Martha Washington’s Feelings about George’s 2nd Inauguration #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

I found myself pondering the upcoming inauguration which sent me back to when I was researching and writing Becoming Lady Washington and how Martha felt about her husband being president. I realize the times then and now are very different, but there were people then who didn’t want George to be president while many more did. But how did his wife feel about it?

She was proud of the fact that he’d been chosen, don’t misunderstand that point. And she was very aware he felt it his duty to accept for the sake of unifying the country. But as I wrote in Becoming Lady Washington, she watched her husband ride north to New York to assume his new role and:


I was only a little ashamed to admit that everybody could tell I reluctantly had agreed to the idea of my aging husband taking on such a major role. Despite my efforts to keep my worries to myself. His eyesight was failing, his teeth needed to be replaced again, he fatigued easily which left him prone to illness. Yet he prepared to abandon the luxury of home for the good of his country. Doing his duty as I performed mine by beginning the tasks necessary to go with him, back to a situation I supposed would be much like winter camp.


Only she discovered very quickly she hadn’t walked into an army camp situation at all:


Before long I became abruptly aware that being the president’s wife was far different from being the general’s. My hope for a camp-like situation crashed against the reality of the limits proscribed by my husband and his blasted advisors. That coupled with the endless stream of callers made this experience much different from the encampments. I’ve always ensured my attire and hair suited the occasion. Yet I found myself reluctantly submitting to having my hair set and dressed by a hairdresser who came to the house each day for the specific purpose. Apparently Sally’s attentions no longer met the demand.

George informed me upon my arrival that my first reception would be in two days, on Friday beginning at eight o’clock in the evening. Men and women dressed formally would be permitted to attend in the upstairs drawing room. I chose to sit on the sofa, while Tobias or David escorted the guests to me. Around me blazed dozens of candles in the chandelier, while spermaceti-oil lamps rested on tables scattered about the room. George greeted each person after they’d curtsied to me. Light refreshments waited on the tables as the guests mingled and enjoyed chatting with each other. Bob escorted the guests to their carriages when it was time for them to leave. The stiffly formal affair each week lasted too long for my taste, but I had no choice. The president’s wife, unlike the general’s, was a public figure like no other.

I’d also be hosting formal dinner parties on Thursdays at four. I balked at the formality, preferring a more relaxed and inviting attitude. However, I soon learned how little my opinion mattered. Guests were invited by hand-printed invitation and expected to arrive punctually as George signaled the start of dinner on time each week. Government officials, members of Congress, and foreign dignitaries attended. Most didn’t know each other and many had no desire to. I understood, believe me.


She balked at the restrictions and the requirements, but she did carve out the role of First Lady (though she wasn’t called that) and did so with grace and aplomb. However, when he was re-elected she made bones about how she felt in her letters. As I describe in the book, this is how she felt on his second inauguration day:


My prison sentence began again in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall on March 4, 1793. Four more years loomed before me as I watched George, in his black velvet suit with diamond knee buckles and dress sword with its ornamented hilt, be sworn in by the Honorable William Cushing. I wore a simple yet elegant gown and tried to think positive thoughts, to keep my countenance pleasant. If it weren’t for love of my old man and desire to do my duty to honor our love, I’d have insisted on staying at Mount Vernon among my family. Knowing I couldn’t change the situation, I reminded myself of the positive aspects of our public life.


Despite her dismay, she put on a smile and continued to be the gracious wife of the President of the United States for four more years. She supported him every way she could because she loved and honored him.

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.

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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On Knowing Martha Washington #research #AmericanRevolution #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

Last week I mentioned that I would be interviewed by Cynthia Brian on the Be The Star You Are! radio broadcast. If you missed the live show, you can still hear the replay at https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/126745/soil-and-leaves-becoming-lady-washington-cyberbulling-rising. It was a quick and interesting 30-minute conversation and I hope you’ll listen to it, too.

