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tv   Author Discussion on Mary Washington  CSPAN  August 25, 2020 8:56am-10:06am EDT

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>> enjoy booktv on c-span2. >> next on booktv a conversation with authors of biographies on mary washington, the mother of george washington. this comes to us from george washington's mount vernon. >> good evening, everyone. my name is kevin butterfield, executive director of the national library for the study of george washington at mount vernon, calmly known as washington library and we have an annual event that we're finally getting around to this user are also told in march the foreclosure force us to delay to this that we are going to have our annual martha washington lecture sponsored by the foundation. we are thrilled to have this opportunity to bring together some of the most important
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scholarship on the mother of george washington, mary ball washington. this popular event was set up some time ago, to help us understand the world, the time, the experiences of martha washington and other women of the 18th century. one of those women is of course mary ball washington. the library hosted this event in women's history month in the month of march but because of the closure here we are tonight. i want to mention a couple of things. one important thing i think everyone in the audience probably knows by now but i can't say it too many times, mount vernon is open. with open to audiences come to visit i should say to come to mount vernon and you have an opportunity to stroll the grounds to see the museum and education center. quite soon we will open the magic but that's not ready yet because of the particular challenges the united states
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faces. but continue to support mount vernon in that way. another thing only as an upcoming event. on july 8, that is coming right up right around the corner, our evening book talk. we will feature the host and creator of a recent cbs miniseries onto constitution. but he will be interviewed by someone who is no less important and no list notable in his own rights david rubenstein please join you for the conversation with judge ginsburg and david rubenstein so we can learn more about his explanation of our constitution. the night event will involve three panelists that i won't describe to you but i do want introduce our guest and moderator. doctor karin wulf who is the story of early america and also the director of the institute. professor fitchett william and mary and a recent washington library fellow. she was working on a project
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when i came to the library, project that is coming soon, one day soon on the history of genealogy and america. karin, welcome. >> thank you so much, kevin. it's nice to say hello to you for my dining room. >> where is your dining room? >> i'm just round the beltway. eyman rockville, maryland,. >> welcome. i'm not going to intrude any longer. i would like to ask you to introduce our panelists tonight and i'll set the time. >> thanks so much. appreciate that. so hello to all of you and welcome to my dining room. i'm really sorry where not to give in person for this conversation about a really interesting person but also about some of those important and challenging issues and early american history. i want to thank mount vernon for bring us together. my family has loved visiting mount vernon for many decades to come i might you not be surprised to know i think one of
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the lasting contributions to our civic culture that mount vernon has been making is supporting research on the critical early american pass, not only healthy but really essential for our nation and those contributions to freshen exit and interpretation but also in books like those with talking about this evening. .. >> this is such important history. so i'm going to start with quick context for everyone about mary ball washington and the structure of 18th century
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virginia before i go to the panel. and now we'll let george be a minor character in the life of a woman 1708 born to a wealthy family and married in 1731 into a married into a wealthy family. as mary ball and then mary ball washington, she with men, women and children and she inherited. three men named tom, joe and jack. in all the places that she and her family lived, the population was 40 to 50% enslaved people by the mid 18th century. she was married for 12 years to george washington's father and she bore six children, five of whom lived past infancy and the oldest of whom of course became the first president. she managed nearly 300 acre estate for more than three
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decades and she wasn't keen to leave it even when she was elderly, but she did and she lived the last years of her life in frederickson, virginia. and exploring the early american past, we're turning to a distinguished panel and perhaps given my last name you can guess why i'm in favor of introducing people in reverse alphabetical order. the author of books including four best sellers about ronald reagan, a political biology of newt gingrich and a new york times best seller about the events and attack on pearl harbor and recently, mary ball washington, the untold story of george washington's mother. martha saxton is professor emeritus of history and women's
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study, the author of being good, women's moral values in early america and 7th interpretations of american history and i mention that because many graduate students in american history-- she held many fellowships and commonly at the library and published the widow washington, and won an award though i'm not sure that's public knowledge. maybe she'll tell us that. last and thirdly not least my dear friend charlene boyer lewis, ladies and gentlemen on display, planters society of springs-- currently writing a book about margaret arnold which i promise you will be important. an essay on women in george washington's world and co-editors of the jefferson and americans series.
