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the midst of her kindness; and even now, when time has whitened my locks, and I am the grandfather of a second generation, I could not behold that majestic woman without feelings it is impossible to describe.”
Her one recorded weakness, if such it can be called, was an uncontrollable terror of a thunder storm, caused by an event which occurred in her early married life. She was sitting at supper with a young girl who was visiting her, when a stroke of lightning instantly killed her guest, melting the knife and fork which she held in her hands. It is related by a lineal descendant that, "on one occasion her daughter, missing her mother, and knowing how she suffered, found her kneeling by the bed, with her face buried in the pillows, praying. Upon rising she said, 'I have been striving for years against this weakness, for, you know, Betty, my trust is in God, but sometimes my fears are stronger than
faith.'' Before her eldest son's marriage to Mrs. Custis, in 1759, the other four sons had married, and settled themselves in homes of their own; and in 1760, her only daughter, Betty, married Colonel Fielding Lewis, who took his bride to Gloucester, and afterwards built a handsome mansion at Fredericksburg, which he called Kenmore. This left the mother alone at Pine Grove, but although now nearly sixty years old, she maintained her active directorate of the farm, and continued to do so until the breaking out of the Revolution. Washington then wrote and begged her to leave the "River Farm," and go to Fredericksburg. She was then almost seventy, and her daughter added to this plea a request that she should make her home at Kenmore. The reply of this selfreliant woman, who for more than thirty years had been mistress of her own affairs and of her own servants, was: “I thank you for your dutiful and affectionate offer, but my wants in this life are few, and I am perfectly competent to take care of myself.” To her daughter's husband, however, she made this concession: "You can keep my books, for your eyesight is better than mine, but leave the management of the farm to me." Later, in compliance with the wishes of her children, especially of her son George, she purchased the house in Fredericksburg, in which she lived to the close of her honored life.
In 1890 this house became the property of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and will always be cared for as a sacred and historic landmark.
Mary Washington's removal to her new home was personally superintended by the General, who spared no effort to arrange everything for her comfort and satisfaction. It was nearly seven years before she saw him again, but throughout the war he sent her frequent messages, and these tidings, whether good or ill, she received with calmness; once rebuking her daughter for an outburst of feeling, by saying: “The sister of the commanding general should be an example of fortitude and faith.”
Washington's next visit to his mother was on November 11, 1781, when, with his staff, he passed through the town en route from Yorktown to Philadelphia. Leaving his retinue at headquarters, he walked unattended to the modest cottage, where his mother met him with a warm embrace, and welcomed him by the name of his childhood. To her he was not the victorious general, and the idol of his countrymen, but her dear boy George, who had come to greet her as a son.
It was at this time that a “Peace Ball” was given in Fredericksburg to Washington and his officers, which was attended by his mother. She went early and was escorted with most respectful courtesy by the General to an arm chair on the raised platform, reserved for distinguished guests. As the mother and son appeared, a pathway was opened through the crowd and every head was bowed in reverence. At ten o'clock she signified her desire to leave, saying: "Come, George, it is time for old folks to be at home," and with a gracious farewell to all, she took his arm and was attended by him to the door, with the same courtly deference. When she had gone, one of the French officers exclaimed, “If such are the matrons of America, she may well boast of illustrious sons."
For fourteen years "Madame Washington" was one of the familiar figures in Fredericksburg. Her cottage was upon the street corner, and the garden and orchard, with the stables, occupied the balance of the square. She was very fond of flowers, and was often seen working among them, in her garden-garb of "linsey petticoat and short gown," with a broadbrimmed hat tied over the full-plaited border of her cap. The garden was full of old-fashioned plants, many of which she had brought from the “River Farm," and here she was once found by Lafayette, who had come from Mount Vernon to pay his respects to the mother of his venerated commander and friend. She received him without apology for her homely attire, and invited him into the house, where according to the Virginia custom he was served with home-made cake and a mint julep.
For some time after her removal to Fredericksburg she was driven daily in her gig to the ferry, where she crossed to the farm in the flat-bottomed scow which served as a ferry-boat. She then made the round of inspection, noting all that had been done, or was needed, in fields, gardens, barns or servants' quarters; giving directions, or if necessary, administering rebuke in so sharp a fashion that an overseer who had been the subject of her anger once declared that “her eyes flashed like blue lightning and he felt exactly like he had been knocked down." It is related that on each of these visits to the farm she brought home a demijohn of water from a favorite spring, which is still known as “Lady Washington Spring," saying, “no other water tasted so good to her."
At last her increasing years and weakness prevented such activity, and she rode about town and across the ferry in a low, hung phaeton, which she preferred to any other carriage, as it was a gift from her son George. As this unpretentious equipage passed through the rambling and unpaved streets every day, old and young saluted its venerable occupant. Her habits of punctuality were so strict that it was said her neighbors set their clocks by the ringing of her breakfast, dinner and supper bells, and that her pew in St. George's Church, where for years she was a devout and faithful attendant, was occupied each Sabbath morning at precisely the some moment. A favorite pastime was a walk to a knoll near Kenmore, which was crowned with gray boulders and shaded by trees, and which, she afterwards requested, should be her burial-place. Here, with her basket of mending, her knitting, or her Bible, she often sat for hours alone. No one would intrude upon her, and those who from a distance saw the silent figure wondered "what the old Madame was thinking about."
So passed her declining days until 1789, when, in the beginning of her eighty-third year, she was seized with a painful and incurable malady, cancer of the breast, caused by an accidental blow. Still her indomitable spirit refused to bow before it, and in the early summer she visited her sons, Samuel and Charles, to assure herself of their well-being. On the 14th of April preceding, she saw for the last time her well-beloved son, George, who rode more than forty miles on horse-back, attended only by his favorite body-servant, Billy Lee, to inform her in person that he had that morning received the official notice of his election to the Presidency of the United States. The newly-elected President could scarcely restrain his emotions at her changed and feeble condition, and declared his intention of returning as soon as public business would permit; but she placed her wasted hand on his and said: “This will be our last meeting in this life.” So it proved, for this “Roman matron," as she was called by Lafayette, died August 25, 1789, and was laid to rest on the spot chosen by herself, in sight of her cottage home, and overlooking the beautiful valley of the Rappahannock.
On the day of her funeral business was suspended and black draperies were displayed on shops, dwellings and store-houses. St. George's Church was thronged by friends and neighbors, and after the service the coffin was borne on men's shoulders to the quiet hillside, where were assembled hundreds of reverent mourners, who had been unable to gain entrance to the church. Solemn notice of the event was made by newspapers and clergymen all over the country, and in New York, where Congress was in session, members of the Congress and many private citizens wore crepe for thirty days, as' for some distinguished public official.
President Washington, who after his inauguration, was overwhelmed with public duties, and had afterwards been prostrated by a malignant carbuncle, had scarcely recovered when he received the news of his mother's death. A messenger was sent poste-haste, but it was nearly a week before he reached New York on his sad errand.
In 1833 Silas M. Burroughs, a member of Congress from Medina, New York, offered to bear the expense of erecting a
monument to the mother of Washigton. The corner-stone was laid May 7, 1833, with imposing ceremonies before an assemblage of nearly 15,000 people. Many prominent officials were present, and President Jackson placed a tablet within the stone, concluding his address with these words: “When the American citizen shall in after years come up to this high and holy place and lay hand upon this sacred column, may he recall the virtues of her who sleeps beneath, and depart with his affection purified and his piety strengthened, while he invokes blessings upon the memory of the mother of Washington.” Through some disaster which befell the author of the project, the monument was never completed; and for years the monolith rested at the base of the ruined foundation-both weather-stained and marred by vandal relic-hunters.
But at last the women of the United States formed a society called the Mary Washington Memorial Association, and on the roth of May, 1894, a beautiful shaft was dedicated—the first monument in the world's history ever raised by women to the memory of a woman. On that memorable occasion tributes in her honor were paid by Governor O’Ferrall and Senator Daniel, of Virginia, and by President Cleveland, who said, in part: "In the light of the highest meaning belonging to this occasion, there are no guests here. We have assembled on equal terms to worship at a sacred national shrine. Remembering these things, let us leave this place with our love of country strengthened, with a higher estimate of the value of American citizenship, and with a prayer to God that our people may hold fast to the sentiment that grows of a love and reverence for American motherhood."
The "sacred column" is a reproduction in miniature of the stately Washington Monument on the banks of the Potomac; one side bearing the inscription: “Erected by her countrywomen," and on the other the simple words: “Mary, the mother of Washington.”
FRANCES A. JOHNSTON.