Washington’s Erratic Mother

One of the strangest mysteries of George Washington’s life was his strained relationship with his mother, Mary Ball. As a child, George feared his mother; his father, Gus, died when George was 11 years old and away on business so often that George remembered him vaguely. When George was appointed Military Commander of the Colonial army, Mary told her neighbors that her son was not qualified for the position. She never acknowledged her sons wartime heroism, never left behind a single memorable sentence about George’s remarkable success, “while never hesitating to level a steady stream of criticism against him.” Although Mary was wealthy with farms and slaves through inheritance and George was a respectful and dutiful son who provided her with additional support, her continual complaint against George was he did not provide her with sufficient funds.

Prior to the Revolution, George set up his mother with a lovely house in Fredericksburg and instructed his own property manager to attend to her financial needs during his absence, including paying her taxes. George never heard from his mother for years and suddenly “learned about her alleged problems in a mortifying manner.”

In February 1781 (during the Revolutionary War), George “discovered one of the most bizarre letters of his career.” To his total embarrassment, Mary “had instigated a movement in the Virginia Legislature to provide her with an emergency pension; alleging that she was in great financial need owing to the heavy taxes (which George had paid).” Mary had progressed “to dangerously erratic.” By throwing herself on the charity of the state, she spread the charge that George had neglected her. Terribly hurt by his mother’s petition, George assured the Assembly that “she has not a child who would give their last sixpence to relieve her from real distress. We are all hurt by her petition, as we know that she has ample income on her own.” George asked the Assembly to desist from taking any action.” Mary died a year after George became president, not having attended his presidential inauguration or having sent a word of congratulations to her son.

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1 Comment on "Washington’s Erratic Mother"

  1. Mary Beth Roland | February 20, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Reply

    I would like to know the sources for this article. You have quotes around several phrases but offer no support at to where they originated. It may surprise you to learn that she did not attend his inauguration because she was quite ill and suffering from an advanced case of breast cancer. She died 4 months later in August of 1789. George stopped to see her in Fredericksburg in March of 1789 to gain her blessing, which she gave. Please post your source material because I find that your article is mainly conjecture. You should visit her home in Fredericksburg to learn more about Mary Ball Washington.

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