As a matter of fact, Mrs. Washington preferred to free her own and the General’s negroes as soon as possible and it was accordingly done before her death, which occurred in 1802.
One of the servants thus freed, by name Cary, lived to the alleged age of one hundred fourteen years and finally died in Washington City. He was a personage of considerable importance among the colored population of the Capital, and on Fourth of July and other parades would always appear in an old military coat, cocked hat and huge cockade presented by his Master. His funeral was largely attended even by white persons.
THE FARMER’S WIFE
Martha Dandridge’s first husband was a man much older than herself and her second was almost a year younger. Before she embarked upon her second matrimonial venture she had been the mother of four children, and having lost two of these, her husband, her father and mother, she had known, though only twenty-seven, most of the vital experiences that life can give. Perhaps it was well, for thereby she was better fitted to be the mate of a man sober and sedate in disposition and created by Nature to bear heavy burdens of responsibility.
In view of the important places her husband filled, it is astonishing how little we really know of her. Washington occasionally refers to her in his letters and diaries, but usually in an impersonal way that gives us little insight into her character or activities. She purposely destroyed almost all the correspondence that passed between her and her husband and very little else remains that she wrote. From the few letters that do survive it is apparent that her education was slender, though no more so than that of most women of her day even in the upper class. She had a fondness for phonetic spelling, and her verbs and subjects often indulged in family wrangles. She seems to have been conscious of her deficiencies in this direction or at least to have disliked writing, for not infrequently the General acted as her amanuensis. But she was well trained in social and domestic accomplishments, could dance and play on the spinet—in short, was brought up a “gentlewoman.” That she must in youth have possessed charm of person and manners is indicated by her subjugation of Daniel Parke Custis, a man of the world and of much greater fortune than herself, and by her later conquest of Washington, for, though it be admitted in the latter case that George may not have objected to her fortune, we can not escape the conclusion that he truly loved her.
In fact, the match seems to have been ideally successful in every respect except one. The contracting parties remained reasonably devoted to each other until the end and though tradition says that Martha would sometimes read George a curtain lecture after they had retired from company, there remains no record of any serious disagreement. Though not brilliant nor possessed of a profound mind, she was a woman of much good sense with an understanding heart. Nor did she lack firmness or public spirit. Edmund Pendleton relates that when on his way to the Continental Congress in 1774 he stopped at Mount Vernon, “She talked like a Spartan mother to her son on going to battle. ’I hope you will all stand firm—I know George will,’ she said.”