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and this is a moment traditionally when we would applaud our panelists and welcome them and thank them for joining us this evening. i'm going to start with craig who, as i said, we welcome you back to the inquiry, craig, the 18th century, but i want to ask you, particularly because you've been a historian of later eras. one thing super interesting to me about your book is that you talk about the history and tradition of mary ball washington biography. you begin your volume not in the 18th century, but in talking about the long impact of the 18th century and the legacy and traditions the way that people have written about her. can you talk with us a little about that? >> sure. thanks very much and i want to thank everybody at mt. vernon for inviting me to be with you tonight. i guess the place to start, why i got interested, i always wanted to do a biography of george washington, but that
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fish hole has been pretty well fished out although there's a new one on washington opening up. i actually live-- speaking of the 18th century i live in a house built in 1730 in rural virginia. i've had fascination with washington, two favorite presidents, ronald reagan and george washington and remains today fascinating to me because of the multiple careers and multiple interests and multiple talents. but it occurred to me as i was-- we actually attend the episcopal church where the ball family attended. a little washington -- can't think of the name of it now. but the ball family is all buried in the graveyard there so i got interested in it and i started to probe and found out that really, until a book came out and my book was that the
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scholarship on mary ball washington had been very, very thin and what was out there wasn't, frankly, very good. the period after she passed away until about 1860 where she was treated as like she was marri mary the mother of jesus or saintly figure and she was dealt with-- and then the period after the civil war when realists began to take hold with the red badge of courage and melville and things like that, she took on a harder cap from being june cleaver to joan crawford and the fact of the matter was that neither was true and both is true, but the truth itself was much more nuanced. it was someplace in the middle. when i got into the scholarship. when i got into the research, i found out that this is a very
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talented woman, even one recent biographer, a very go good biographer said she was unlettered-- she was a lettered person and she had a fine hand, very literate letters and she also lived in not the country, i think most of her life was in fredericksburg which is a booming metropolis in the 1750's, 1760's. so what emerged for me was that a much more sophisticated woman and a woman that really history had not been very kind to, and i think that between martha and myself, i think we started to address the idea that she needs to be looked at more closely. she -- george as you mentioned, george's father died when he was only 12 years old and occurred to me that he didn't -- he had an older stepbrother
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lawrence, but he was never around really that much and there weren't really any strong male figures. he had two tutors in his lifetime there weren't any male figures in his life. and where did washington achieve the qualities we associate with him, bravery, integrity and honor and all those things. it had to come from somebody and i think the correct conclusion all of these qualities in fact came from his mother so that makes her not just because she had george washington, but because of how she raised george washington, makes her maybe the most important person in the history of the american republic. >> thanks so much. that's so -- that's a really interesting reflection. i am sure that the people in fredericksburg would prefer your blooming metropolis to my bustling down description. it surely was a lively place in the 18th century and more
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dominant than we may have thought. i want to ask you a quick follow-up here about mary ball washington and how people have interpreted her as a mother over time. >> yes. >> you said she goes from being june cleaver to joan crawford, a 20th century kind of visual media references there, but you're talking about a much longer period from the 19th century into the late 20th century where i'm wondering if you're thinking this is really because people are interpreting motherhood differently and kind of popular conceptions of women and women's roles differently as they're interpreting mary washington? >> i don't think there's any doubt about that. i think that we all as historians and scholars, panel modern senseabilities into our looks backwards. we're not guilty of-- we're not judging them by the
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morals and standards and qualities of today. we're not doing that, but we are taking a closer look at the men and women that were in the past and trying to seize them. and that's what i really tried to do. i tried to imagine what it would be like and i got help from my wife and my mother, both did a lot of research on my book, but i wanted to get a woman's perspective. what was it like to be a single woman raising six children and then five children, in a century that was not very hospitable to women. you know, they obviously didn't have the vote, but women couldn't even own property back there. her job and all women's job was to take the property that was their deceased husband passed along to them and their job was to pass it along to their eldest son when he reached the age of majority. so it's a very, very difficult century for women. so, to do what she had to do to raise the children who all
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were, you know, pretty respectful citizens obviously one being the most respectable citizen in possibly the history of the american republic, but where -- so she had to have done something right on maybe a lot of things right to raise her children under such difficult circumstances and to produce a man who was, you know, was described when he passed away first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of the countrymen. >> thank you, i appreciate that a lot and i think you served it up for me to ask martha a question about widowhood if we can switch over. i want to note that for all-- for everybody watching martha has been experiencing laryngitis so her daughter, josephine is going to read some of her responses for us and then martha will catch up with the follow-up. so thanks, josephine, we all appreciate this a lot and it's
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a mother-daughter thing so really appropriate. i want to start out by asking martha via josephine here to tell us a little bit more about something that craig touched on which is martha ball washington's position as a widow, an elite woman, and a slave owner, and how that could help us to understand her and the world she lived in. give us a little bit of the context for that, if you would. >> i should say that i've written out something so that my daughter could read it so it's a little formal, but i think it answers your question, if we go on too long or my daughter goes on too long with my text, just tell us to stop. >> all right. >> telling the story of mary ball as a widow, a slave owner and a member of the gentry opens a wide ranging discussion of 18th century virginia, including class, slavery, white
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women's sometimes contradictory role and the way that leadership shaped white male privilege. and her privilege and lack of fundamental rights. mary's decision to stay under married after the death of her husband placed her in category of woman with special freedoms and special legal and customary liabilities. virginia law permitted widows, unlike wives, to own property, but virginia laws in the judiciary worked to keep women's ownership of land both exceptional and temporary. in mary's case, the will left two plantations to his son by first marriage and divided up the rest of the land between his and mary's sons. he left a small amount of money to his and mary's daughter betty. he left mary the right to use the house and land where she lived only until george came of age. he left her approximately the same number of enslaved people whom she had brought to the marriage, and stipulated if she felt the need more more they
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would come from among people designated for her children. his will was stingy with her and set her at odds with her children, but in line with the legal goal of keeping land away from women and trying to reduce property owning window to dependency, considered the natural condition for women. and this was widespread friction between mothers and first born sons. and mary stayed at the family farm after his coming of age and he was already at mt. vernon and she failed to build herself a home. and over the years requests for small amounts of money for the unfertile property and he took the farm from her and to take the property as due him. he failed in that. and in widow hood, from the
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time mary was 6 until 12, she watched her mother run their farm. litigate to recover property and make her own decisions. mary may also not have wanted more children. another important factor was the provision if she remarried and second husband tampered with the children's legacies, she would lose guardianship of them, an a child. he had experienced guardians fighting over his and his brother's legacies and he wanted to prevent this not uncommon occurrence. from mary's standpoint it would be difficult to assure that any prospective suitor didn't have designs on her children's property. and mary's experience as a slave owner offers glimpses of unsettling and unsettled intimacy that enslaved slave owners and people between-- slave holders and slave people as well as suggesting some changes as the institution
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developed over that time. mary became the owner of two enslaved young boys and man age thee when her wealthy father died. the role as slave owner blunted her empathy and shaped her command and necessity of slavery. she owned children about her age who were probably occasionally her playmates, but whatever the game, she would win. she grew up on a small farm where enslaved and free lived close together. and her stepfather and mother personally forced work out of their captives. when mary's stepfather died her mother took over eventually hiring an overseer and controlling the farm and enslaved workers. mary was born in a period when a high number of kidnapped africans were entering virginia speaking foreign language and with scars, frightened and rebellious. mary's neighbor was among the
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legislators writing the early 18th century laws giving owners as complete control over the life of africans as possible. mary's family's family litigated over the children and unborn children of young enslaved women. her mother's will promised mary an enslaved woman. she would have -- she would be valuable-- i'm sorry, she would be more valuable although less costly than an enslaved man. mary would have known this, because women worked in the field as well as the house, and produced children that their owners could work or sell. both mary's earlier ownership of bond men and boys and ownership in the 18th century generation helped make her an utterly unrepentant slave owner. the family's story has her whipping and reviling an enslaved boy who mishandled her carriage. and during the war, she asked for priscilla and she had
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begged not to be separated from her partner. as a woman, but later and more urgently as a widow mary had to demonstrate they are authority and strength before her slaves and overseers. perceived weakness could lead to resistance. statistics show that cases of infractions by enslaved people owned by widows showed up more often in the courts, than those owned by men. by the time mary was an old woman, the myth was developing that woman slave owners did not use violence. martha washington, for example, was protected by george's rule at mt. vernon that enslaved people could not complain to her of an overseer's discipline. the prevailing ideology of sensibility along with the distances wealthy planters would increasingly create between plantation mistresses and the actual day-to-day extraction of work from laborers left mary as a woman
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vulnerable to the criticism of unusual cruelty as if slave owning could be at bottom anything else. >> thank you so much. thank you martha, and thank you josephine, too. that's really helpful context. i think you've done-- put two things together. mary ball washington's experience as a widow and we know how the law in virginia disempowered women, but then actually put widows in a slightly more, that is free and wealthy widows in a slightly more powerful position and vis-a-vis slavery. so, mary ball washington is a very interesting figure. she is both extremely powerful in some context and not at all powerful in others. i'm going to ask charlene to come in on this next question, but when we come back to you, in the second round, one of the things i'm going to ask you
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about is just to give us a reminder about what covature is crucial for us to understand and you mentioned that and craig did as well. laws with women and constrains people. charlene, i wanted to bring you in how hard it is to write a biography of any women in this period you published a book with a famous woman and writing a book about another famous woman. it's a challenge. why is it so hard to write biographies about women. >> you're right, exactly. i think there are multiple reasons there are challenges and multiple challenges as wellments i take the easy way
