Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Widow Washington

The Widow Washington

The Life of Mary Washington

Martha Saxton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

BUY THE BOOK

An insightful biography of Mary Ball Washington, the mother of our nation's father

The Widow Washington is the first life of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother, based on archival sources. Her son’s biographers have, for the most part, painted her as self-centered and crude, a trial and an obstacle to her son. But the records tell a very different story. Mary Ball, the daughter of a wealthy planter and a formerly indentured servant, was orphaned very young and grew up in an atmosphere of work, frugality, and piety. She married the older planter Augustine Washington and had five children with him before his death eleven years later. As a widow deprived of most of her late husband’s properties, Mary struggled to raise her children and secure them places among Virginia’s elite. In her later years, she had a contested relationship with her wealthy son and struggled with fears of poverty and helplessness.

Yet Mary Ball Washington had a stronger impact on George than mothers like her usually had on their sons, and she taught him many of the moral and religious principles by which he lived. The two were strikingly similar, though the commanding demeanor, persistence, athleticism, penny-pinching, and irascibility that they shared have served the memory of the country’s father immeasurably better than that of his mother. Martha Saxton’s The Widow Washington is a necessary and deeply insightful corrective, telling the story of Mary’s long, arduous life on its own terms, and… More…

An insightful biography of Mary Ball Washington, the mother of our nation's father

The Widow Washington is the first life of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother, based on archival sources. Her son’s biographers have, for the most part, painted her as self-centered and crude, a trial and an obstacle to her son. But the records tell a very different story. Mary Ball, the daughter of a wealthy planter and a formerly indentured servant, was orphaned very young and grew up in an atmosphere of work, frugality, and piety. She married the older planter Augustine Washington and had five children with him before his death eleven years later. As a widow deprived of most of her late husband’s properties, Mary struggled to raise her children and secure them places among Virginia’s elite. In her later years, she had a contested relationship with her wealthy son and struggled with fears of poverty and helplessness.

Yet Mary Ball Washington had a stronger impact on George than mothers like her usually had on their sons, and she taught him many of the moral and religious principles by which he lived. The two were strikingly similar, though the commanding demeanor, persistence, athleticism, penny-pinching, and irascibility that they shared have served the memory of the country’s father immeasurably better than that of his mother. Martha Saxton’s The Widow Washington is a necessary and deeply insightful corrective, telling the story of Mary’s long, arduous life on its own terms, and not as her son’s satellite.

Less…

1.

A CHILD IN THE CHESAPEAKE


MARY BALL WAS THE ONLY CHILD of Mary Johnson Ball and Colonel Joseph Ball of Lancaster County, Virginia. She was born around 1708 or 1709. Lancaster is the southernmost county in Virginia’s Northern...

Praise for The Widow Washington

“Brilliant and gripping . . . Drawing on local histories and archaeology as well as letters, diaries and a broad knowledge of related historiography, The Widow Washington is a clear-eyed biography of the mother of our first president and a fascinating window into the generation before the American Revolution’s founding fathers and mothers. Ms. Saxton’s vivid storytelling transforms the considerable genealogical work behind this history into poignant drama.” —Kathleen DuVal, The Wall Street Journal

“Saxton offers a sensitive, sharply drawn portrait of a resourceful woman whose early losses made her anxious and fearful for life . . . A sympathetic look at George Washington’s mother [and] a fresh perspective on Colonial America.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An accessible and vivid exploration of the life of George Washington’s mother . . . [Saxton] brings to life the social context of the time . . . [Despite] the absence of much primary source material . . . [Saxton] comes as close as anyone is likely to in accurately recounting [Mary] Washington’s life. This complex, warts-and-all portrait brings a fresh angle to colonial American history.” —Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

Martha Saxton

Martha Saxton is the author of Being Good: Women’s Moral Values in Early America and biographies of Louisa May Alcott and Jayne Mansfield, among other works. She received a Ph.D. from Columbia University before joining the faculty at Amherst College, where she taught history and women’s studies for twenty years.

image of Martha Saxtono

Martha Saxton

Amherst.edu

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Latest on Facebook

LATEST ON TWITTER