Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Report...Martha Washington

Last night, I finished the book Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady.

I love to read, but it's often difficult to find time for it.  When I do get wrapped up in a good book, I forget to do things like wash underwear and feed my children.  Gerald is a HUGE reader.  I like to tell people that he read a couple of books on our honeymoon!  It was in Canada, and we were on a plane a good bit of the time.  Maybe he didn't actually finish them.  Anyway - he always has one or two laying around the house. 

I want to set a good example for the kids, too, so I am trying to fit more reading into my schedule.  I love history, and on our recent trip to Washington, D.C., I scored several books on the Washingtons and Mount Vernon.  I will be sharing more of them with you later. 

I found this book to be a really good read, so I wanted to go "old school" and share a little book report with you. are three things I learned while reading this book.  (Imagine me standing in the front of the classroom with my poster board drawing of the book cover.)  ;)

1.  Before becoming Martha Washington, Martha Dandridge married Daniel Parke Custis, a rich planter, twenty years her senior.  While this was not an uncommon occurrence, other circumstances surrounding their marriage were.

The Dandridges were what we would consider today "middle class".  Daniel and Martha were deeply in love, but his father swore that "he had not spent a lifetime amassing a fortune to have it spent by any daughter of Jack Dandridge".  Besides his opposition to the marriage due to class difference, it seems that John Custis had determined that he would spare his children the grief of a bad marriage that he had experienced with their now deceased mother.  (It seems that Daniel's sister had recently died after two thwarted attempts at marriage because her father refused to pay her dowry.  Many think she died of despair.) 

One of the best stories in the book is that of John Custis and his fiery and beautiful wife, Frances.  No one disputes that their's was a very volatile marriage.  Once while riding in the buggy, they began to argue.  Custis turned the horses toward the Chesapeake Bay and started into the water.  When Frances demanded to know where he was going, he replied, "To hell, Madam!"  Her reply?  "Drive on, sir!"  (Love that story!)  She died of smallpox not long after.

Seventeen year old Martha, eager to marry her love, went to visit Mr. Custis one day.  No one knows exactly what she said, but after she left, he contacted his lawyer and instructed that Daniel was allowed to marry Miss Dandridge.  Apparently, he was impressed with her frankness and strength of character.  The Custises had four children together.  Two of them died as infants and Daniel died after seven years of marriage.  Martha was left a grieving, but wealthy widow.

2.  While Martha was America's first First Lady, she and George never lived in the White House as the first two U.S. capitals were in New York and Philadelphia, respectively.  However, the name of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Custis' plantation on the Pawmunkey River was..."White House".  Pretty cool, huh?

3.  Martha Washington did not attend her husband's funeral although it happened at their home.  She was so grief stricken that she retired to a small bedroom on the third floor and probably listened as they carried "Her Old Man's" coffin about a hundred yards to the family cemetery.  She could not bring herself to take part in the ceremony.  In fact, the doctor attending her husband claims that she said upon his death, "Is he gone?  Tis well.  All is now over.  I shall soon follow him..."  She lived another couple of years, quietly enjoying her large family before she died in 1802.

Except for the fact that the author does not seem to be a fan of Thomas Jefferson (my favorite president), I recommend the book! 

So what's on your nightstand?

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  1. I'm reading Hiroshima, by John Hersey. It was originally published 1 year after the bomb (in 1946), where it followed 6 people who survived the atomic bomb less than 2 miles away! It was republished in 1985 with an added chapter of "40 years later," telling about those same people. It's only about 100 pages, and I'm close to half-finished. It doesn't have a lot of politics in it, and it doesn't try to analyze anything - just tell these 6 people's experiences. I highly recommend it.

    1. Interesting, Terri! I will put that on my list for later. I'm in a chronological mood right now!