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out. margaret arnold-- women who would have been written about in newspapers and by her historians. ap people like mary ball washington. she's a little more elusive. but the challenges come from the time period when you're looking at these women and also how people have kept sources and archives have worked which have been to always really place women with men. when you look at the 18th century and early 19th century, women are kind of thought of as kind of generalizations, not as women themselves. they don't have public identities and they're really only known as whether they're the mother of somebody, the wife of somebody, the daughter of somebody. known by the men to whom they're attached. because women have the public
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identities and women weren't seen as individuals, but as a generic, general category, they got lost in the records. they weren't written about as much and they're-- you know, when you look at the beginning of the country and you look at the census, men's names were there first and men who head to the households. it's really hard to find women. so one of the challenges to do a biography of women, you have to start sifting through all the traditional documents and try to find women where they can, when you go to an archive, and many archives, the papers are known by the man's name. the benedict arnold papers and i have to try to find martha arnold through benedict arnold's papers and the family
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papers and that's where the women's papers are. so you have to sift. same thing looking through newspapers, you have to sift and search for where these women are and what, you know, what key terms do you use because they're not always going to be known as margaret arnold or as elizabeth bonaparte. and this is one they think why i liked to write biographies about women, we get to get creative. once you write about women, they're more elusive and difficult to write about. this is where you start thinking of sources in different ways. it's not just reading between the lines for traditional resources like letters, but it's thinking about architecture and spaces, that women inhabited laundries and kitchens and bedrooms and orchards as how can we bring that in and help us tell our story. and it's a way that you can
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think about material culture, when you look at jewelry that a woman owned or dishes that a woman used. you know, or a piece of clothing, can tell us an immense amount and let us write the story in a more full, rich way, even though the sources that are there aren't as rich for somebody like george washington or thomas jefferson, right? so what i think we need to understand is when you do biography and you think about the challenges, is that the complex figures, seems simplistic for me to say so, but women especially known by the men in their lives like mary ball washington, and-- they're complex figures not just somebody's mother, wife or daughter. they're slave holders. they're writers, they're female politicians, they're artists,
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women full of complexity and the challenge of the biographer is to break through those traditional thinking of women as mothers, wives and daughters and bust that open and find and think about sources and creative ways to get a fuller, richer picture of women. so it's harder history to wri write. it's more challenging to write when you're looking at women of the lower classes and where the record almost don't exist, it can produce anger, my students get angry when they can't find sources of the women they're interested in. there are lots of rewards to try and resurrect these women as fully complex individual that they were. >> thank you. that is really great. i love your emphasis on the challenge and creativity involved, both. and you know, i guess it really underscores a key point,
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especially when we're trying to write about enslaved women, for example, who are really known to us primarily by their relationship to someone who enslaved them and you think about the incredible achievement of someone like erica dunbar writing to incredible biography and writing her life and we really only have two points of access to her individual voice. interviews and what happened when she ran away from washington. and you see the point of individuals and not just in their leadership to other people, so, thank you a lot. i want to go back to this question with martha about coverture. and i want to ask you about being brief. the first is about coverture.
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if you could give us suscinct description of what the law is and how it disempowers women, elite women, free women and empowers women of property when they're not married. if you could give that snippet. i think that could be super helpful. well, coverture. when you marry, you lose your identity and as a woman you're subsumed in the identity of your husband. nothing you own including your children are yours. if you-- this is not you before marriage. before marriage you're presumably dependent on your father and your father can arrange and pass on things to you legally and make you the owner of
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when you're a widow you can own i think so this in your own right. so coverture essentially wipes out your individual existence, your legal existence, you can't testify in court, all of those things and widowhood restores many of those abilities that men have. >> so, yes, that's so helpful. it's interesting for us to think of someone like mary ball washington who even though she's living in this challenging time when she's widowed she has more legal capacity than when she's married and although we know women do remarry, we know that when women are widowed they marry less quickly and frequently than men do. men whose wives pass away marry more quickly than women do. i think we can't assume that she was in a modern feminine sense claiming her authority, but it may be that the kind of
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capacity she had as a widow suited her in some way, do you think that's fair? >> absolutely. i think she had a model in her mother. she saw the difference in her mother's life between widowhood and married status. she-- it's not clear to me that she enjoyed her mother very much, she never named a child after her, but she certainly admired her strength and her abilities and it meant that she would not have to have any more children if she didn't remarry, which was -- she'd had six. she may not have wanted to spend her life producing more children and nursing and doing all of that. women at the time, 18th century women at the time wrote about that and as a real reason for not wanting to marry again. she also would have possibly lost control, if she married again, of the property that she still had, that that she had sort of on temporary status
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from other husband and property long-term from her father. so there were many risks and she was used to going her own way. and i think she preferred it. >> thank you, i want to ask you to just also mention briefly for us, again, all of these subjects are big ones and compelling ones, but an interesting thing that you bring to your book and craig mentioned as well is the fact that did she leave and things that we could know about from her book and readings. and what we can think about mary ball washington as-- men . >> i wrote a page and a half that my daughter could read. is that okay? >> i said i wrote a page and a half about that josephine could read, is that all right? >> okay, yeah, yeah, that's fine. sorry, we were -- either my
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wi-fi was blinking or yours, and that would be fine. >> is the audio okay? we sound okay? okay. so as mary became an adolescent she came into possession of john scott's christian life from the beginning. the first of a handful of devotional books that she would read and reread during her life. they were almost all written in the late 17th century by english protestants and some dissenters helpful to mary whose early loss of her parents left her in need of both comfort and guidance. many lessons tended to focus how to accept loss, the loss of health, fortune, her beloved people, by understanding god's will and purposes. excessive unhappiness and complaining challenged god's all knowing plan for the sinners in his care. this was a common belief among anglicans in virginia although many did not manage to comply
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with the stoic demeanor required. mary had to start learning these lessons early and often. and at their marriage, augustan gave her a book, and she wrote her name below her predecessor's and she used parr parables to teach her children and grandchildren. george washington later had his own copy of it. these books taught the economic and social hierarchies were just and one should work in their position. god looked on good and faithful stewards of property a mistress or master could insist on moral behavior if someone of a lower class could not appreciate the complexities of christianity, for most virginia slave holders, telling slaves not to steal and to be obedient. and mary's book helped her
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navigate distress and pain. unlike her wealthier and more leisured contemporaries, she did not read novels which were beginning to be popular. novels written in a friendly egalitarian tone rather than teacher to opportunity offered lessons in empathy and sympathy, sharing sorrows with other's pain. mary because of the precautions developed little of the qualities that the 18th century elite came to value so highly as aspects of sensibility. >> thank you, that's, i think that's really helpful and it also actually amplifies the point you were making about her thinking about her role and her thinking about her sort of place in society. that's helpful. so i want to go back to craig and talk-- craig had mentioned this paul about mary ball washington as this significant reader, that understanding her as a person of letters was important for
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your kind of sense of rewriting the biography of mary ball washington. i think i'm going to ask you a slightly unfair point, question, craig, if you don't mind. just m ta-- just about talking about how women as full individuals and not in relation to someone else, but i want to ask you because you write about this in the book, not in the whole of the book and you mention this, what is the significance of understanding mary ball washington for understanding george washington? i mean, i think that's a driving question for a lot of people and something you address. can you help us to think about that a little bit? . sure. is that listening to martha's daughter talk about the-- her scholarship and the books she was reading and i covered the same territory in my book. it reminded me, martha with the same thing, i guess this addresses kind of the larger question, too, is the scholarship on mary ball
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washington, as the scholarship and probably all women of the 18th century, i equate it to going to the hobby store and buying a thousand piece puzzle and bringing it out and dumping it over on your table and finding 300 pieces missing and it was like that in trying to peace together. you know, my other books, you know, you've worked long and hard enough and you know where to look and you can peace the story together. is that with mary, is that again, a woman of the 18th century. it is difficult to find out these things. you know, just to illustrate is that, you know, we don't even know exactly when she was born. we don't know, you know, george washington's mother, we do not know where she's buried. she might be at-- where she used to go to pray, it might be there near her cottage in fredericksburg, but the fact is that no one knows where she's married today.
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but i think that she-- no one knows where she's buried today. and the values that she grew up with. obviously, it was a difficult time, but i think also, she was ultimately a very good woman and who interceded at times, at important times in george's life to make sure that he, you know, followed the straight and narrow. when he was 12 years old. he wanted to become a british cabin boy. she wrote a letter to her brother and it came back very, very quickly, speaking of letters, and told mary that under no circumstances could george be allowed to become to british cabin boy. there was a caste system in the british navy as you can imagine and it was just as severe among cabin boys as officer corps. and the sons of british royalty got first preferences and best treatment as british cabin boys
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and then british subjects and then way, way down at the bottom, even below jamaican slaves, were americans. and this is at a time, too, now the british admiralsy kept very, very good records and something one third of all cabin boys died at sea. the scurvy, washed overboard, battle, and plus, you know, they were in with these-- with the crews mo who were from the press gangs who went through the bars of brothels and london and the worst sort of people and forced them to become, you know, be drunk in a bar and wake up and all of a sudden they're hundreds of miles out at sea and might not see england for three or four years and these were very rough man. and putting a boy in those circumstances, with the tough,
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dishevelled tawdry seamen was not very good. she made sure that george didn't go into the british navy. she encouraged him in his reading. she got him tutors, she encouraged him to become a surveyor. she didn't want him to go to the ohio valley, which he went to twice from the french and indian wars, but that was by the time he was a man and striking out on his own. even though, he was very many times, not all the time, but he did look after her affairs. so, again, the idea of responsibility to his mother, that he obviously learned from his mother, the idea of responsibility pass a citizen, as a son, as a human being. i mean, all of these qualities, as i mentioned before, that we associate with george washington had to have come from her.