One of the questions Cynthia asked me was about how I could know so much about Martha if she burned her personal correspondence with George. She also said that Becoming Lady Washington read like an autobiography, a huge compliment to my mind.

Answering her question thoroughly would take a little while, so I gave a shorthand answer during the show. But I wanted to share here with you all a little more about how I went about really getting to know about her life and times, her attitude and concerns, and everything going on in her world.

The first thing I did in order to begin finding out more about this truly remarkable woman was to buy two biographies about Martha to read. They both provided good information, but I relied on Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady far more because it was so well researched and documented.

Two important references for getting to know Martha Washington: “Worthy Partner”: The Papers of Martha Washington and Martha Washington: An American Life

Then I created a timeline table where I listed key events by date. These events came from Martha’s life but also George Washington’s. I even included events I discovered by researching Dolley Madison’s life because Martha and Dolley’s lives intersected several times. Every source I used informed this timeline, too. My list of references is 7 pages long in 10-point font, by the way. It includes book titles (physical ones on my shelves and online archives), articles found online, information from National Park websites and other sites for historic places, and government sites with related information. Every time I found an event that impacted her life I added it to the timeline along with the source.

One of the most important books for really knowing how she thought, felt, reacted, acted, etc., was “Worthy Partner”: The Papers of Martha Washington edited by Joseph E. Fields. Although only 5 letters between Martha and George survive today, the collection of correspondence in this volume includes letters between Martha and many other friends and relatives and business contacts. This is where I could really get inside her head, so to speak, to hear her voice in the cadence of the words she used and to glimpse the concerns and desires she held dear.

I hope you’ll listen to the interview linked above and also read Becoming Lady Washington to also get to know and understand our first First Lady.

Thanks for reading! Happy Holidays!

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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Inoculation and Disease in the 18th Century #research #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

Before I get to today’s topic, I’d like to share that I’ll be interviewed on StarStyle Radio about Becoming Lady Washington. I understand the interviewer, Cynthia Brian, does an excellent job with interesting questions, too. Am I nervous? A bit, since this airs on the Voice of America with over a million listeners… Here’s what you need to know if you’d like to listen:

Tune into the radio program StarStyle®-Be the Star You Are! with host Cynthia Brian on Wednesday, November 18, 2020 from 4-5pm PST (6-7 CST). You can listen from your computer by going to http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/2206/be-the-star-you-are

If you miss the live show, you can find it archived at that site with photos and descriptions at www.StarStyleRadio.com.

It’s only a few days from now and I’m excited to find out what she’ll ask. I hope you’ll tune in and let me know what you think. Now, on to today’s topic.

During this difficult time in world health, I have found myself frequently comparing our situation to that of people in the 18th century when so many devastating and deadly diseases abounded. Back then we didn’t know or understand how bacteria or viruses spread. We knew that when people who were sick spent time around others, the others were likely to be infected as well. But how exactly?

I’ve read about people setting up smudge pots in the streets to try to ward off yellow fever in Philadelphia. Shooting rifles in the air, too. Or wearing a pouch filled with herbs and mustard and other things. Anything to try to protect themselves. Given the number of people who died during the outbreak there in 1793, they were not successful. But they seriously didn’t know how to fight it. Here’s a short snippet from Becoming Lady Washington where Martha Washington is pondering the dire epidemic in the city:


By August, the city officials changed their story, admitting an epidemic ravaged the populace. Apparently, the refugees from the slave uprising in the West Indies brought more than rum and sugar on the ships sailing up the Delaware. They’d brought yellow fever, too. More than ever, I worried about George. He’d been under such strain during the last several months, would he be able to fight off the disease should he contract it?

The fever and its horrid effects—vomiting blood, bleeding from ears, nose and eyes, as well as delirium and jaundice—spread to our part of town. The number of deaths each day multiplied. The stench of tar burning in barrels placed around the city choked me, but they were necessary to ward off the disease. Likewise, men shot guns into the air to scare off the spread of the sickness. Lists of possible ways to ward off the fever were printed in the paper. I loathed hearing the rumble of a wagon, accompanied by the gravedigger calling “bring out your dead” in a booming, sorrowful tone. More than ever, I wanted to go home, away from the crowded living conditions that surely contributed to the raging epidemic.


