Originally Published August 03 2022
Written By: Jane Delaney
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Growing up, my mom would often teach me important life lessons. Sometimes she would be very strict and imposing. The purpose of her discipline was to shape me into a person who possessed upstanding moral character.
While I didn’t see the value in some of my mom’s rules or punishments, I’ve learned to appreciate them, especially now that I am older.
For instance, my mom always stressed to me the importance of learning from my mistakes and taking constructive criticism positively from those who want to watch us become our best version of ourselves.
This past week I happened to visit the monument and burial grounds of “America’s Mom”, Mary Washington. It just so happens that Mary Washington lived in the same town that I grew up in, Fredericksburg, Virginia!
However, visiting her monument left me with a handful of questions and few answers…
So, I visited the Central Rappahannock Regional Headquarters library, located downtown, to find information on Mary Washington’s significance in the library’s archives.
WHO WAS MARY WASHINGTON?
Mary Washington (1707- 1789) was the mother of George Washington, the first President of the United States. Mary was born sometime around the year 1707-1709 and died August 1789. She was orphaned at a young age and was raised by a lawyer named George Eskridge, who she would later name her son after.
Mary was known for being independent and remarkably managed a 600-acre farm. Mary Washington was a slave-owner and it is mentioned that she was extremely strict with her slaves. She was known for her diligent work ethic, her stern parenting in raising five children as a single mother, and her lessons on morality.
Does this mean she was unforgiving, as a mother and caretaker? Not necessarily.
Remember the whole ‘George and the Apple Tree’ story? …It turns out the real story is way more complicated and crazier!
The real story goes something like this…
When George Washington was a child at Ferry Farm, his family raised several prized pure-bread horses (so-called ‘blooded’ horses). One particular and impressive horse was a wild and untamed sorrel. Young George Washington, for whatever reason, was determined to attempt to ride the untamed horse and break it in.
So without permission, George and his group of friends snuck out and took the horse out for a ride. The horse, being untamed, did not take to this kindly and was agitated. In the course of the boys trying to ride the horse, it was seriously injured and died.
Upon returning home to the farm, the boys encountered Mrs. Mary Washington who asked them about what they had been up to… George, confronted with his mistake, had no choice but to tell the truth about what happened to the horse to his mom. She was understandably furious. However, she decided not to lose her temper with her son since she was happy that he showed the courage to speak truthfully and take responsibility for his actions.
(This is basically today’s equivalent to taking our parent’s expensive car without permission and totaling it!)
Another fun fact about George’s mom was that she was also horribly afraid of lightning. This was because of an incident when she was younger and sitting at a dinner table with her friend, when suddenly that friend’s fork was struck by lightning in front of her and died. Isn’t that insane???
Mary would never let George swear or use cuss words. She constantly stressed on him to speak in a proper manner like a true gentleman. Mary wanted her children to be good ‘inwardly’ as she believed that language was the “vehicle of thought.”
What we focus our attention and spend our time on represents who we are as individuals. Perhaps this is why Mary instilled a diligent work ethic in all her children!
As Mary Washington grew older, she required more help around her home completing her daily tasks and chores. This eventually resulted in George moving her to the beautiful Kenmore estate in Fredericksburg. It was at Kenmore that she spent the rest of her days.
Her whole life, Mary tried to instill lessons in him to help loved ones including the surrounding community.
Right before she passed, she gave her blessing to her son, George Washington, as he visited while on the way to his Presidential inauguration.
She was buried at the meditation rock which is supposed to have been her favorite place to retreat and find solace.
I cannot help but think Mary was proud to witness the greatness of her children and the people they had become during her final years. Her own legacy lived on through them as they carried out her life lessons and passed them down to the next generations.
WHY IS MARY WASHINGTON KNOWN AS AMERICA’S MOM?
Most of us can assume that the first reason we know her as America’s mom was that she raised the first President of the United States. Mary is metaphorically the mother of our country as her lessons echoed beyond her son, who would later become known as the ‘’father of our country’’ and into Americans’ hearts and virtues.
Mary's story demonstrates how we learn and inherit most of our morals and ethics from our parents.
It goes to show what the impact of having a strong motherly figure and how that positively affects our lives and who we become. We are all ultimately guided by our mother's guidance, knowledge, and wisdom (or lack thereof)
In this way, she had a Motherly influence on us all. She taught her children from a place of love, and disciplined them so as not to be stern but to raise her children to learn from mistakes so that they could become the best version of themselves possible!
Mary Washington’s most invaluable lessons were to always be truthful and honorable...
WHY ARE THERE MONUMENTS OF MARY WASHINGTON EVEN THOUGH SHE DIDN’T ACHIEVE ANYTHING HISTORICAL?
George Washington ordered a memorial stone to be made for his mother. President Cleveland built it in 1894. It was one of the first monuments erected for a woman by a group of women, having taken nearly a hundred years to complete.
Her memorial stone is an Obelisk surrounded by an iron fence and red brick steps. Perhaps the reasoning behind the Obelisk, typically a masculine symbol, is that they are commemorating Mary Washington mostly because she is George Washington’s Mother. Unfortunately, one of the first monuments erected for a woman was only built because of her son.
Today Mary Washington’s legacy lives on in Fredericksburg.
The University of Mary Washington was renamed in 2006 after Mary Washington as well as the local hospital. The university used to be an all-girls college. So, they chose a historical female figure in their hometown revered not only as a mother who instilled values and taught important lessons but as a symbol of an admirable work ethic and independence.
Mary was an avid gardener and the local florist shop in Fredericksburg is named after her and dedicated to her love of flowers.
Mary Washington is the ‘’ancient gentle-woman’’ a motherly figure that we can all appreciate and learn from. Her monuments embody that memory.
CELEBRATING LOCAL HISTORY!
To honor the wisdom of Mary Washington and her son George Washington, Inspire Clothing has made a limited-edition shirt featuring a modern day twist-George Washington rocking a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses!