Martha Washington An American Life by Patricia Brady
This is a refreshing and endearing portrait of Martha Washington as few people see her. She was a strong, beautiful, passionate, family-oriented woman, who had a deep loving relationship with both her husbands, Daniel Parke Custis and George Washington. Her graciousness shined and despite her longing to live a quiet private life, she stood by George’s side throughout their marriage. She met the challenges as wife of the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and the first president of the United States.
Martha was born Martha Dandridge on June 2, 1731 on her parent’s plantation, Chestnut Grove, in New Kent County, Virginia. The author, Patricia Brady, describes the places, events, and expectations of the times with a level of detail that gives the reader a clear picture of the things Martha would have done and experienced—domestic, social, political, and religious expectations for a woman who came from a fairly well-to-do family.
Martha Dandridge Custis, 1757
John Parke Custis, 1757
Martha married Daniel Parke Custis in 1750, a man twenty years her senior whose father was abusive and controlling. This seemed to be a pattern. George Washington’s mother, Mary, was abusive and controlling, as well. As a reader, this suggests to me that Martha’s capacity for kindness and emotional support may have been one of the things that attracted both Daniel and George.
She and Daniel had four children. The two eldest died as toddlers. Daniel’s sudden death in 1757 left her, at the age of 26, the wealthiest widow in Virginia, with a 17,500 acre estate to manage and two very young children to raise alone: a three-year-old son, Jacky, and a one-year-old daughter, Patsy. This set a precedence. There was no male trustee to control her property. She was independent and free to make her own decisions, and she did so with confidence.
George Washington, whom she married on January 6, 1759, recognized this strength and rarely questioned her decisions while he was away.
In 1773, Patsy died of a seizure at age seventeen. It was terrible blow to Martha, as well as, George, who was a loving stepfather to Patsy and Jacky (Martha and George had no children of their own). Seven years later during the Siege of Yorktown, she would lose Jacky (who was married with children) to “camp fever”. Martha surrounded herself with family. Many young nieces, nephews, and grandchildren lived at Mount Vernon which was a great comfort to her.
John Parke Custis “Jacky”, 1772
Martha Parke Custis “Patsy”, 1772
Of course, the American Revolution greatly affected every facet of her life. The author describes the events of the war accurately and succinctly. George was away from the Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia, the entire eight years. Martha spent every winter with her husband at the Continental Army camp, often accompanied by nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
Patricia Brady expertly guides the reader through the eight years George was president and Martha’s outlook and influence on those years when the Washington’s longed for a private life that was not to be. After George’s death in 1799 and forty-one years of devoted partnership, Martha never truly recovered from the pain. She remembered her husband’s admirers and those who had hurt him, like Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson was elected president in 1800, “she commented freely and acidly on his presidency.”
In the first week of May, 1802, Martha became ill with one of her frequent stomach upsets. She died at Mount Vernon on May 22.
I highly recommend this historical and spiritual book that contains elements of a great romance.
On March 5, 1776, as the sun rose over Boston, the British were shocked to see two American redoubts atop the hills of Dorchester—one facing east toward Castle Island and the other facing north toward Boston, with two smaller works on their flanks and heavy artillery staring down on the town.
British General William Howe was said to have exclaimed, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months!”
Howe had been confident that the rebels would never make a move on Boston, and had promised to sally forth if they did so. As a matter of pride, he would have to attack as he vowed. His council of war believed an attack would be a terrible mistake. Despite their objections, Howe ordered 3000 troops to embark down the harbor to Castle Island from where an assault on the Heights would be launched at nightfall.
Among General Howe’s council, Captain Archibald Robertson, Captain John Montresor, and Lord Hugh Percy contended that they “ought to immediately embark” Boston all together. By nightfall, a storm that some judged to be a hurricane, raged. Howe was glad to accept this interruption as an excuse for not undertaking an attack that would have cost the lives of many of his regulars. The following morning, he called back the detachment and informed his war council of his intentions of evacuating Boston and going to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
After Howe made his announcement ordering the army and fleet to prepare to evacuate, Boston became a scene of utmost frenzy. Howe had received no orders or word of any kind from the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Germain, since October. He had no long-standing plan for a withdrawal of such magnitude, or any comparable past experience to draw upon.
