Mary Washington
Mary Ball

c. 1707–1709
Died(1789-08-25)August 25, 1789 (aged circa 80)
Resting placeKenmore Plantation and Gardens
(m. 1731; died 1743)
RelativesBushrod Washington (grandson)

Mary Washington (née Ball; c. 1707–1709 – (1789-08-25)August 25, 1789) was an American planter best known for being the mother of the first president of the United States, George Washington. The second wife of Augustine Washington, she became a prominent member of the Washington family. She spent a large part of her life in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where several monuments were erected in her honor and a university, along with other public buildings, bear her name.

Early life

Mary Ball Washington House, 1200 Charles Street, Fredericksburg, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1927. The house was originally built in 1761 and has later additions.

Mary Ball was born sometime between 1707 and 1709 at either Epping Forest, her family's slave plantation in Lancaster County, Virginia[1] or at a plantation near the village of Simonson, Virginia.[2] She was the only child of Col. Joseph Ball (1649–1711) and his second wife, Mary Johnson Ball (1672-1721). Her paternal grandfather was William Ball (1615 – c. 1680) who had left England for Virginia in the 1650s. His wife Hannah Atherold arrived later along with their four children, including Mary's father Joseph, who had been born in England.[3][4] Her father died when she was three and after her mother's death, at the age of twelve Mary Ball was placed under the guardianship of Jane Washington's brother, the lawyer George Eskridge.[1][5]

Married life

Augustine Washington had sailed to England on business (and to visit his sons who had been sent to school there) but on his return, he discovered that his first wife, Jane Butler Washington, had died in the interim. George Eskridge supposedly arranged an introduction between his friend, Washington, and his ward Mary Ball,[2] with the two marrying on March 6, 1731 when she was 22. She was wealthy by the standards of the day and brought at least 1000 acres of inherited property to the marriage.[2] The couple had the following children:[6]

Augustine died in 1743 when son George was 11 years old. Unlike most widows in Virginia at the time, Mary Ball Washington never remarried. When George was 14, his older half-brother Lawrence Washington, arranged for young George to become a midshipman in the Royal Navy.[8] However, Mary's half-brother, Joseph Ball, wrote in reply to her letter requesting advice, that the Navy would "cut and staple him and use him like a negro, or rather, like a dog."[9]

Mary managed the family estate and 276 acres of Ferry Farm (a plantation) with the help of others until her eldest son came of age and well beyond. She lived to see that her son, George Washington, commanded the Continental Army to independence and was inaugurated as the first president of the United States in 1789. After learning that he had been elected president in April 1789, George Washington traveled from Mount Vernon to visit his mother in Fredericksburg. He knew his mother was suffering from breast cancer, the disease to which she eventually succumbed.[1]

It is said that Mrs. Washington informed her son of her poor health and expected to die soon. Further, the story continues, that her son George said that he would need to decline to serve as president. George's mother Mary responded, saying, "But go, George, fulfill the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you for; go, my son, and may that Heaven's and a mother's blessing be with you always."[10][11]


After a lengthy illness, on August 25, 1789, Mary Ball Washington died of breast cancer[12] at her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.[1]


While there is a legend that Mrs. Washington was said to be openly opposed to her son's revolutionary politics and, according to French officers based in Virginia during the war, she was a Loyalist sympathizer,[13] there is no credible source to support that legend. The facts are that other than her son George who was Commander in Chief of the Continental forces (Army and Navy), Mary's other three sons Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles, all served in the Virginia Militia. Her son-in-law Fielding Lewis (husband to her daughter Betty), was in charge of the Fredericksburg Gunnery or Gun Manufactory. The gunnery works made muskets for use by American Revolutionary forces, and ended up almost bankrupting Lewis in the process.[14] During the Revolutionary War, Mary Washington met the Marquis de Lafayette at her home in Fredericksburg. The two enjoyed a warm relationship for the remainder of her life.[citation needed]

Another legend about Mary Washington was that she petitioned the Government of Virginia claiming, in response to a Virginia government notice to citizens to do so, asking to be reimbursed for farm animals, horses and cattle that she gave to support the American war effort.[13] No such petition was ever presented to the Virginia House of Delegates. Speaker Benjamin Harrison wrote to George Washington in 1781 about a rumor that Mary Washington was going to submit a petition. At that time Mary Washington was experiencing economic challenges and was mourning the deaths of her son-in-law Fielding Lewis and her son Samuel Washington. George purchased a house for her in Fredericksburg, two blocks from Kenmore, where George's sister Betty (Mrs. Fielding Lewis) lived. Mary lived in her home nearby from 1772 until her death in 1789. She left George the majority of her lands and belongings, appointing him executor of her Will.[15][16]


Her third son, John Augustine Washington, was the father of Bushrod Washington, who was nominated by President John Adams to the U.S. Supreme Court, and confirmed by the Senate in 1798. Charles Town, West Virginia, is named for her fourth son, Charles Washington.

Legacy and honors

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Mary Ball Washington". MountVernon.Org. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Maass, John R. (2017). "Mary Ball Washington and the Northern Neck". George Washington's Virginia. Arcadia Publishingi. pp. 28–29. ISBN 9781467119788. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  3. ^ George Washington: A Biographical Companion - By Frank E. Grizzard
  4. ^ Gizzard, Frank E. (2002). George Washington: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO. p. 335. ISBN 9781576070826.
  5. ^ Levy, Philip (2013). Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington's Boyhood Home. Macmillan. p. 37.
  6. ^ Chernow, Ron (2011). Washington: A Life. Penguin Books. pp. 7–8. ISBN 9780143119968. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  7. ^ Washington, Thornton Augustin (1891). "A Genealogical History, Beginning with Colonel John Washington, the Emigrant, and Head of the Washington Family in America". McGill & Wallace. Retrieved August 25, 2023. The following memoranda is copied from the family Bible of Augustine ... Mildred Washington was born ye 21 of June 1739 ... departed this life Oct. ye 23, 1740
  8. ^ Lathrop, Constance (March 1935). "Grog". United States Naval Institute Proceedings (Magazine). Retrieved August 24, 2023. Lawrence Washington ... obtained, in 1746, a midshipman's warrant in the Royal Navy for his younger brother George.
  9. ^ Henriques, Peter R. (February 5, 2020). "'Complicated, Very Complicated'". Colonial Williamsburg Trend and Tradition Magazine - Winter 2019. Retrieved August 24, 2023. Mary followed the advice of her older half-brother in England, Joseph Ball Jr. George, Ball told her, lacked the proper connections and would never achieve "any considerable preferment in the navy." He warned that they would most likely "cut and staple him and use him like a negro, or rather, like a dog." He opined that a Virginia planter with "three or four hundred acres of land and three or four slaves" would be better off.
  10. ^ Custis, George Washington Parke; Lee, Mary Randolph Custis; Lossing, Benson John (1860). Recollections and private memoirs of Washington. Derby & Jackson. p. 147.
  11. ^ Schneider, Gregory S. (May 12, 2017). "The mother who made George Washington — and made him miserable". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  12. ^ Thompson, Mary V. (October 2018). "Mary Ball Washington's Battle with Breast Cancer". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  13. ^ a b George Washington: A Life by Willard Stearne Randall (1997). New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. page 440. ISBN 0-8050-5992-X
  14. ^ Hoppe, Geoff. "Fielding Lewis (1725–1781 or 1782)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Library of Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  15. ^ "To George Washington from Burgess Ball, 25 August 1789". National Archives and Records Administration. August 25, 1789. Retrieved August 27, 2023. Mary Ball Washington left GW 'all my Lands on Accokeek Run in the County of Stafford, and also my Negroe Boy George. . . . Also my best Bed, Bedstead & Virginia Cloth Curtains (the same that stands in my best room) my Quilted blue & white Quilt & my best dressing Glass . . . . Lastly I nominate & appoint my said Son General George Washington Executor of this my Will ...'
  16. ^ "George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: Mary Ball Washington, Will". Library of Congress. May 20, 1788. Retrieved August 27, 2023.
  17. ^ "Mary Washington Hospital". Archived from the original on 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  18. ^ "Fredericksburg Nationals Unveil Team Jerseys and Mary Washington Logo". (Press release). Fredericksburg Nationals. November 18, 2019. Retrieved November 19, 2019.

Further reading