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Chapter Six. George Washington and His Family

Patricia Brady

Subject History » Social History
Imperial, Colonial, and Postcolonial History » Colonial History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics family, gender

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00008.x


For all his accomplishments as a general, political leader, businessman, experimental farmer, and emancipator, at his core George Washington can best be defined as a family man. His contemporaries understood his commitment to domestic life in a way that later generations have not. The famous eulogy delivered by Henry Lee: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” is today almost always truncated. Omitted is the telling end of the quotation: “he was second to none in [the] humble and enduring scenes of private life.” He was never the sort of man eager to leave his own hearth for masculine bonhomie; he was happiest at home amid his “domestic enjoyments.” ( Flexner (1965–72) 1:229). Because of the high death rate in colonial Virginia, many children, including Washington, grew up in blended families. Augustine Washington, a giant of a man, was a widower of thirty-six with two sons and a daughter when he married Mary Ball, a single woman thirteen years his junior. George was the eldest of the second family, followed within six years by a sister, three brothers, and a final sister who died in infancy. An ambitious colonial entrepreneur, Gus Washington combined planting, land dealing, and the management of ironworks. He moved the family frequently – from a place on Pope's Creek where it joined the lower Potomac (later called Wakefield), where George was ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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