Inoculation became available earlier in the 18th century for some diseases. Smallpox, for example. This process requires a person to be injected with a small amount of the live disease in order to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight it, thus providing a defense against it. Martha Washington’s brother Jacky died from smallpox when he was a teenager because Virginia didn’t allow people to receive the treatment. Here’s a short excerpt showing her brother’s losing battle:


Summer heat surrounded me as I hovered over my brother. The pungent odor of the medicine fought the smell of disease, combining to make me cough and my stomach to churn. Tucking the quilt into place over Jacky, I prayed for a miracle. I’d never seen any one so sick before, so weakened by a virulent attack of the dreaded smallpox.

“Don’t go…” Jacky’s scratchy voice emerged from dry lips.

His bloodshot eyes implored me to stay, but Mother had insisted I let him rest. Besides, I hated seeing his body covered in the raised flat blisters of pus. Hated seeing him feverish and aching. The pain he must be in, to writhe and moan for days. He’d complained of his back hurting, his head aching, of bone-deep fatigue. Mother had some experience with treating the often deadly disease, so I would follow her lead. And pray.

“I’ll be back soon.” I gathered the soiled linens off the chair where I’d placed them earlier. “You rest, like Mother advised, and you’ll pull through.”

He closed his eyes and rolled his head side to side. “I pray you’re right, but at the moment I have serious doubts.”

I clutched the bedclothes to my chest. Memories of riding together and playing pranks on our kinsfolk floated through my mind. If only the new smallpox inoculation didn’t kill as often as it saved, mayhap my brother wouldn’t be so sick. The Virginia assembly had banned the use of the inoculation, believing it spread the disease. Something certainly spread it, because it seemed to be everywhere. Fortunately, not every person who contracted smallpox died. If a person only had a mild case they’d be immune to it from then on, though they were marked for life by pox scars.

“You mustn’t think that way. You’ll be up and about before you know it.”

“You’re right.” He opened his eyes and stared at me for several moments. “I’m so very tired. I think I will take a nap.” He struggled onto his side and closed his eyes again.

I fought the panic rising in my chest, pushing into my throat. My young, strong, full of life brother couldn’t die. Even in repose, Jacky’s face held lines of tension, pain, and fatigue. I couldn’t do anything more at the moment. Helpless but not hopeless, all I could do was try to ease his pain, lower his fever, and help him sip water from a cup. I had no magic or miracle to heal him. Tears sprang to my eyes as I slipped out the door and pulled it closed.


Today we have vaccines to inoculate people against a variety of diseases. A vaccine uses an innocuous form of the disease, either a dead or weakened form of the disease targeted, rather than the full strength. A vaccinated person still gets the benefit of the immune system activating to build a defense to the disease but without the risk of having the live disease threatening their system.

I realize there are people who do not believe in vaccines. I know that Martha Washington longed for a way to prevent her loved ones from contracting any of the dreaded diseases prevalent during her lifetime: malaria, yellow fever, smallpox, etc. Indeed, when her son, also named Jacky in honor of her deceased brother, desired to go to Baltimore, Maryland to have the smallpox inoculation, she wanted him to be protected but didn’t want him to risk his life. Here’s a snippet from the book:


I skimmed the careful script on the linen pages trembling in my fingers. Jacky desired to travel to Baltimore in order to subject himself to the smallpox inoculation. The procedure was legal there, unlike in Virginia. If only he could have it done closer to home, then I wouldn’t mind to quite the same extent.

I thought of my brother, Jacky, and the horrible death he’d suffered because he didn’t have the opportunity to be administered the inoculation. But what if my son received the inoculation and died? The procedure involved inserting a pustule of the disease from an infected person into a cut in the arm. He dared risk his life to avoid contracting the dreadful disease. How could I agree when he may well be the only heir if Patsy succumbed to the epilepsy? Could a mother survive her son’s death, when the mother had given her permission for the potentially lethal procedure? Then again, how could I deny my son’s request when the results could prove beneficial to people in general? His act served an altruistic purpose, a desirable trait in a young man.

I sighed and picked up a pen. A few minutes later I sprinkled sand over the newly inked words granting permission to fix them in place on the page. As well as in my heart. I couldn’t deny my son anything.

Then later when she faced the choice of being inoculated herself, she had to consider the options available:

George nodded and the corners of his mouth twitched before resuming a solemn expression. “I must beg you to favor a request.”

I raised a brow and sipped my drink, intrigued. “I will certainly consider doing everything possible to please you. Pray continue.”

“The incidence of smallpox within the ranks of the army greatly concerns me. With you in camp and going out among the troops you may contract the disease. I want you here with me, as I know is also your desire. So it is a dilemma. Thus I ask you to consider going to Philadelphia to be inoculated.” He lifted his glass and held it aloft, torn between sipping and waiting for my response.

My brother’s death from the terrible sickness lingered in my memory. Would Jacky have lived if he’d received the medicine? My son had the inoculation and he had survived the introduction of what was a small amount of the virus. Apparently with no ill effects. Would I, though?

George sipped, ever patient as I pondered my answer. I should say something to let him know I was thinking about his surprising request. “Do you believe it is safe?”

He nodded again. “The doctors assure me they are refining the methods for achieving success to make the inoculants immune to the disease. After I had smallpox in Barbados when I was there with Augustine, I’ve not contracted it though I’ve been around people who have had it. With good fortune the resulting pustules will be few and your illness mild, leaving you immune to the affliction.”

“Surely I was exposed to it when my brother had it.” So maybe I was already somewhat immune to it. Having another small dose would ensure my health against the disease and I’d be permitted to stay with George. A compelling reason for agreeing. “Very well, my love. For you I will comply with your request.”


Now, I do realize this is my interpretation of how she felt about things in her life, based on her letters to family and friends and to my understanding of her relationships. Martha witnessed many family members suffer and die from diseases during her life. I can only imagine how thankful she’d be to have a way to prevent her loved ones from dying.

My husband and I volunteered for the Pfizer vaccine trial that is currently underway in hopes we can help bring about a vaccine for everyone as soon as possible. The more people who do get vaccinated once it’s available, the sooner we can end the pandemic and move on with our lives.

Wishing you all health and happiness as we enter the holiday season. Please stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones. Martha would want you to.

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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Separation Anxiety Then and Now #BecomingLadyWashington #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amreading #books #ReadIndie

Let’s talk about separation anxiety. I’ll start with my recent experience and then go back in time to Martha Washington’s own separation anxiety.

Last week I had a colonoscopy done at a local medical center. Everything went well, I’m glad to say. But I had a really hard time going into the hospital alone, my husband forced to wait in the car in the parking lot. Waiting for a phone call from the nurse to come pick me up outside.

Now, I don’t cry easily. Nor do I panic easily. But I lay there on the gurney/table, counting the ceiling tiles in order to try to not cry. (The prep room was about 11×13 square feet, by the way.) I struggled to not worry about going through the prep and procedure without my husband of 30+ years there for the very first time to anchor me emotionally. To trust the medical professionals would take care of me, which they did with care and compassion. Try as I might, though, it didn’t work. I still cried. For one thing, I thought of the stories of couples and families right now during this pandemic who can’t be together. Who haven’t seen each other in person for weeks or even months. Of the loved ones who died while in the hospital, separated from their spouses, children, siblings, friends. I cried harder, knowing how difficult such a separation must be. Heck, I’m crying now while I remember those emotions rattling my composure and cutting a swath of hurt through my heart.