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she's the one who was-- instilled that in him. >> i was quickly trying to flip through the book where i marked it, but i turned down too many pages in your book and you wrote about him not wanting her to go to sea. i thought that was moving. there's a-- that's not just, i think, previous biographers said she was trying to tie him too closely to her apron strings, of course the notion of apron strings is peculiar notion, but you said, no, that she had a much-- she has a realistic sense of what that would mean and why she thought that wouldn't have been, you know, a positive outcome for him. i think i just lost you, craig. now you're back, excellent. >> i'm back. >> great, great, great. yeah, no, i thought that was really a great point that you make and the other thing i wanted to mention and wonder if you could say one more word about this, this was striking
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in your first comment, you described, you talked about her as brave. you said she's a brave woman and that washington's bravery, if we think about mimm as-- him as a brave person, we can source that to her. i think that's quite powerful. >> i think actually probably all women of that century and of that time and that era had to be brave because it's just difficult circumstances is that mortality was very high. you know, children died in infancy, and high -- tremendously high percentages. that everything was a danger. everything was a danger. it was all around you. infection was a killer. and that you died of influenza, you died of dysentery, you died of fever. and to be a single woman
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raising six children, i think that, you know, remember in democracy in america, de tocqueville, he perceived that american women were different from european women and they were far more independent and far more-- stood up for themselves and they were all-- and he wrote about and i remember reading that in democracy in america and reading it and that he didn't have mary ball washington in mind, but when i read it, i had mary ball washington in mind and he wrote that in 1832, i believe. and it struck me that one of the things that we don't look into enough is the personal qualities of the people of that time is that it's know the just a measurement. it's not just names and dates and places, but these were real human beings with real emotions and especially at the end, she
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was very brave in that regard because she knew she was dying. george knew she was doing. there was nothing to be done about it. it had to be terribly, terribly painful for her, but she embraced her last years very, very with fortitude and bravery. >> one more thing i would just notice is that when martha was talking about mary as, you know, she manages and enslaves a pretty decent number of people. she has a kind of commanding presence. george washington has a commanding presence. i guess we can see that in two ways, we can say that these are people who are in charge and that maybe that's a parallel, too. >> yeah, yeah, i would agree with that, is that -- look at
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his conduct during the revolutionary war. maybe george washington's greatest achievement is the revolutionary war was not winning it, obviously, winning it, but molding together a r ragtag army for seven years and moving from battle to battle to battle. losing more than he won, but he happened to win the more important battles than he lost and that type of fortitude and that type of bravery truly has to come from someplace. >> thank you, i'm going to flip over here and ask charlene one last question before we go to some questions from the audience. there's been a wonderful wealth of questions, i want to thank you as i've been surreptitio surreptitiously leading them. charlene, i wonder if you could help us put mary ball washington into the context of british america. can we look at lessons, and
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craig gestured toward this and marsha. i wonder if you could frame that out for us more. >> i think that mary ball washington is extraordinary and then she's also ordinary. so i think she's illuminating on a number of points to tell us mo are about women in the 18th century and first of all, it's just how much she really is the 18th century. this is a woman who has been born at the beginning of it and died at the end of it. we don't have very many women who are find of the 18th century and mary ball washington is and that's wonderful. she's ordinary in her-- as some ordinary elite white woman, right? this is a woman who is born into a white slave holding family that helped rule virginia. her descendents will help rule virginia. this is a woman of privilege, right, in spite of losses and
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suffering. she still gets to enjoy privileges that lots of other women, black or white, in virginia and elsewhere did not get to enjoy. she's a faithful, devout christian and i do think we need to spend more time looking at the centrality of religion in women's lives in the 18th century. i don't think that gets enough attention so that's one good way that mary ball washington illuminates more about the 18th century women for us. but while she's this devout faithful christian, she is convinced in her right to own and control people that she has a right to be in control of these other people. and she has a right to own them even though she's this devout christian. so i think she gets at some of the paradoxes of the 18th century that way. her sufferings are sad, but ordinary. lots of women lost parents. lots of women lost their
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husbands. but she's unusual in the fact that she doesn't remarry. that is unusual in the 18th century. a lot of women, because of how hard life is, what craig was just talking about, did not make the choice to go it alone. even though there's really good reasons to go it alone. so she's extraordinary in that. she also, i think, demonstrates to us the limitations that women had. here is a woman, a single woman after her husband died, who controlled a large plantation, owns a number of people. pays a lot of taxes and yet, she does not have the political power, the social power, that a man would have in the 18th century so i think she also helps illuminate the limitations of women's lives. on the other hand, when you read martha's book or craig's book, you see that this is an elite woman who understood that she needed to learn what all young ladies needed to learn, how to ride, how to read, how
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to attract a wealthy husband and she did. augustan washington was quite a catch and she's unusual in at that sense, too. and i also think that she shows some of the choices women made. i think people who read about mary ball washington will be surprised at that independence. will be surprised that she chose to not remarry, that she chose to kind of control the legacy of her children, to protect that, so she could pass it on to them. and she showed the importance of motherhood what we were mentioning before. she becomes known as the mother, right? so she really emphasizes that, too. but i also think she shows us how complicated and complex women's lives are. she's been simplified to the mother of george washington. this is what i was saying earlier and she's a much more complex figure than that, and
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she brings to me more questions, too, about the 18th century. she makes me think, you know, how would she have characterized herself. how would mary ball washington characterize herself. we can characterize her. what would motherhood mean to her. we can guess what it might have meant and what matters most to her. maybe it's not being george washington's mother that mattered most to her. she's illuminating and gives us answers for women's lives in the 18th century, but i think she leaves us with questions, too, simply because the evidence isn't there and we just don't always know what these women were thinking. and i know you said there are good questions out there so i'll leave it at that. >> great. thank you so much. thank you everyone, such good questions, i can't read them fast nuture. i'm going to toss this one to
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craig first because i-- okay, there are so many good questions here, craig, this is something i know you addressed. someone asked here and now i'm not going to be able to find it. i'm scrolling here. i won't address she is, -- these. >> she is born as a british subject. she lives a lot longer than george washington does as a citizen of britain. what were her feelings about the revolution. >> i address this and martha does, too. there are hints that she was a tory sympathizer, but nothing really out and out to say, yes, she was-- but she had to be very, very conflicted. she grew up a subject, a british subject. she grew up in the divine
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rights of king george ii and king george iii. she attended the anglican church, state church of england and she read english light tour and followed english fashion and she dressed in english fashion, in every way from childhood until 1776. she's a british subject. and i would say, too, tried to immerse myself again in that time period, is that what would it be like to say to an individual, everything you've learned for the first 50-some odd years of your life is wrong. you are-- you don't have a king. you're not a british subject. you don't have to do this. you don't have to go to the state church. that we have a different, new government. we have a new attitude. and for somebody to make that
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life style change, the psychological and personal, you know, ripping up by the roots, rips somebody out by the roots of what their culture has been, had to have been very, very difficult for her, but there's no evident that she supported george either. no evident that she darned socks for the colonial troops. there was a reference to french troops who were going through fredericksburg and several french troops or at least one of them made reference to her being a tory sympathizer. but again, it was very, very thin and so it's really, is that she was probably fairly agnostic about the whole thing and that she did-- you know, one of the things, i think that martha talked about
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this, too, there was a time she was working in her garden and a horseman comes up with a message breathlessly to tell her that george had won an important battle and she was kind of dismissive and said well, that's what he's supposed to do. but there was no joy at her son's success and the success of the american revolution against the british empire, nothing like that whatsoever. so i think that -- i don't think she thought about it that deeply, you know, there's nothing in her letters, nothing in any biographies, nothing to suggest that she really took a position one way or the other. >> and i guess to be fair, you know, even if we go by john adams' old quantification of support for the revolution, maybe one third of people were ardent patriotics. one third were ardent tories and one third we'll see how things go. we'd expect the mother of
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george washington to be a patriotic, but to be sure she lived her life as a british subject. >> more than one third of americans were loyal to the british crown. and-- own son was as a spy. >> he was the royal governor, franklin, the king gave him a good job. >> we have at least three people two dozen questions have asked about how -- what mary thought about martha. so i want to ask you, martha if you have something to tell us about what mary ball washington thought about her daughter-in-law, martha dandridge washington. >> i think it's complicated. at mt. vernon they think that
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they didn't get along at all and then mary, mary and martha didn't like each other. they were very powerful women in their own way. i think mary was pleased that george married martha and that if there was discomfort, it was probably on martha and george's side. because mary, one of the things we haven't talked about is a class issue. mary really grew up much less elite than the circles her son ended up travelling in. and she wasn't illiterate rust particular-- >> pinnacle, but not the super elite. she's well connected, yes. >> right. she wasn't polished. she didn't make conversation necessarily to be amusing and charming. she has things to say. she was a very utilitarian kind of person, i imagine and i
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think that she represented many values that martha had trouble with, like frugality, for example. martha was very lavish and so was george. they spent money and went into debt up to their eyeballs before the revolution. mary, although she asked for little bits of money from george now and again, did not do that and did not dress up and did not worship the high life. so i think there was a real clash of values and i think that martha really didn't enjoy whatever remaining control mary had over her son. >> thank you. and it's interesting, too, they're different generations, too, and those differences matter in virginia. so here is a question, do we know if she had-- someone asks, a bunch of people asked questions about why she didn't remarry and we talked about that a bit. do we know anything about she
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considering marriage. did she have any suitors or anything, craig-- >> there was no evidence that any suitors, whatsoever. i agree with martha, i think that she didn't, she didn't seek another man after of what she'd have to give up and also may be that she had may have -- evidence that she had a reputation there in fredericksburg and may be that suitors didn't seek her either. and after lawrence-- >> charlene. >> i'm sorry, go ahead, martha. >> there was some discussion of a doctor who may or may not-- he visited a lot, but he also had had professional reasons to do that, so i think this is something that the freeman suggests and -- but nobody
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knows, nobody actually knows. >> charlene, i wonder, someone asked a question about women as slave holders and what is the dynamic there when a man is enslaving people he has a certain level of authority. what is the situation of women? the question is actually about would she have had to be harsher or tougher or something? i think we actually have some recent scholarship on exactly this question about white women as slave holders, which is pretty powerful. >> right. and the recent scholarship opens up a picture of slave holding women that i think really goes against what kind of the 19th century "gone with the wind" sense of slave holding women were. it it's increasingly that slave holding white women were more violent, not whipping, but
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personal one-on-one violence, you know, you being an implement or just clunking somebody on the head. stabbing them with a sewing needle, something always at hand. using a kitchen implement, right, and so i don't-- you know, we probably don't know a lot about how mary ball washington was as a slave mistress, but we know enough about other virginia slave holding women to know that violence was a regular day-to-day occurrence in these households. because women didn't have as much authority. they also have a harder time with overseers and over overseers, and that makes for a more tense, violent environment. >> thank you, that's helpful. >> so, i have another question here which i just love. this is directly for you, martha. this goes straight to our historians happy heart.
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this is a question about documents and the question for you, are you aware if mary ball washington's papers will be included in the washington family papers project which the george washington papers project, and uva, and mt. vernon is publishing? >> i'm not aware of that. i didn't-- the papers are so, so few, it's just heartbreaking. i think when martha went through papers and got rid and burned of an awful lot of stuff after george's death, i wouldn't be surprised if a great many of the notes that mary had written went with that. >> yeah. >> so what's left, i think, are five or six letters. there are a couple at mt. vernon, there's one at the morgan library in new york. i don't know what's going to happen other than that to them, but to speak of mary's papers is just a beautiful dream.
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>> yes. [laughter] >> there's another wonderful question i was going to ask you and craig. i think we've lost craig's connection and i was going to ask both of you... >> i think craig is muted still. okay. i think you are muted still.
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can you unmute him or he's got -- i want to give them a chance. he says he can't unmute. craig, you have to get your unmute button. can you hit unmute on your phone? may be? all right, no. this is sad because this is such a great question. maybe you can give us some hand gestures there. there we go. now i can hear you. >> out just smoke signals. now we can you. do you think there's a cache of papers waiting to be found? >> well, we all know that martha destroyed her letters, , or at least that was the story, the george rotor. i think that scholarship is always available. it's remarkable the things you found. up in union canyon in new york somebody was going through the library and they pulled out a book and the found a lock of
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hair of george washington's. it's just honestly cannot of scholarship that is still unfound out there that you discover. when i what my book on 1941, we did -- [inaudible] hyde park at the fbi library. my son was my research and is going to declassify documents from world war ii and he found a memo that had been come from the office of naval intelligence that was marked top secret. it was to the present of the united states and it was stamped top-secret and it's been declassified in the '70s and yet nobody had never found it and we came across it. and it there was -- it was written three days before december 7, 1941. estimated japanese or japanese consulate asked to be included
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the panama canal, the philippines, guam, and something like 27 times in this memo -- pearl harbor. i'm not suggesting there was any conspiracy. i think that's all nonsense but this memo had laid around the roosevelt library for years unclassified in the '70s and nobody ever came across it. i think there's always new scholarship out there to be discovered and uncovered. >> i think that's great and is just so important. what your work shows, come all three of you really, is the power of locating more information, ringing fresh perspectives, new interpretations. sometimes we talk about revisionist history as it's a bad thing but the truth is i select to say, , i borrow this from my fred, we all like revisionist medicine. you get new information, new perspectives and that's what
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we're doing here is scholarship brings us information, new perspectives, more fully understand the critical. back at the american past. craig, i hope you'll join us in recognizing that the 18th century is the most significant in american history. so we should all focus. i will let you guys have the last -- i'm going to end right there and say that you also much for joining us this evening, and think all of you. i really appreciate all your questions and so on. there are a few questions that in going to ask the folks at mount vernon to give some contact information. i will email you because you've asked some great questions i don't want them to go unanswered. thank you all so much. thanks to kevin and jeanette and the folks back at mount vernon. don't forget about mount vernon is open for visiting and don't forget what i said about the important role mount vernon place in sparging research scholarship -- thanks everyone.
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