A Biography Selected

The plan was to start this project the abridged version of Douglas Southall Freeman’s WASHINGTON: AN ABRIDGEMENT IN ONE VOLUME BY RICHARD HARWELL OF THE SEVEN VOLUME GEORGE WASHINGTON, as noted on the reading list in the blogroll. At 780 pages, it makes one wonder just how abridged it could be!  Indeed, the version as revised in 1995 (listed simply as Washington) comes in at 896 pages!  

I’d wanted to begin reading a few nights before New Year’s Eve, to get  a running start, but the version on hold at my library wasn’t available.  So, I  went with another worthy option on the big bio list,  GEORGE WASHINGTON:  A LIFE by Williard Sterne Randall, probably better known for his book on Benedict Arnold.

Having only made it  67 measly pages, the most compelling bits and pieces relate to his wacky mother, Mary Ball Washington. I don’t  doubt that all the bits and pieces related to his great, great grandparents in England had an impact on the events and issues surrounding his life, but as previously mentioned,  I’m not a historian. I also got a bit tired of the ancestors who married women named Anne, and when one Anne died, replaced her with another Anne.  Nor have I much interest in how much happened up to the death of Gus (OK, Augustus) Washington, Mr. Father of our County’s dad.  

But Mary Ball Washington?  Surely her special flavor of crazy had an impact in ways large and small.  But just for a taste of her background, through what was apparently not any fault of her own, her parents and grandparents dropped like flies, leaving her a pretty healthy legacy of furniture, livestock, money (lots of money, which she both squandered and hid), slaves, land, livestock…and horses.  Oh, this chick loved her horses.  (I’m making no Catherine the Great  connection, but you’re welcome to have at it!)  She was a wild horeswoman, and not interested in getting married off.  And why would she have been?  She  had everything a woman needed in those days for self-determination and power.

But she did, eventually, marry widower Gus, becoming mother to his three kids and moving all of her crap into the already crowded-with-crap little brick house at Pope’s Creek in Virginia.  Eleven months later (February 11, 1732 under the old English Calendar…the switch from which will probably be discussed in future posts), she gave birth to George.  But what matters to me is what happened while she was pregnant, and please reader, look away if you are at all squeamish.  The summer of her pregnancy, the family and some friends were having a post-Church meal when a thunderstorm rolled in and lightning hit the house and killed a little girl who was visiting.  Mary was sitting so close to the child that she was also shocked.

Randall believes that this sets up an explanation for much of Mama Washington’s weird fears and odd behaviors (like rarely going farther from home than church and expecting George to stay close and have fealty only to her), though some early tales make me wonder if she didn’t start out a bit wacky.  Nonetheless, weird parents yield kids with weirdnesses of their own, dissimilar often, but quirks nonetheless.  

So, if you’re ever time traveling and visit a Tidewater family for Sunday lunch, don’t sit too close to the little girl near the pregnant horsewoman.  Just as a precaution.

Published in: on January 2, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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