I thought of Martha Washington then, and how she faced long spans of separation from her family and husband. One case in point is the following excerpt from a letter (included here with her original spellings) she wrote to her sister in August 1762:


My Dear Nancy

I had the pleasure to receive your kind letter of the 26 of July just as I was setting out on a visit to Mrs Washingtons [George Washington’s mother] in Westmoreland where I spent a weak agreeably I carred my little patt with me and left Jackey at home for a trial to see how well I could stay without him though we ware gon but wone fortnight I was quite impatiant to get home if I at any time heard the dogs barke or a noise out I thought thair was a person sent for me I often fansied he was sick or some accident had happened to him so that I think it is impossable for me to leave him as long as Mr Washington must stay when he comes down – if nothing happens I promise myself the pleasure of comeing down in the spring as it will be healthy time of the year


In order to understand her deep fears of her son falling ill or having an accident, we must remember that she had already buried a young son and daughter, as well as her first husband, by this time. Daughter Patty currently suffered from epilepsy, too, which is why she was not left home when Martha traveled. Indeed, many times they would take her to Williamsburg for treatments, ones that never worked, but they were trying everything under the sun even rumored to be beneficial. Jacky was the next heir to the Custis fortunes, as well. Much rested on his young shoulders.

Martha lost many a family member when she wasn’t able to be with them. Her brother Jacky died from yellow fever while she was out of the house. Her father had traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, for the horse races and died of an apoplexy (heart attack) in the heat. He’s buried there, not at the home plantation because the heat meant they couldn’t transport the body all the way back to Chestnut Grove. And her sister, Nancy, died at her home, Eltham, far away in New Kent County, Virginia. Martha was unable to even make the trip while her sister was ill because of her daughter-in-law’s advanced stage of pregnancy.

Of course, she also worried about George when he was off fighting the War for Independence or out and about as President of the United States of America. She didn’t like being separated from any of her family, truth be told. Of course, she couldn’t be with all of them all of the time. That was physically impossible with everyone scattered over several states. But her letters are filled with tender requests to be remembered to her friends and family, and hoping to hear all were well, or sad to hear they weren’t.

I consoled myself while in the hospital that my separation should only be for a few hours, not for even half a day. In fact, I arrived at 6:30 and left at 9:00 a.m. As planned, no doubt. My brief experience emphasized in my mind the reality so many others have faced, or are facing, or perhaps sadly will face. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in those situations. I have an inkling of what you’re going through.

I wish you all health and happiness! 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.

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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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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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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Remembering the Meaning of Memorial Day #MemorialDay2020 #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amreading #books #novel #ReadIndie

I’d like to take a moment to pause and reflect on the many men and women over America’s existence who have fought and died for our freedoms. Beginning with the thousands who died during the American Revolution under the leadership of General George Washington and the care of his wife Martha Washington. All the way through to today’s men and women serving in the many branches of the military service. Thank you to them and their families for the sacrifices made to keep our borders safe from invasion and to help protect us in times of crises such as the current pandemic.

The American flag at Glacier National Park in 2014.

I did not serve in the military, though I did apply and was turned down due to weighing more than they would accept. I had hoped that by enlisting they’d help me slim down, but they didn’t agree with my thinking. Perhaps it’s for the best as I’m not necessarily willing to follow someone else’s lead. But that’s another story!

I have family who has served as does my husband, who himself was a captain in the U.S. Army. Both enlisted and officers doing their best to serve their country in times of war and peace. I am grateful to them and everyone like them who had/have the courage to stand up and defend our way of life.

So my fellow Americans, as you go about having your holiday barbecues, picnics, and other outdoor activities, please remember the meaning behind Memorial Day.

Next week is the big day! Early reviews of Becoming Lady Washington are 4 and 5 stars with highly complimentary things to say about the story, too. Remember that I’m throwing Martha Washington 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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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.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple     Books2Read

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.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple     Books2Read

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.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple     Books2Read