It was not just the thousands of troops and military stores to transport. Howe intended to take every loyalist who chose to go. The necessary care of women and children, and the sick and wounded required every assistance that could be given. There were a sufficient number of ships at hand, but these all needed sailors and had to be supplied with provisions and water; which were scarce.
High winds continued to blow and churn the waters of Boston Harbor. The rebel guns (Henry Knox captured from Fort Ticonderoga) remained silent while they strengthened their position on Dorchester Heights.
On March 8, American selectman Deacon Timothy Newell and other intermediaries crossed through the lines at Boston Neck carrying a white flag, and delivered a message informing Washington that the city would not be burned to the ground if the British were allowed to leave unmolested.
The alarm and anxiety among the loyalists was extreme. “The Tories…carried death intheir faces…some run distracted.” They had no idea where they were heading, nor did they know if there was room for all who wanted to go. Most of them had never lived anywhere else. They were disillusioned and disoriented. They saw themselves as the true American patriots; loyal to their King and to the rule of law. Britain had failed to protect them from what, in their opinion, had become mob rule.
These fourth and fifth generation Americans began boarding ships on March 10. Accommodations on the overcrowded ships were wretched. There were no berths in which to sleep. Families, some as large as seventeen members, were forced to sleep on the crowded floor like “pigs“. There was little food and water. All wondered, what miseries lay at sea?
In the next days, the ships began falling down the harbor with the tide as far as the Nantasket Roads, below Castle Island, to anchor out of range of the rebel cannon and to provide space for other vessels to tie up at the wharves. There the exiles sat on the rocking waves, day after day. Not until Sunday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, did the wind turn fair and favorable.
British Captain Archibald Robertson exuberated in his journal: “It was the finest day in the world.”
Led by General Artemas Ward, on horseback, the Americans entered the town with drums beating and flags flying. By all rights, it should have been Washington leading the troops, but in a gracious gesture he gave the honor to Ward, his predecessor as commander of the Provincial Army.
American General William Heath wrote in his memoirs:
“In the morning [of the 17th] the British evacuated Boston; their rear guard with some marks of precipitation. A number of cannon were left spiked, and two large marine mortars, which they in vain attempted to burst. The garrison at Bunker’s Hill practised some deception to cover their retreat. They fixed some images, representing men, in the places of their centinels, with muskets placed on their shoulders, &c. Their immovable position led to the discovery of the deception, and a detachment of the Americans marched in and took possession.
The troops on the Roxbury side, moved over the Neck and took possession of Boston; as did others from Cambridge, in boats. On the Americans entering the town, the inhabitants discovered joy inexpressible. The town had been much injured in its buildings, and some individuals had been plundered. Some British stores were left. The British army went on board their transports below the Castle. A number of American adherents to them, and the British cause, went away with the army.”
More than twenty-five British brigs, schooners, sloops, and ships had been abandoned, some loaded with stores and all of them scuttled. The dragoons had left horses in the stables along with tons of hay. Broken carriages and chaises littered Long Wharf.
After entering Boston, Dr. John Warren, General Joseph Warren’s youngest brother noted:
“The houses, I found to be considerably abused inside, where they had been inhabited by the common soldiery but the external parts of the houses made a tolerable appearance. the streets were clean. . .The inhabitants, in general, appeared to rejoice at our success, but a considerable number of Tories have tarried in the town to throw themselves on the mercy of the people.”
But William Howe had no intention of leaving Boston without a parting demonstration. His fleet came to anchor at King’s Road, and with the arrival of his flagship, Chatham, every warship fired a roaring 21-gun salute. The full guns of Chatham answered in kind—a reminder of King George III’s royal might.
On March 19, the last of the British might in Boston Harbor blew up Castle William and burnt some of the barracks. There was a lazy attempt to cannonade Dorchester Neck. Then, on March 27, they headed for open sea.
George Washington was convinced that their destination was New York. Howe’s fleet disappeared over the horizon, bound not for New York, but Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The siege, which had begun on April 19, 1775, had been a success, and George Washington’s performance had been exceptional. He had indeed bested Howe and his regulars, despite the Continental Army’s insufficient arms, ammunition, shelter, illness, inexperience, lack of discipline, clothing and funds.
By purging itself of loyalists, Boston had reaffirmed its origins and was, once again, its own “city on a hill.”
Flexner, James Thomas. Washington The Indispensable Man.1974: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY.
Memoirs of Major-General Heath. Containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles, and other Military Events, During The American War. Written Br Himself. publithtrt accorying to 3ft of Congrefa. Printed at Boston, Bt I. THOMAS and E. T. ANDREWS, Faust’s Statue, No. 45, Newburt-Street. Sold by them; by I. Thomas, Worcefter; by Thomas, Andrew! Is” Pen- himam, Albany j by Thomas, Andrews (9* Butler, Baltimore; and by the Bookfellers throughout the Continent. MUG. I798.
McCullough, David. 1776. 2005:Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.
Warren, M.D., Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D. Surgeon-General During The War Of The Revolution; First Professor Of Anatomy And Surgery In Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Etc. 1874: Noyles, Holmes, and Company, Boston
Lithograph. Title: Boston from Dorchester Heights Creator/Contributor: Coke, E. T. (Edward Thomas), 1807-1888 (artist) Date created: 1830 – 1839 (approximate) Provenance: Statement of responsibility: Drawn on stone by Punser from a sketch by E. T. Coke Location: Boston Public Library, Print Department
On New Year’s Day, Monday, January 1, 1776, British officers approached the American lines in Roxbury, Massachusetts under a flag of truce. At least one of the men was carrying copies of a broadside for distribution among the soldiers of the Continental Army. This was King George III’s speech, delivered before Parliament back on October 27, 1775. It had been published with the hope of putting the fear of God into the rebel army.
The king declared that the colonists’s “strongest protestations of loyalty to me” were both absurd and offensive given that they were presently engaged in a “rebellious war . . . carried for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists must either return to the British fold or admit that they were engaged in a war of independence.
The reaction among the army was rage and indignation. The speech was burned in public by the soldiers. Its charges of traitorous rebellion and its ominous reference to “foreign assistance,” assuredly ended any hope of reconciliation or a short war. The effect of the King’s speech on General George Washington was profound.
If nothing else could “satisfy a tyrant and his diabolical ministry,” he wrote to his aide Colonel Joseph Reed, “we were determined to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural. This I would tell them, not under covert, but in words as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness.”
As it happened, Washington had already acted to strengthen the solidarity and resolve of his troops. January 1 was the first day of “a new army, which in every point of view is entirely continental.” He stressed the hope that “the importance of the great Cause we are engaged in will be deeply impressed upon every man’s mind.” Everything “dear and valuable to freemen” was at stake.
To celebrate this event, Washington replaced the large red flag previously raised by Israel Putnam on the heights of Prospect Hill. With the crash of a 13-gun salute, he raised a new flag — a flag of thirteen red and white stripes, with the British colors (the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew) represented in the upper corner. The works at Prospect Hill were the equal of any fortification in Boston being situated on a large outcropping with a commanding view of the Mystic River and all of Boston Harbor.
Soon after the Battle of Chelsea Creek, Israel Putnam’s men had transformed the British schooner Diana’s seventy-five foot mainmast into a flag pole, and it was from this tar-stained pine that the Union flag of the Continental Army proudly waved. When the British in Boston saw it flying from Prospect Hill, they at first mistook it for a flag of surrender.
It has been argued that the Somerville, Massachusetts annual New Year’s Day flag ceremony on Prospect Hill commemorates something that never really happened. There are others who claim it is accurate.
“We shall cut no small figure in going through the Country with our Cannon, Mortars, etc., drawn by eighty yoke of oxen.” ~~Henry Knox in a letter to his wife, Lucy. December 1775
General George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 2, 1775. The Continental Congress had led him to believe that he would find 20,000 battle-tested provincial soldiers. What he found was not a proper army. In his opinion, it was a mob of “puritanical savages.” Further, on his arrival, he was assured that the army had 308 barrels of gunpowder. It was actually only 90 barrels. A lack of heavy weaponry, made offensive operations virtually impossible.
What was Washington, who was intent on ending the Siege of Boston in one decisive stroke, to do?
Enter a twenty-five-year-old former book seller with militia and battle experience, an interest in artillery, and a talent for building fortifications: Henry Knox.
Henry impressed Washington with his energy, ingenuity, determination, and knowledge. Which man brought up the cache of artillery at Ft. Ticonderoga in upstate New York is unknown, but Henry volunteered to travel the 300 miles to Ticonderoga and bring the artillery back to Cambridge. Several gunners from Boston’s town regiment under the command of Lieutenant Adino Paddock’s old Grenadiers agreed to serve under Knox. David Mason, the man next in command under the aging artillery colonel Richard Gridley, agreed to serve as a lieutenant colonel of artillery of the regiment if Knox was appointed colonel.
On November 8, 1775, Washington wrote to Congress, “The council of officers are unanimously of the opinion, that the command of the artillery should no longer continue in Colonel Gridley, and knowing of no person better qualified to supply his place, or whose appointment will give more general satisfaction, have taken the liberty of recommending Henry Knox.”
Washington issued Knox orders on Thursday, November 16, to take stock of supplies in the artillery corps and to inventory its needs, then to proceed first to the New York Provincial Congress and then to Albany to procure and send supplies to Cambridge. He backed Knox financially, and wrote to General Philip Schuyler asking him to assist Knox in the endeavor.
Leaving on horseback and accompanied by his nineteen-year-old brother, William, and an expeditionary force, Knox reached Ticonderoga on December 5, 1775. The plan was to transport over 60 tons of artillery by scows from the northern tip of Lake George thirty-two miles to Ft. George on the southern tip of the lake.
Henry prayed for warm weather, and until that point, the weather had remained mild, but the wind picked up and forced Knox’s freezing men to row into an icy gale. One of the scows fetched up on a rock and filled with water. As long as the scows gunnels remained above the water line, the boat could be floated. With heroic effort, they finally succeeded in getting all the cannon to the southern end of the lake just as it began to freeze over.
On December 17, Henry wrote to Washington, “I have had made forty two exceedingly strong sleds & have provided eighty yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh cattle to carry them to camp. . . . I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery.”
Henry began earnest negotiations with local Stillwater (Albany-area) native George Palmer for the expected oxen and sleds. Per Henry’s journal, Palmer walked off in a huff after General Schuyler complained he was charging too much for his services. Thus, Knox relented to using mostly horses to pull the laden sleds.
While William Knox remained at Ft. George to procure the needed sleds, Henry went ahead to the Hudson River, where he and his men took steps to strengthen the river ice in anticipation of the artillery’s arrival and crossing.
Once the horses and sleds (and some head of oxen) were secured, the Noble Train of Artillery left Ft. George and moved along a difficult and exceedingly slow route following the Hudson River, with the crews forced to cross the frozen Hudson four times before reaching Albany. On January 5, from Albany, Henry wrote Washington: “The want of snow detained us some days, and now a cruel thaw hinders [us] from crossing [the] Hudson River, which we are obliged to do four times from Ft. George to this town.”
When the train was able to move on, Henry was forced to break up his caravan into smaller groups of sleds due to logistics. On crossing the Hudson east to Massachusetts, cannon broke through the ice and crashed into the water. With the help of locals, they recovered the cannon. On January 9, the last of the cannons had crossed the Hudson.
Crossing and re-crossing the Hudson had proved difficult, but the hills and mountains of western and central Massachusetts were just as challenging. On the down slopes, the huge heavy sleds threatened to run ahead of the teams that were pulling them. They were plagued by lack of snow. Another “cruel” thaw left them stranded in Westfield.
In Westfield, Henry entertained the locals, many who had never seen cannon, by firing a mortar that became known as “Old Sow.” It was here that Henry learned that John Adams and George Washington had named him to succeed Colonel Richard Gridley as colonel of the Regiment of Artillery.
In the last week of January, 1776, the first of the noble train arrived in Framingham, Massachusetts. Henry Knox was back in Cambridge by January 24.
Knox’s journey provided the Continental Army with a windfall of artillery that was used at Dorchester Heights and ultimately led General William Howe to evacuate his British troops from Boston, taking thousands of loyalists civilians with them, and effectively ending the Siege of Boston.
