President George Washington: Personal Life

About the President George Washington and his personal life as a soldier, his marriage to Martha, his young life.

Personal Life: A romantic and emotional young man, Washington loved to dance and craved the company of attractive women. He was socially handicapped, however, by his shyness and his modest financial resources. By the time he was 25 he had fallen painfully in love several times, and on at least 2 occasions his proposals of marriage had been rejected.

The young soldier's deepest affections were reserved for a married lady. Through his brother Lawrence, Washington became friendly with the brilliant Fairfax family, and spent many evenings playing cards, dancing, or acting in amateur theatricals with the elegant Sally Fairfax. Two years older than Washington, the slim and sophisticated Sally was the daughter-in-law of his former employer and the wife of his good friend. She was also a notorious flirt, and may not have realized how deeply she had smitten the awkward and impressionable Washington. Nonetheless, Washington's devotion to her was enough to scandalize some of the Fairfax relatives. One of them wrote to the young officer in camp that fighting the enemy was "a nobler prospect than reflections of hours past that ought to be banished from your thoughts." Washington's many letters to Sally leave no doubt as to the depth of his passion--and frustration--in this impossible love. Even after his engagement to another, he wrote to her pledging his devotion and declaring: "Misconstrue not my meaning; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know the object of my love declared in this manner to you, when I want to conceal it." Three months later, Washington married Martha Custis, a short, plump, amiable woman, who at the death of her 1st husband had become the richest widow in Virginia. No one ever assumed that her marriage to Washington was a love match: George was anxious for money and social prestige, while Martha needed an administrator for her vast estates and a guardian for her 2 children. It soon became clear that she had made a wise decision in choosing Washington. A 1st-rate administrator and a skillful businessman, he steadily expanded her already sizable holdings. An estimated net worth of $530,000 at his death marked them as one of the wealthiest couples in America. Over the years, it appears that George and Martha developed a genuine, if not passionate, attachment to one another. Many of the details of their relationship remain in doubt, since Martha burned all their correspondence after Washington's death. Though they never had children, Washington proved an overly indulgent stepfather to Martha's offspring from her previous marriage. When her son Jacky died at age 27, leaving behind children of his own, George and Martha formally adopted 2 of his youngsters.

At Mount Vernon, the Washingtons offered generous but down-to-earth hospitality. Martha, who could barely read and write, was known as a homebody. She took a special interest in cooking and often appeared with a ring of kitchen keys tied at her wide waist. When she became First Lady, her receptions were considered somewhat stiff and old-fashioned. All presidential entertainments ended promptly at 9 P.M., when George and Martha went to bed. Martha survived her husband by 2 1/2 years.

The year before he died, Washington wrote a final letter to Sally Fairfax, the love of his youth, who was a destitute widow of 68 living in London. In it, Washington told her that not all the glories of the Revolution, not even the splendors of the Presidency, had "been able to eradicate from my mind those happy moments, the happiest of my life, which I have enjoyed in your company."

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