’ve read that many parents didn’t name their children until their first birthday, a superstitious failsafe against the child not living to be one year of age. I try to imagine what the parents might have been feeling, thinking, worrying during that 12 months. Today we would celebrate that first birthday with a cake and balloons, perhaps. Maybe invite friends and family to gather and share in the celebration of life lived for one (more) year. Back then, not so much.

Apparently, birthday parties didn’t become a thing for the average folks until well into the 1800s. The Victorians are credited with borrowing a German tradition in the early 1800s to influence the creation of birthday parties. The making of birthday cakes didn’t become widespread until the invention of a freestanding cookstove in the 1840s. Cakes could be baked in a falling (cooling) bread oven but not as easily as after the cookstove was invented.

So did they celebrate Martha’s first birthday? Or any birthday? Her early years are not part of the historical record because she was a young girl/woman and not famous or wealthy. As far as I know, she didn’t keep a diary or journal or commonplace book. It’s possible that the family may have served her favorite dish on her birthday, or even baked a cake or pie for her. I doubt there would have been gifts, definitely not balloons!

What about singing “Happy Birthday”? Didn’t they at least do that? Well, no. “Happy Birthday to You” wasn’t written until the 1890s when two kindergarten teachers (Patty and Mildred Hill, apparently wrote “Good Morning to All” to be sung in class each day. When a student had a birthday, they switched the lyrics to “Happy Birthday to You.”

I believe later in life Martha’s birthday would have been celebrated with a special feast and token or luxury gifts (handkerchiefs, chocolates, etc.). I do know that the king’s birthday as well as the governor’s was celebrated every year, just like Queen Elizabeth’s is celebrated today. And they celebrated George Washington’s birthday annually while he was a general of the Continental Army and beyond. So I could imagine they did some kind of celebration for hers as well.

To make up for not ever having been sung to for her birthday, I have decided to throw Martha a party for her 289th birthday. The party will take place on Sunday, May 31, 3-4 pm CDT, a few days before the actual date of her birth. I’m inviting all of you to join in virtually from your own computer or device, too. We’ll each put a single birthday candle in a baked good (cake, cupcake, cookie, brownie, etc.) or other dessert. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday” to Martha Washington and by extension her story, Becoming Lady Washington, which will release on June 2. Then we’ll blow out the candles and I’ll read an excerpt from the book and answer any of your burning questions about her life or my writing and research. I’m throwing the party on a Sunday mid-afternoon because I’m hoping more people will be able to attend as a result of the party not being on a weekday. I’m really hoping most everyone will be back to work by June, though we’ll have to follow the expert guidance. But I hope having the party will be a bit of a distraction and a lot of fun, too!

How will it work? Glad you asked! After you RSVP here, the week of the party I’ll send out a newsletter to only the party guests with the party favors and the Zoom meeting invitation link. The party favors include another excerpt and several 18th-century recipes I’ve remade as well as the recipe for Martha Washington’s Great Cake. I might even throw in a game or puzzle, too! You can dress up in period costume if you’d like, or just wear a party hat for the occasion. You might really get into the spirit and decorate a bit for a birthday party, too. I’m going to see what decorations I can scare up here. (If you need help with using Zoom, email me at betty@bettybolte.com and I’ll help you figure out how to work with it. It’s easy!) If you’re interested in attending the party, be sure to RSVP or you won’t receive the party invite! (Yes, it will sign you up for a newsletter, but only one time so I can send you the information. Then that group of subscribers will be deleted. Promise!)

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to having a few friends “over” and celebrating the release of Becoming Lady Washington! Her story has been 5 years in the making and will finally be available to readers. Early reviews rate it 4 and 5 stars and are lavishing praise on the story. (Thank you so much, reviewers!)

Thanks for reading! I hope to “see” you at the party!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

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Where to Hold a Ball in Colonial Williamsburg? #ballroom #dancing #formal #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #ReadIndie #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

One question I have to ask when visiting an historic site today is, what did it look like during the time period of my story. I’ve mentioned that in my book, Becoming Lady Washington, I chose to have Daniel Custis ask to begin courting Martha “Patsy” Dandridge during her presentation to society. (This was my editorial decision since it’s not known when and how they began courting.) Martha was 15 at the time of her presentation in 1746, rather young to my way of thinking.

If you visit Colonial Williamsburg today you will find that the Governor’s Palace has an elegant ballroom within its walls. It would be easy to assume that is where she had her presentation. As I said before, my husband and I took dancing lessons while on a research visit to Williamsburg. Before our lesson we visited the Governor’s Palace, where I learned that the ballroom wasn’t built when Martha had her debut. It wasn’t added until Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie renovated the palace during his tenure 1751-52. The disparity in those dates begged the question…

Where was the ball held?

Several possibilities came to mind but I needed to find out for certain which place. So after the lesson, I asked the instructor if she knew where the balls and formal gatherings would have been held in the 1740s. Thankfully, she did!

Turns out the Capitol building has an upstairs room large enough to have a ball. They would remove tables and chairs and set up refreshments in the outer hall. While not as elegant as the palace ballroom, it still had respect and dignity to lend to whatever gathering was held there.

Here’s how young Patsy views the scene in Becoming Lady Washington:


The first strains of the musicians tuning drew my attention away from the array of colorful and bedecked ball gowns of the older women to the festively decorated dance floor. The large table and chairs used by the lower and upper houses of the government to discuss the colony’s legal business had been removed from the upstairs of the Capitol. Not that I knew from my personal experience. No, my father had to tell me since women were not normally permitted in the upstairs meeting room. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind such a silly restriction, but defying it was not worth the effort. I had little to no interest in politics. I’d rather select fabrics and ribbons for a gown than worry about ordinances and laws. …

I made my way through the throng of guests to stand by the open window. A cool breeze bathed my cheeks, bringing the scent of dried leaves and the smoke of many fires to tickle my nose. Moonlight splayed across the formal garden and the buildings of the town in the distance. Naked trees stood starkly against the deep black of the starry heavens in the soft light. In a few months snow would blanket the land, but for now the ground remained hard and dry, making road travel possible if not pleasant. Aunt Unity had graciously invited us to ride to Williamsburg with her in a fine coach pulled by four matched black horses. Arriving in such a high fashion leant a different level of elegance to the ensuing events I hadn’t dreamed of. Maybe one day I’d have my own coach-and-four to take me places.

Turning my back to the window, I observed the crowd. Through the arched door to one side, I spotted tables surrounded by seated card-playing guests. The music changed to a lively tune, announcing the beginning of the less formal English country dances. My parents eased through the crowd, stopping often to chat. They knew most everyone in the room as a result of their involvement in the colony’s church and government.

I surveyed the other guests, feeling part of the society in an entirely new way. Not as a child looking through the window, but as an active member with my own role. Then my heart leapt into my throat when Daniel Custis separated from a circle of men, probably assemblymen of one rank or another, and strolled in my direction. What did he want? What would I say to him? Oh, how I wished my mother were at my side. I wasn’t as ready as I’d thought.


It’s fun to try to imagine what her life would have been like while I walk the same floors and see out the same windows. Try to imagine what she might have been thinking about, who she spent her time with, what her concerns might have been.

Before I go, I’d like to share that Charmed Against All Odds has been nominated for the Rone Award at InD’Tale magazine in the Fantasy category. This first round is a reader’s choice voting. To vote, you will need to be registered at www.indtale.com. Then you can see all the books entered in that category and vote by going to https://indtale.com/polls/fantasy-6-finalists. Voting is open from May 4 through May 10 at midnight. Thanks in advance!

That’s all for now. Until next time, thanks for reading! And for voting!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

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Shall We Dance? Dancing lessons 18th century style #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

Last week I described how Martha Washington, or rather young Patsy Dandridge, may have been courted by Daniel Custis. I also shared how I chose to set the scene in Becoming Lady Washington by introducing Daniel at the ball where Patsy was presented to society. Today I want to talk about dancing in the 18th century.

Dancing was vital to the middle and upper classes of Virginia society. Dance instructors traveled from one plantation to another to instruct the young people on the traditional and popular dance steps and also of the proper form and frame. Not only was dancing an excellent type of exercise, it also provided a means for socializing in acceptable ways. Families would gather at the plantation where the itinerant dance instructor would visit for several days at a time. I can imagine the youth flirting while they learned the steps, and in between!

George Washington loved to dance! It’s unclear to me whether Martha did as well, but she must have known how in order to meet the societal expectations of the time. You can watch a video produced for Mount Vernon showing the dancing and the music they danced to. That site contains a lot more about dancing in the 18th century, so if you’re curious, hop on over there to learn even more.

On my research trip to Williamsburg in 2015, one of the activities my husband and I enjoyed was taking a group dancing lesson. We learned to do circle dances, how to greet your partner, and how to move in unison around the circle. The music was provided by a flute player in period costume. Our instructor was a woman, also in period costume.

A flute player at Colonial Williamsburg

It was during the lesson that the instructor talked about why a man would greet his partner by extending one leg forward and bowing over it. In Becoming Lady Washington, I portrayed this small factoid from Martha’s point of view after Daniel has asked her to dance at the ball:


“I’d enjoy dancing with you.”

He held out a gloved hand with a smile on his lips. “Miss Dandridge.”

I accepted his arm and followed him onto the floor as the musicians started a new tune. I intended to thoroughly enjoy myself. The weight of the elder Custis’ glare threatened to make me stumble, but I ignored him, keeping my attention instead on his charming son. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my parents exchange a look before turning to witness the dance. Daniel extended one leg to bow—a movement designed to demonstrate the strength of his legs—as I curtsied and lowered my eyes. Daniel’s leg proved nice, indeed. Returning to a standing position, we regarded each other for a beat as the music wrapped around us. The dance soon drew my entire attention and had my feet flying. My heart raced with the touch of his hand guiding me to perform a turn in first one direction and then the other before parting for several steps.


See how I wove in my own experience learning how to dance into Martha’s point of view? It’s those kinds of details that I believe enliven the history. By experiencing the movement and sound, I was able to hopefully bring the history to life in my story.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple     Books2Read

Martha Washington’s First Courtship #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

While I love to research for my stories, I do not claim to be a professional historian and I don’t write nonfiction histories. But I do read them, and try to vet my sources as best as I can. Even the professional historians run into blanks in the historical record. For a novelist, those blanks become opportunities. Let’s look at a couple of those that I exploited in Becoming Lady Washington.

First let me say that I relied heavily on Patricia Brady’s excellent biography Martha Washington: An American Life. Brady is a professional historian and has written several other biographies. I used this one as a kind of “roadmap” for laying out my story. If you want to read a factual account of Martha’s life, I highly recommend Brady’s book. Now, to the historical gaps…

Daniel Custis by Gabriel da Vinci

Martha’s first husband was Daniel Custis. We know that he lived in the same area as Martha, near Chestnut Grove, Martha Washington’s childhood home. According to Brady, “During the eleven years that [Daniel] had lived in New Kent County, running one of his father’s plantations just a few miles down the Pamunkey from Chestnut Grove, Patsy had come to know him well. His life had crossed her family’s at countless points—court days, militia musters, social events, church (he served on St. Peter’s vestry with her father), the Public Times at Williamsburg—and he had obviously noticed the little girl growing into a lovely young woman. At thirty-seven, he was only a year younger than her mother, but the age difference between him and Patsy was not an impediment; young girls often married older men.” (p28)

The gap here is just how and when he decided to court the pretty young woman. I found no mention of the where or in what manner they began to court. So I had to invent the beginning of their relationship based on what I did know. Picking and choosing from the proposed locations where they would have crossed paths, I decided to use the Public Times and Martha’s coming out to society ball as the best option for my fictional account. Here is a deleted scene from an early draft where I had fun imaging how she’d prepare for her presentation to society:


Over the next several weeks, we explored the nuances and construction of the perfect gown, along with other articles of clothing to make the desired impression of me and my eligibility. I never realized just how many decisions had to be made. Silk? Muslin? Satin ribbons? Bows? High waist or dropped? Off the shoulder or low neckline with a fichu? Then the shoes… Definitely I wanted heels to make my petite frame stand a bit taller, and thus easier to dance with. But what color? Style? New buckles? Then there was the very serious question of the perfect hat.

Christmas and then Twelfth Night arrived and passed in a whirl of fancy dinners with a continual stream of family and friends visiting. The giddy chatter and plans continued with Aunt Unity, as well as my mother, until the festivities ended. Then I sat down with Mother to make the decision and send to London for the gown of my dreams, and of course a new gown for my mother. After the order had been sent, I faced months and months of worry and anticipation. Would the London agents be able to locate the yellow silk taffeta brocaded with flowers in the latest fashion with fine gold satin ribbons? Who would make the dress? What about the sequin studded yellow satin shoes with Louis heels? Would it all fit, if the items even survived the hazardous ocean voyage? And then the most fearful question of all: what would I do if the order didn’t arrive?

My contingency plan centered on the remake of my mother’s best dress gown. Mother had ordered the gown from London. I fancied the flowered pattern in the English silk damask, the rich burgundy pattern against the cream background emphasizing the fact that I was entering society in high fashion. Since Mother is a little bit bigger than me, there was enough fabric to work with. We’d taken in the waist and shortened the flounced skirts by drawing them up with ribbons. Aunt Unity gifted me a delicate kerchief to soften the neckline. The result? The perfect dress for dinner with the governor and his wife. Or if need be, for my debut at the royal ball.


This scene didn’t make the final cut because I decided to skip the preparations for the ball and just show her attending. That is where Daniel makes his move, by the way. The entire account is based on the research I did into what clothing meant, what it said about the wearer, in the 18th century, and having visited the museum in Williamsburg where they have gowns from that era on exhibit.

You’re probably wondering what the other gaps are…the second one is there is little in the biography regarding what their courtship might have looked like. What did they do? How frequently would he wait upon her? Chaperone or not? (Probably!) What is known is that Daniel’s father, John Custis, did not approve (to put it very mildly) to the courtship, or engagement, let alone marriage. Brady tells us, “John Custis flew into a blind rage and demanded that his son forget Patsy Dandridge.” (p29) This went on for a long time, by the way. So that’s a huge gap to fill in a story. How did Patsy (Martha’s pet name) react? I tried to put myself into her shoes, and knowing how she behaved later in life, thought about how she’d have either already been or how she adapted to the situation. Either would serve as a lesson on how to negotiate and manage in the future. So, knowing what I do about courtship during the 18th century, I made up what they did and what they talked about to give the reader a sense of who she was and how she handled herself during emotionally stressful times.

There’s one more gap I want to talk about. That is, since we know Patsy and Daniel did marry, how did John change his mind? Brady tells us, “Never one to wait around helplessly, Patsy somehow contrived to talk with the crusty old tyrant herself. Just how she managed it, we don’t know. Like many bullies, Custis was impressed by strength of character: he actually found the spunky little lady engaging.” She also tells about a lawyer friend of Daniel, James Power, visiting John and learning that he now approved of the union. Power wrote in the letter that John was “as much enamored with her character as you are with her person, and this is owing chiefly to a prudent speech of her own.” (p32) Okay, so how did she in that day and age manage to speak to the old man who lived in Williamsburg? Again, we don’t know but this is a very revealing moment as to the kind of person Martha was. So I had to imagine how she might have gone about making the meeting happen. Is it factually accurate? No. Do we know what the “prudent speech” was? Again, no. So I stepped into her little shoes and tried to imagine what I would have done in her situation. Would you like a little excerpt to see what I decided to do?


“Are you certain this is a good idea?” My brother Jacky’s deep voice carried to my ears over the steady beat of the Pamunkey against the skiff’s quivering hull and the twitter of song birds in the trees and bushes. I clutched the wooden seat beneath me as I bit my lip to keep my unease inside.

As he went through puberty, his tenor had lowered in steps, creating an often fickle pitch to his voice until it reached its current manly tone. I would never tell him, but sometimes I had mentally played with the sound like a musical piece. I heard music in everything, the shouts of the overseers, the birds flitting by, the soughing of the wind, even the river after a heavy rain. I breathed in the warm spring air. The scent of wildflowers blooming along the banks mingled with the pleasing aroma of the river. I’d finally settled on my favorite dark green dress for our secret mission. Its classic lines and somber colors, along with the cute hat with its half veil and plume, made me feel confident and mature. Well, except for the fact that I really did not like being in a boat. Of any size.

I glanced at my brother’s worried expression and chuckled, though I quaked inside at my own audacity. I had thought about what I’d do if Daniel’s efforts failed. After two long years had passed, my patience ended. Two years of growing more and more fond of Daniel, and longing to become united to him as his wife and start a family. I’d had to summon all my nerve, determination, and anger to devise the plan my brother and I now engaged in. Taking the boat meant a quicker journey, but oh I wish we could have ridden. But then my father would have known what we were up to. “It’s the only way I can conjure which has any hope of success to secure a future with Daniel.”

“You should have told Father of your plan. He’ll be upset.”

“He won’t even notice we’re gone, what with his concern regarding Mother’s well-being.” Our mother was due to have another baby within the next couple of months, child number seven. Would it be a brother or sister? Either way, I’d love the little one as much as I loved all of them. I had been born first, followed by Jacky a year later, then William two years later, Bartholomew three years after that, Nancy two after Bat, followed by Frances five years after my favorite sister was born, and now this new addition, whoever it might be.

After I married Daniel, we could start our own family. I envisioned having quite a full house, perhaps seven or eight children. The joys and laughter we’d share would rock the house. I could picture it in my mind as if it were a fond memory. For now, I enjoyed the company of all of my kinsfolk. Jacky, in particular, had become my favorite brother because of his eagerness to engage in our secret missions.

I winked at him with a toss of my head. “Besides, I have you as my escort, my protector. What is there for him to worry over?”

Jacky huffed. “The fact that we’re going into Williamsburg without his knowledge or permission?”


What I love about writing fiction is looking for those kinds of opportunities where I can illuminate my subject and their situation using my knowledge and imagination combined. I try to make the scene authentic to the times to the best of my ability and education on the times in which they’re living. Ultimately, my aim is to tell a good story that’s entertaining, emotional, and enlightening. You’ll have to let me know if I’ve succeeded…

We are living through some historic times ourselves, folks. I imagine previous generations that suffered and struggled through a pandemic felt much like we do today. The catch phrase here in north Alabama is “stay safe; stay separate; and sanitize.” My heart goes out to everyone as we find our way through this pandemic crisis. Please listen to and follow the guidelines from the health experts so we can shorten the duration as much as possible. Take care of you and yours and I’ll do the same.

Thanks!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple     Books2Read

Exploring Elsing Green Plantation #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most interesting kinds of research for me is to visit historic sites. Today I’m going to talk about Elsing Green plantation in West Point, Virginia, which was once the home of Martha Washington’s uncle and aunt, Col. William and Unity Dandridge. I was very fortunate to be granted a private tour of Elsing Green by one of owners, Virginia Lafferty, in the spring of 2015. I am sad to say that when I reached out to Mrs. Lafferty to let her know about the upcoming release of Becoming Lady Washington, I discovered she had passed away suddenly last summer. She was such a gracious woman and spoke at length about her beloved home and the history associated with it. The website for Elsing Green has been taken down, so apparently it is not open any longer for tours or events, which is a sad thing, too.

Elsing Green main house with the Hunting Lodge, the original manor, off to the right.

Here’s the description of the property from the above link to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources:

“One of the state’s most impressive Tidewater plantations, Elsing Green is marked by a prodigious U-shaped house, a grand expression of colonial Virginia’s formal architecture. Stretched along the Pamunkey River, the plantation was owned in the 17th century by Col. William Dandridge. The property was purchased ca. 1753 by Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who probably built the main house. The house burned in the early 19th century, but its brick walls survived unmarred. Rebuilt within the walls, the house was long the home of the Gregory family. In the 1930s, during the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Beverley D. Causey, architect Edward F. Sinnott restored the original roof pitch and installed 18th century-style woodwork. Edgar Rivers Lafferty, Jr., who purchased Elsing Green in 1949, developed the plantation into a model farm and wildlife preserve.”

The Hunting Lodge at Elsing Green Plantation

Elsing Green is situated upriver and on the other side of the Pamunkey River from Chestnut Grove, Martha Washington’s childhood home. Today there are two houses on the site along with a few outbuildings. The smaller of the two houses is called the Hunting Lodge and is the original manor Martha would have been most familiar with. Family legend tells us that Martha once rode a horse either up onto the front porch or into the house. I have no way to prove or disprove this legend, but it does say a lot about the spunk she must have possessed to foster such an idea!

I was impressed by the solid construction of the Lodge. The red and white brick exterior is a statement of strength and financial well-being. Thick doors and sturdy wood floors. I absolutely fell in love with the library’s shelves upon shelves of books, too. The tall grandfather clock was beautiful. Heck, the whole place was lovely! If I remember correctly, the décor is from the period but may not have been original. It’s been 5 years, so my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details. I’ll share several of the photos that I took so you can have a virtual tour. You’ll notice in the pictures that it had snowed the night before my husband and visited.

I found it interesting that they had a kitchen and dining room in the basement of the Lodge so it was cooler during the summer to enjoy their meals. It may also have been easier to heat in the winter, as well. Notice the number of windows they could open to allow the breeze through to cool the upstairs, too.

I enjoyed strolling through the building, trying to imagine little Patsy (Martha’s pet name) walking or running (doubtful?) around playing with her cousin Martha. I wonder what kinds of toys or dolls she played with. Maybe took dancing lessons when the itinerant dance instructor made his visits. Played the pianoforte or spinet, perhaps. I let my imagination run as I roamed through those historic rooms.

I can only wonder what the future of Elsing Green may be since Mrs. Lafferty’s death appears to have closed the venue for visitors. It had been in continuous operation since originally built in the 17th century. I imagine her family felt the blow too much to continue without her. (If any of the Lafferty family happens to read this post, please know my heart goes out to you all.)

As a reminder, there are a few of my books available to read for free. Find out more here. And as always, thanks for reading!

The catch phrase here in north Alabama is “stay safe; stay separate; and sanitize.” Hang in there, folks. It’s a tough time but we will get through this eventually. My heart goes out to everyone as we find our way through this pandemic crisis. Please listen to and follow the guidelines from the health experts so we can shorten the duration as much as possible. Take care of you and yours and I’ll do the same.

Thanks!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

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Lessons Learned while Writing Becoming Lady Washington #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

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.

Thanks!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple     Books2Read