Colonel Henry Knox was promoted to brigadier general in 1777 and major general in 1782. He remained loyal to Washington throughout the war.
McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.
Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution. 2010: Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY.
John Adams in a letter to John Winthrop following the Battle of Bunker Hill that occurred on June 17, 1775 where Joseph Warren was killed in action.
“Alass poor Warren! …. For God Sake my Friend let us be upon our Guard, against too much Admiration of our greatest Friends. President of the Congress, Chairman of the Committee of Safety, Major General ….. was too much for Mortal, and This Accumulation of Admiration upon one Gentleman, which among the Hebrews was called Idolatry….”
Joseph Warren is an important character in the first book of my historical fantasy series about the American Revolution: “Angels and Patriots Book One, Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill.” As I turned my attention to the second novel in the series “Angels & Patriots Book Two, The Cause of 1776″ I was faced with writing about the discovery and identification of his remains, his funeral and second burial, and his orphaned and destitute children.
Aside from my own research, I also had a phone conversation with Joseph’s 2012 biographer regarding things to consider and how what was happening in Boston during the spring of 1776 after the British evacuated may have affected Joseph’s funeral that took place in April of that year.
In my further research, I stumbled across the last letter Joseph Warren wrote to John Adams.
To John Adams from Joseph Warren, 20 May 1775
Cambridge May. 20th. 1775
Having wrote fully upon several Subjects to Mr. Hancock and Mr. Adams, upon several Matters which they will communicate to you,1 I can only add here that I Yesterday heard from your Family at Braintree were all in Health. A person having brought me a Letter from your Lady to me recommending one of your Brothers to be a Major in one of the Regiments, I am sorry the Letter did not arrive sooner, but I shall do all in my Power to obtain such a place for him yet, as he is the Brother of my Friend, and I hear is a worthy Man.2 I am Dear Sir most sincerely, Your Friend & Humble Servt.
In discovering Joseph Warren’s last letter to John Adams, I also found the following letter. It moved me greatly when I realized that John, at the writing of his letter, didn’t know Joseph’s mutilated body had been lying on Breed’s Hill for four days, in a shallow grave with a farmer. I felt genuine sorrow for John Adams.
John entrusted George Washington to deliver the letter to Joseph. Washington delivered the letter to the man who was elected to fill Joseph’s shoes as the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, James Warren (no relation to Joseph).
When he received the letter, James Warren read the letter aloud to the congressional members.
From John Adams to Joseph Warren, 21 June 1775
Phyladelphia June 21. 1775
This Letter I presume will be delivered into your own Hand by the General. He proposes to set out, tomorrow, for your Camp. God Speed him. Lee is, Second Major General, Schuyler, who is to command at N. York is the third and Putnam the fourth. How many Brigadiers general we shall have, whether five, Seven or Eight, is not determined, nor who they shall be. One from N. Hampshire, one from R. Island, two from Connecticutt, one from N. York, and three from Massachusetts, perhaps.1
I am almost impatient to be at Cambridge. We shall maintain a good Army for you. I expect to hear of Grumbletonians, some from parcimonious and others from Superstitious Prejudices. But We do the best we can, and leave the Event.
How do you like your Government? Does it make or remove Difficulties? I wish We were nearer to you.
The Tories lie very low both here and at New York. The latter will very soon be as deep as any Colony.
We have Major Skeene a Prisoner, enlarged a little on his Parol—a very great Tool.2 I hope Govr Tryon, will be taken care of.3 But We find a great many Bundles of weak Nerves. We are obliged to be as delicate and soft and modest and humble as possible. Pray Stir up every Man, who has a Quill to write me. We want to know the Number of your Army—A List of your officers—a State of your Government—the Distresses of Boston—the Condition of the Enemy &c. I am, Dr sir your Friend,
We have all recommended Billy Tudor for a secretary to the General. Will he make a good one? This moment informed of Powder arrived here, 500 Blls they say. We must send it along to you.
Forman, Samuel A. Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. 2012: Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.
“To John Adams from Joseph Warren, 20 May 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0006. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 3, May 1775 – January 1776, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979, p. 10.]
“From John Adams to Joseph Warren, 21 June 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0027. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 3, May 1775 – January 1776, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979, pp. 44–45.]
Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One, Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook.