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Encounters 11, Mrs. Washington

February 18, 2017

Fancy dies or becomes something more enduring. Love is the tender houseplant requiring care and attention to thrive. Martha joined her husband on the battlefields, ensuring their domestic tranquility and insuring their marriage.

As she journeyed to Cambridge, Martha was amazed at the reception in each hamlet and town. “I feel like a very great somebody,” she wrote to George. She was met by mayors and gentry, and greeted warmly.To remind them of their British roots and respect for leaders, some wanted to call her Lady Washington, but she demurred. “”Please, I am Mrs. Washington,” she reminded them modestly, “and I have no claim to royalty.” In Philadelphia, seat of the Congress, her carriage was met and escorted by honor guards of mounted troops, and her party was greeted by the colonies’ leading citizens. She realized her husband had become an American icon.

Beware! Icons and leaders have problems. A group of prominent Philadelphians arranged a ball for the visitor, and she graciously accepted the invitation, looking forward to an evening of music and dancing. Later another delegation of Quakers, Presbyterians, and Baptists visited her, explaining that their constituents did not approve of dancing which seemed “an excess in these troubled times.”Recognizing her husband’s need to draw people together, she reluctantly sent her regrets, and the ball was cancelled.

Martha spent a pleasant week of November 21st in Philadelphia, meeting many of the congressmen and impressing them with her charm and knowledge. Congressman Joseph Reed wrote to Washington, “Mesdames Washington, Curtis (daughter-in-law Nelly) and Gates (wife of a general) were very agreeable ladies…no bad supply, I think in cold country where wood is scarce.” Based on the reality that colonial buildings were cold, and warm bedmates made sleeping more comfortable, the “joke” was widely repeated.

Arriving safely in Cambridge on December 11, 1775, Martha and her entourage settled into an abandoned Tory house used as war offices and home. The ladies of Cambridge called upon her, and approved of her. Mercy Otis Warren, playwright and poet wrote to Abigail Adams that she found the general’s wife polite, respectful, and well-bred, stating, “The complacency of her manners speaks of the goodness of her heart, and her affability, candor, and gentleness qualify her to soften the hours of private life, or to sweeten the cares of the hero, and smooth the rugged pains of war.”

In April, Washington moved the army to New York to prepare for battle there. Martha followed, but remained only a month, for with the arrival of the army smallpox began its epidemic. Infectious and often fatal, it lefts surviving victims horribly scarred. George was immune, but Martha was not. Summoned by Congress, he took Martha to Philadelphia where the nation’s best doctors were using inolculations. Martha bravely underwent the procedure, although that too was dangerous and sometimes fatal………to be contd.


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