Historically Yours – George Washington’s mother “who made him miserable”

The strangest mystery in George Washington’s life was his relationship with his mother, Mary Ball Washington. George may have been “first in the hearts of his countrymen” but not in the eyes of his mother. She never extolled or even acknowledged his public triumphs. In fact, Mary Ball publicly denigrated her son George as being unqualified to serve as military leader, as well as President of the new nation. She did not attend his Presidential inauguration. Historian Margaret Bassett severely characterized Mary Ball as “a woman of small intelligence and great complaints (who) gave her son George a hard time all her long life.” George kept whatever emotional feelings he may have had for his mother “bottled up.” Augustine was a widower with three children when he married Mary Ball. They had five children in quick succession. At Augustine’s sudden death in 1743, Mary Ball was left with an estate that included 10,000 acres and 49 slaves. She apparently raised the children with an iron will and tolerated no disobedience. Things might have been different had his father Augustine not died when George was only eleven. At 15, George, the oldest of her children, wanted a career in the navy but Mary Ball forbid it. When George was 21, Mary Ball refused to turn over to her son the farm which had been willed to him by his father. She compounded the problem by badly mismanaging his property. The family problem was averted when George inherited from his half-brother a superb site known as Mount Vernon, on which George built his home. Thereafter, George married Martha, who “created for George what he had yearned for since he was a little child.” George was a loving and devoted husband to Martha.

During the Revolutionary War, Mary Ball publicly humiliated her son by professing her loyalty to England and not to the cause of the struggling new nation, of which her famous son was willing to give up his life. The most uncomfortable moment to George and Mary’s relationship came in 1781 when Mary Ball sent a letter to the Virginia House of Burgess seeking financial assistance stating that her famous son had failed to provide for her support. The Virginia House Speaker quelled the potential embarrassing situation for Washington, and Washington responded by letter in which he detailed his significant financial care for her. In fact, George had purchased a home for his mother in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The only letter Mary Ball sent to George during the seven war years that he was away from home was after his victorious Battle at Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. She did not commend him on his victory but chastised him for not sending her enough money. Mary Ball continued to publicly complain to the day she died from cancer at age 81, that her famous son, the President of the United States, was not sending her enough money.

Please enjoy the scores of articles on-line that have followed the current subject, “The Mother Who Made George Washington – and Made Him Miserable,” by George S. Schneider, from the Washington Post, courtesy of Library of Congress, printed May 13, 2017. It is fascinating. Historically, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, Eighth Edition, William A. DeGregorio with updates by Sandra Lee Stuart, Eighth Edition.


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