tv The Presidency Martha Washingtons Papers CSPAN October 15, 2022 9:25pm-11:00pm EDT
good evening, ladies and gentlemen. good evening. my name is kevin butterfield. i'm the executive director of the washington library. my great pleasure to welcome you here tonight on behalf of the mount vernon ladies association to our annual martha washington lecture. the event was created to scholarship and insights into the and times of martha washington and was made possible through a generous grant from the richard reynolds foundation of richmond. tonight's exciting program celebrates the publication of an important new book, the papers of martha washington. one many years in the making actually part and related to a much bigger project the papers of george washington at the university of virginia and sponsored by the mount vernon ladies association. since 1968, the project began with the ambitious aim of publishing all of george washington's correspondence, but it since expanded to include other members of his family, allowing us to know so much more about the personal lives and associates of this remarkable founding at this time, i'd like
to thank each of the donors of the papers the martha washington project. hold your applause to the end because there are several the richard reynolds foundation. i'd like to particularly thank major and pam reynolds, who are likely watching us virtually tonight. thank you for all of your support the dr. shaw foundation, the founders washington committee for historic vernon, karen buchwald. right. julia coby cook, jacqueline b mars. the honorable paul r michael and miss brooke england. mr. and mrs. c ashton newell. miss kate schuster, the h.w. wilson foundation and the mount vernon ladies association of the union. please join me in thanking them. it's tonight's going to be a lot of fun because when we're done, we're actually going to walk out into the reception area and continue conversation and the celebration copies, copies of the papers of martha along with for frazier's award book. the washingtons will be available for purchase.
i've seen many people lining up already for will be signing copies of her book ms.. washington is here to sign her book. we were serving rum punch and 18th century recipe from the book dining with the washingtons. we'll have original letters written by martha washington on view in a display case, so be sure to track those down. we'll also be exhibiting and you would have seen it as you came in the hand-sewn reproduction of martha washington's children's games quilt, which is an exact copy of the original in our collection expert cecilia and masterly completed it after two years of meticulous work, a process that uncovered washington's remarkable skill and eye for detail. cecilia is passionate, sharing the craft and history of quilting and will be available to answer your questions now to welcome our wonderful speakers. and there will be a panel discussion following where you'll have an opportunity to ask questions of both of them. for frazier, as a professional writer in a story in his career began with apprenticeships
under. her grandmother and mother, both well known historical biographers. she's written numerous historical biographies her own, including princesses, daughters of george the third, the unruly queen, the life of queen caroline, venus of empire, the life of pauline, and of course, the washingtons, george and martha, joined by french crown bivalve, which received the 2016 george washington book prize for it was also mt. vernon second georgian papers fellow, where she worked at windsor castle and the archives on her forthcoming biographies of the jacobite heroine, flora macdonald and lord horatio nelson. after a presentation by four frazier, katherine geren will come to the. she's a research editor at the papers of george washington and the center for digital editing at the university of virginia she holds degrees from bowling green state university and sarah lawrence college, and she was one of the team of editors who completed the papers of martha washington and is now working on the digital of the papers of bush. rod washington. i also want to say this broom
and the 200 and i think approaching 300 people who are watching us virtually is just an exciting celebration of what we've been able to do across years. been diving into this project to better understand martha washington and women in the 18th century. this martha washington lecture is just such a success. i'm delighted see so many people here. i know there are a few hundred more watching us virtually. thank you much for being here. now please join me in welcoming our first speaker for a frazier frazier. thank you, director, and thank you very much, director and all at mount vernon for hosting me here. it is always such a pleasure to speak to as many distinguished guests who come from all over
the region and beyond and i very much forward to answering any questions you may have later or just discuss martha washington which i to do so. let me just see and. well all i'm a slight are a background and what i really oh it may be a blank background and owing to my technical in but when i first had the opportune motive viewing these this volume the of martha washington i felt
like keats on first looking into chapman's homer then felt i like some watcher of the when the new planet swims into his can it really is a most remarkable to an 18th century and founding scholarship. this this volume and i have to congratulate everyone catherine and all her team who worked on it and i believe supplied a very worthy campaign tune to the papers. george washington now, martha's first marriage to daniel custis was all important in.
her story and indeed in. the daughter of a virginia county court clerk she persuaded this irascible but prominent virginia councilor member john custis to let her be daniel's bride. and in she made such a success she persuaded him this irascible man who hated her uncle, a fellow member of the ruling council that daniel's father said he'd rather daniel marry her than an any woman in in virginia. those that's a sort of woman that martha was she was redoubtable she was persistent
and throughout the papers of martha washington, you see these powers of persuasion when she's. first wife living close to her own family, the poor monkey river and then when she's the wife of george washington here at mount vernon and bringing up two children, jackie and pat, he her the children she had with daniel and. you see it when she's lady washington and going effectively into battle for the republican cause or you could say she is. coming to comfort and give solace to washington the general
commander in chief in his winter encampment. so this is the young. and the first section of the papers of martha washington shows her. in total control as a young widow, martha's father, husband and two of her infant have died. but in the space to have a i think it's three years and bear that in mind she has a well you could say she does death very badly all her life and we'll see that later. but this in her her twenties she is a act in as her first husband
executor as the administrator of her young sons sons estate until. he can assume a control of them on his majority and does it with almost perfect composure and also ority in. 1757 the papers open with this. this is just the first communication we have from martha washington that that extent she writes to a merchant in london, to whom consigning the years tobacco. i shall yearly ship a considerable part of the tobacco. i make you and i hope you will do your own endeavors to get me a good price. and she's a very, very businesswoman and that's what
you all the way through and as the as the. papers show and as the editors note she had a good grasp of loan laws, which were an important part. the tobacco economy and in in virginia at that time. and but you could say that with two small children with. these these estates to manage that and these two very small children to manage the adverse end of a certain george washington coming. to to a bear her and the
children of north was not unwelcome and and you could say also that the wealth that martha brought washington was not unwelcome and indeed mount vernon was in banished in advance of that marriage. but it continued a while washington had the use of of martha's money for his life to be certainly a very a very let me say you're about so important part. and as know john john adams in a sour mode said would washington washington ever become commander
in chief and president had it not been for his marriage to the rich? mrs. custis. or as i say, john adams was in a solemn mood that day. well, this is a copy. the earlier one, but i think the copy shows how, dear, this portrait of the children and and was and how very dear these two children were to both george and martha who were not to have children together and through i particularly like the the cardinal but the symbol of virginia. i hope it is a cardinal but not in jackie's hand. but but but this is a different phase. martha's life, the section in the papers that dwells this on this pier of a happy, happy,
married life. happy, educative experience for jackie at home and here he is as. he grows and a and i'm afraid martha him which is perfectly plain both from the papers of george washington and and if you look at martha's correspondence with her sister nancy plain there to and here is paul patsy there's heiress and i'm not sure if you can see but she is festooned with expensive jewelry from london but that perhaps. doesn't entirely. detract or if you like can't do
away with that very pale and frail appearance, which has washington and martha seeking everywhere for remedies or cures for these fit and in her teens these fit what a historical are difficult for our daisy but epileptic fits is a fair of i guess and without without and so when she would at the age of 16 and 17 being courted by every young young man in search for a rich bride. the region she stayed at home dancing on the terrace when when when she was when she was up to
it and but this apparently bucolic and peaceful existence as we know in the 1770s gave gave way to deep dissatisfaction with. the not least with the tobacco merchants in london on the part of those virginia farmers who were really quite sick of being taken to the cleaners every time they sent over some tobacco and asked for the best possible back and got you know, last year's frocks if they were lucky and carriages which didn't roll so on. i mean i've always thought was part of you know there are niggles as well as the great
affairs of that can trigger a. final of a final decision to off those traces and. as we know it was late to declare himself ready to go to his principles. but when he went martha went with him, as i say, she she became this if you like this battle ax the republic and lady washington they would cry when she came into and that actually does have in the at least one of the original in print i think
it's the one in yale the the the it's a contemporary print and it has lady washington and so there was the general and then there was lady washington and she came to the first winter had quarters to cambridge bridge, massachusetts and course it wasn't just that was one of the few places where martha. came to cheer washington's life, where she was actually within a hearing of a battle field, if you like, with the the siege of of boston. and she writes a like a rather
like washington himself wrote saying it was wonderful to hear the the bullet bullets singing around my my my my head in the in an earlier war. well she corresponded her sister nancy who still who was married and lived so down the poor monkey and nancy martha's correspondence with nancy comes singing out that this book that nancy those her sister is the person in all martha's life that i think she unburdened herself whether it was about children, whether it was about politics. and you see in in in her correspondence, her letters to nancy, we don't have nancy's to her that every woman in this war
was political and martha was. well, very conservative in other ways. in in the fact of want him the the american cause to succeed. she was ferocious and i think in it would be very to see what what other the pay what papers of other women of this period emerge which in one part of a letter they're about their children. the sewing or the cooking and then they'll have a paragraph absolute you know the news as it's being made. well, of course it wasn't only other americans who martha met, but her circle broadens as
papers show and lafayette first coming as a volunteer who she meet in the winter encampment at valley forge and then there are the young women betsy schuyler. and of course we know about that courtship and marriage but there were many others, many other of these women, many of them much younger, martha, lucy flack and knox, a remarkable woman. we do have her correspondence, her husband henry, in the gilda lamb and institute. but there was a kitty green, catherine little fellow green. and so but martha would gather women at in these encampment and provide a kind of atmosphere of
normality as far as was possible and. then of course she was not involved in the in the in the summer campaigns and went back to mount vernon. but i'm sorry, but the war, too, was a time of terrible loss again for martha and she lost not only her sister, nancy, and she did write to her her brother in law a verbal basset and say, i'm after nancy's death and say i must own that she was greatest, favorite i had in the world. and i think this this idea of, friendship and women's
friendships comes really startlingly through the papers. many the papers here are to be found elsewhere, but it's when they're together and the focus is on martha that you really see how they they gel together. and of course forth of children jackie dies in the hour of victor he's not an but he's in attendance at yorktown and dies of fever and and martha is at the lowest ebb washington couldn't have been. more more keen to console her and but jackie has left out a
wife who's sweet but a bit of a goose and for children and thankfully the park cast as estates a son and but there are three daughters and so we find when inevitably after a period at mount vernon when the washingtons have time to take stock and see what being away for eight years has, despite martha's efforts, despite the efforts of lond washington washington, george's cousin, as to keep the estates going there is not wrack and ruin but but. they martha fields that they have and the right that washington is earned the right to enjoy his retirement.
but as we know he is called to new york to be the first president of the united state and with them go on the left martha's grandson, washington, george washington cast is known as wash. wash or indeed tub. i leave you to work out and eleanor only and so they have to make a republican court which must both satisfy white americans as being. monarchical but also satisfy visiting envoys. ambassador orders from the courts of europe. so and and this is something they are doing over the next. seven seven years as washington serves two terms at the same
time the bringing up in effect educating a a new generation of justice children and they are not they're not spring chickens and i'm glad to say that with nellie they succeed and washes very much his father's son and spoil rotten bye bye. martha washington just despairs of him but he can't despair over again and i'm not saying he washes his hands of him but it's but they leave new york. that's a later house. but on this side, cherry street in york and in in philadelphia. oh, oh, here, martha really does have some. she she makes some very interesting friendships as does
as does washington and not always with those in government, many of whom with them in in the war but also with the philadelphians and mrs. powell and samuel powell. that interesting couple and samantha snyder here is at work on a book, a biography of elizabeth will willing polled so looking forward to that and but so many more of these mercantile professional families and so martha again expands her circle does george but but she she doesn't always quite and she has a gift for whether she's in the current revolutionary sort of
pot house in in in valley forge or entertaining or at one of these drawing rooms. as her reception rooms are called, even liston, the british ambassador or envoy extraordinary wife who comes not to well anyway, possibly with a critical eye a gives us not only gives us very detailed analysis of the republic concord, but makes quite clear that the martyrs receptions martha as the first first lady is doing an exceptional job it is not however job that martha wants and it is undoubtedly with
relief that and washington himself when they leave he finishes his second term, they return mount vernon and he says sweetly that, they are of more or less painting mount vernon and being like the young married couple because they're just so happy to be back and looking forward to years of. sort of renovating this this estate which has again gone to not wrack and ruin, but but the it certainly the watchful eye of washington but unfold patiently. it's that watchful which is washington's undoing and in
december. 1799, as i'm sure you are aware better than i. caroline caroline branham, an enslaved who has been at mount vernon for a since, i think, or no, she's a mary thompson or any of those who worked on that magnificent, extraordinary creation, the mount vernon slavery database, of which the which the papers draws on and builds on, will tell me whether she, caroline is a dallas custis slave. but caroline called early in the morning. martha, when she comes in to make up the fire in the washington's bedroom to call washington secretary to call the
doctor and he washington had gone out, ridden round estate and and and an inflamed throat was there was nothing to be done and martha here in this which in which she had done for to show everyday face for her grandchildren so that it was the the informal martha and she turns her face to the wall. she wants no more to to be in a world without washington because a she was since her marriage to washington although.
still young and pretty when she him from that moment on a one man woman and all those who visit her and thornton the architecture of the capitals and abigail mrs. liston agree that she is under when she talks only of going to to meet washington and she has a no. one martha no one of those who've who were with her at the start of her journey. she a the lovely nellie who the toasts to washington of philadelphia to and then in fact the toast of the federal city when she went in to visit her her her sisters. you could stay she threw herself
away on her husband. but but nellie was there. but martha retreat stayed. and there's very old version of negative. i think it is of the bedroom here is it was imagined not as it is now reconstructed as it was but this just gives me the feel of martha having turned her face to the wall and the papers to a give us such an extraordinary chronological tour on of martha down bridge cost is washington is a life that i can only say as as in another republic in concord in england in the 17th century.
oliver cromwell all told mr. lilly a court painter to rome mark all these rough roughness is when you paint my picture pimples, warts and everything as you see me otherwise, i will never pay you a farthing for in the papers. martha washington. i you we have a picture truly like her roughness, if not warts and all. this is a remarkable addition to the scholarship, the founding era. i repeat, and those universal use, public libraries and other institutions that acquire copy will spend. they will spend their farthing wisely and well thank you.
one moment, please. okay. i just want to say that. all right hello. thank you very much for. thank you very much for your kind introduction. i am to repeat you for a moment and. next, please. thank you to all of our generous donors who made the papers of martha washington. it would not exist without the support of vernon, without our
donors, without the mount ladies association. so i just want to thank once again all of those folks. i also want to make sure next, please, i am just a representative of the team of family papers, editors that put together this volume. so i wanted to make sure we thank all of the people who worked this. this is a team of incredibly intelligent, hardworking, who put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into volumes. so thank you very much to of my wonderful colleagues who were not able to make it tonight. next. i'll talk a little about the book. i don't floors are given us a wonderful introduction martha washington and beautiful details about her life. so i'm going to focus on what i did, which is edit the volume of her papers. next, please. so, first of all, this is not a biography, martha washington. this is an edited edited collection of martha
washington's. we include letters to to and from martha her financial and legal documents. our goal was to create the definitive scholarly edition of martha washington's. however, wanted this tool to be both. we wanted this book to be a tool for historians, also something that was accessible to, a general audience. so we included things like and timelines and graphical directories to make it that. even if you're just curious about martha can pick up this volume and read it and learn something about her. so it's not just a dry collection of her letters. there's other stuff in there as well. so what do i mean when i say that we edited her letters, we actually got an angry email from someone talking about how dare we edit the papers, george washington. but quite the opposite. next, please. the job of a documentary editor is to try to recreate the manuscript page of someone's writings as close as possible to that page. so our job was to collect as
many of martha washington's papers as to collect images of those, transcribe them, annotate them, and eventually publish all together in one volume. we don't keep all of the the papers. sometimes when i, i work for the papers of george washington, people assume have all of them. that's the job of an. it's a different field. our job is to transfer scribe and put them together. so we take a page that looks like this. next, please. and we turn it into something that looks like this. next, please. so you can see it. we do include when rips and tears in the paper. we put that in. we mention where it's mutilated and things are ripped. however, because we are so close to the document and we're able to to tell basically what's in there that's that's how we make this usable for historians and for people looking at these letters. you'll notice we have footnotes, identify people. we identify with their and
tears, and we try to provide a clear transcript. so next, please, i thought i would address some frequently asked questions that i get when people find out that i work for project. next, please didn't washington burn all of her letters? kind. martha washington did. after during her last illness. we have an account from gerard, who's one of the first people to try to publish all of george washington's letters. where two of martha washington's granddaughters informed him that on her deathbed during her last illness, she requested that all of her papers with washington be burned, which is a huge loss to history. but it's not unusual. thomas jefferson also burned all of his correspondence, his wife. i think the thinking behind it was people who were big public figures in the 18th hundreds. they that their papers were going to be important to people and that people would want to read them. and for a side of their life that was so deeply personal and private, like letters between husband and wife, they wanted to
keep them for themselves. so, martha took that route, decided to keep those papers. now the quote that i have up here says, two letters seemed to escape by accident that were found in a drawer or in a desk. but we were actually able to publish for letters between george and martha washington. one of them is quite short. it's a brief little note, but i think it's interesting in all of the surviving correspondence, not much. they refer to one another as my dearest or, my love. so what did we if she burned all of her letters with george washington? she wrote other people to martha washington, had a large extended family. so flora already bought off. she had brought up she had a close relationship with her, nancy. and after nancy's death, martha picks up right with her daughter, frances, at washington. so this is washington's niece who martha was very close with. we have a number of letters
between them that tell you a lot about vernon. and she's also writing sort of a who's who of early american women. mercy otis warren, who was a poet and a historian, the american revolution. martha was in correspondence her. also, elizabeth william powell, a philadelphia. we've got letters between them. so we do have quite a few letters from martha washington. just unfortunately, it's a sad loss that. we don't have her papers with george, but we were able to with the letters that do survive, sort a side of martha, apart from martha's own personal that it's very revealing revealing. so next slide, please. another letter that i get is haven't those papers already been published. and again the answer is yes, kind of. this is a actually fabulous edition that was put together in the 19 by joseph shields, who just on own is a labor of love. he's not a professional dictionary editor, hearst historian. he put a really solid collection, martha washington's
papers and. it's actually what's been used by historians for years and even the people at the papers of george washington been using this collection. but it has issues. some of the letters are printed out of order. there are typographical errors. sometimes doesn't cite his source, which nothing so egregious as like this letter came me in a dream. but you sometimes he doesn't tell you where the letter comes from. so it was due. we were due for another collection. and so we was part of what we were trying to address when we worked this project. so next slide, please. this is a sort of quick numerical comparison of the volume fields published about 80 financial and legal documents, and we were able find 180, which we don't publish in full. we summarize them just for space reasons, but we point out where you can take a look at them. also, fields published 300 letters. we were able to add 80 more letters to publish in this volume, which considering that only that's a pretty sizable
chunk of letters and fields chose to publish about six additional documents. we about 37 sometimes fleshing out areas where there are silences and just adding a little bit more detail to the volume. so there's quite a lot of information in there. and next slide. so volume includes through annotation, biographical directories. so you know who she's writing in a lot of these cases? timelines. seven editorial essays and, lengthy appendices, which include a lot really valuable information about martha's estate after she dies, including the enslaved people who were separated after, her death from the dower slaves. we're able to add lot of information about them in the appendices. so next slide, please challenges that we faced in the volume together. this is an example how people would save space in writing letters. sometimes that they would just turn it sideways and just keep going. so we didn't deal with a lot of that, but sometimes that turns up. next slide, please.
so the documents search. people have been looking for george washington's letters for a very long time. i mentioned earlier sparks putting together a collection of his letters. that's the 1820s. it's been a long time historical interest martha has been a little bit more recent so we didn't we wanted to make sure we did a very search to find her letters. so we ended up contacting over 2000 archives. we really dug through historical newspapers, auction houses, private collectors. we tried to comb for as many papers as possible to put together this volume, and that was fairly time consuming. next slide, please we also had to deal with a problem of silences in the letters. if you have been using the papers of george washington, there are many washington papers that survive that a 650 page volume might cover month and a half of his life. with martha, we have whole years where there's maybe three letters so that means there's a lot of very important significant things that aren't covered. so we have to cover those in
another way, which either is too editorial essays or something like that. but so that that was an issue had to face as we're putting the volume together and trying to make it something, you know, cohesive. next slide, please. the cast of characters, people who martha is writing, are a little bit obscure. if you're working on a president's papers, you're working on a politician papers. politicians left a huge trail that it's easy identify people for somebody like some of martha washington's more obscure nieces and nephews not the case it's a little bit harder to find an example that i have of somebody who is particularly difficult was martha washington actually a niece who was named martha washington dandridge. so when you're trying to find martha dandridge, washington's niece, martha washington dandridge, things can be a little bit tricky. so. so next slide, please, for the next bit. i just thought i would talk about some of the things that we worked with, with the importance of accurate transcription, which is a lot of what i did the
project with editing. next slide, this is i know the writing is very small. yodon't have to worry about reading all of that. t is is a transcription of a letter as it appears in the recollections and private memoirs of. washington by george wasngton park cuss, edited in 1861 by benson. lansing. i's a letter from james power, who's lawyer for new kent county to martha washington's first husband, daniel custis. so i underlined the line it says, i stayed with him all ghand presented jack with my little jack's horse, bridle and saddle. next slide, please. so this is what the manuscript says. it says, i stayed with him a good part of last night, so that's already slightly different. and presented something crossed out, something crossed out jack with my little horse bridle and saddle. so what's crossed out there? part of our editorial method is if something's out, if it's something we try, read it through the cross out. and if something significant, which is to say something that's not just repeated later in the same sentence, we try to include
it in footnotes. so if you take a look, next slide, please. i zoomed in. i know it's going to be hard to read, even though it's a pretty big screen. but this actually isn't a very detailed cross out. and if really look at it, you can see the first, you can see that sort of tail of the why of that first letter. and it's definitely a capital is the first letter of the second word so if you really look at it and you're able to really blow it up and pay attention to it the way we are, it's actually the words your brother. so why is this significant? next slide, please. because jack, in that letter is daniel parker. justice's mixed race. half brother daniel park custis. his father, john custis had a child with an enslaved woman who he acknowledged as his son, which was unusual at that he left in property he wanted to live in the he freed him he management did him. and the fact that a lawyer at this time is writing to daniel justice and acknowledging him as your brother is very
historically significant, even if it's crossed out, whether it was crossed out by him or later is not quite as clear. but you can see why? accurate transcription can make a difference. next slide please. this is an example from handwriting. it says, i have had a very dull time. i have had a dark time. it's field's transcription this. and if you take a close look, next slide, please it's blurry. i'm sorry. i know it's so big, but if you take look at the end of where that kay is, if that's the word dark, compare that to the kay in another part of the letter with i think those look different. and if you looked at we have to look at every single letter trying to see it. it's possible that she just sort of blurred together the a and the r dark. but if think of it as a u and those is two l's, then that's just the word dull you can see there as well. so we transcribed as double time
and next slide, please. so. and i also want to if you can see it up here. it says, since i come home i believe it was owing yoshi spells o, o, i and g classic martha washington. so next slide, please. so we transcribe this as i've had a very dull time since come home, i believe it was owing to the severe we have had. it's a it's a slight change. it's changing one word, but it changes the meaning, the sentence. if you're saying i've had a dark time owing to the severe weather that almost sounds like she has seasonal depression or something like that. but i've had a dull time since. coming home is. maybe the weather was bad. people couldn't come visit or she couldn't go outside. so it's slight change, but it changes the significance. next slide, please so i wanted to talk a little bit about what this collection martha in her own words, what you can learn about martha by looking at her own words. so next, please. you can learn that she's a very
competent flora. already mentioned this a bit, but this is one of my favorite quotes. she's to her lawyers or she's to merchants in england who have her that she just lost a legal case. and she says i'm advised by my lawyers here that if there was no mismanagement mr. custis was very unfortunate in so good a cause. i make no doubt the matter will turn out in my favor. so she's saying, you better make sure it out in my favor. next slide, please. i also think that she has a very strong sense of humor that comes through her letters that you don't always hear about. martha washington. i like the way she teases her grandchild. so i hope penelope has a little more gravity. she will be a good girl at present. she is, i fear, half crazy. on a darker note, martha washington. not in a way that is different from george washington. she writes more bluntly about slavery and her about slavery. so this quote, the blacks next
quote, the blacks are so bad in their nature that they not the least gratitude for the kindness that we have showed them. this helps to demystify the attitudes about slavery at mount vernon and of slaveholders this time. and the fact that she's so blunt about it in the volume is valuable historical context and knowledge. next slide, please. this is a famous martha washington quote. but i give you an example of i think what you can learn sort of on a personal level about martha during the presidency was very lonely during the presidency as she was wasn't able to see the people she wanted to see. and this fairly famous quote she says there are certain bounds set for me which i must not depart from. and i cannot do as i like. i am obstinate and stay a great deal. so she says she feels like a state prisoner. and in response, she's a little bit stubborn about it, which is from my with the papers of martha washington. it seems very fitting with her character. so next slide, please.
i just wanted to with martha washington's papers give us a different distinctly feminine perspective of the early american republic. and i hope that by presenting her words exactly as she wrote them. we can learn more about this time and more about martha washington as a person. thank you very much for coming. now to continue conversation and to also take questions from you momentarily, let me introduce our moderator, professor kate hallman, an associate professor of history at american university, the author of the politics of fashion in 18th century america. working on a new book on monuments, motherhood, mary washington and the founding pastor in the 19th century, which investigates the long afterlife of mary ball washington mother in american commemoration. kate worked on this important new project, a fellow at our library in the most recent class of fellows. so, kate, let me hand things over to you. thank you.
be no, no, no. oh, there we go. hot mic. thank you. thank you, kevin and i thank you all for being here. and thank you for this invitation to be here. part of this great opportunity, this occasion. and thank you both for these incredibly insightful presentations. and what a special what a special occasion it is. doug bradburn earlier said. we're here for martha. and i think that that captures the spirit of the night. flora, your presentation so beautifully linked the themes your book, the washingtons to the the the new work or some of the discoveries in the papers. and i, i, i first want to say congratulations because i know ground it is such a. truly i mean what can i say
other buy this book. it is available tonight and it truly is just a signal of documentary editing of scholarship. and it really is it is incredibly transformative. so would definitely say congratulations and, get yourself a copy. and then the martha's words alone are worth. but the introductory essays and editorial apparatus are just truly remarkable. so i know i'm going to save plenty of time for questions. i know there are many inquiring minds in this room, as well as in our virtual audience, but i do have some questions of, my own that i would like to begin with and i want to pluck line actually from from the introduction. maybe these are your own words of the of the papers and that is i think it's i think it's there's there is not one martha washington or one martha washington does not exist when martha washington does not exist. so you kind of gave us a little bit of a of a taste of that in
your talk. and i wanted to know if you would if you could, that a little bit or unpack it a little for us. it's not one martha washington. i that cooking for my colleague when i was writing that. oh sure. i i think that quote came from my colleague robbins, who is a fabulous historian. i the my. but. what we mean by there's no one martha washington is in some ways martha washington has become so much of a symbol that she is more than just a person. she is many things to different people over different time and even in her own life. she starts out as a young plantation mistress. she first lady of the united states. she changes so much that it's difficult to just pinpoint who exactly martha washington she's, many things over many different years. it's it's you know, you talk
about her character her and so that that kind of, you know, evokes a certain continuity or stability a flaw. does that resonate with you? there is not one martha washington or one martha washington. i think it's a very it's a very shrewd remark. i just want to check. can you me? i think that's a very shrewd remark. i think there are certain elements of martha that you cut the papers or have different different identities. and you have the same result almost. but sometimes almost pugnacious. you know, she's she's she's feisty and. and people respond to that. they like it, whether it's in conversation at mount vernon or. so i think that that there's
that. but i think that i think she inhabits different worlds and that's what is so extraordinary the way she appears to me to be adaptable or as you pointed out, she says i don't like this role being first lady. i'm just going to sit here all the in philadelphia she she definitely starts to party. but but i think that's right that she these are a very it's a very, very fast moving those decades she lived through in in america, in virginia. and she has she adapts and adapts and doesn't adapt in in ways that we we saw with her words about the enslaved
community at mt. vernon in her view, a particularly the custis dower community, the those who she feels it's her sacred trust to pass this community on to her. as i thought about that a lot, her as an enslaver and a slave in the different ways that comes out in, the papers is treated, can katie could like feisty and partying partying. martha in philadelphia can you is there another example of that strikes you from from the papers? well, one of my i wish my mike sorry i a when martha and george were just a young married couple virginia they went to one ball where didn't serve enough food and they referred to it as the bread and butter ball and not a polite way, but they said as a married couple they had tickets to the alexandria bowls and they
would go to these events and she was a very sociable person. you see, she's as you say in philadelphia, she's she's definitely with the upper crust of philadelphia. but do you get the sense that she feels that, as initially is an obligation and is then kind of cottons it more? or is that what hap is there a transformation there that these decades of incredible transformation. i, i, i don't know what you think but. i think she she sees there is a job to be done in new in philadelphia and she, she does it to as she does everything really to it to her the utmost of her abilities. but at the same time you see in her letters with with fanny, her
niece who as as you say, she, nancy, her sisters daughter becomes immediately her corresponding. but fanny this younger woman and oh, now forgets after her. will you get caroline to take down the cards and put them away and, you know, she knows it's not being done right. and she's in philadelphia. and and so there's this longing to be home and and she's getting older and i think it's it's in a way very touching in the papers of martha washington because you see her and george genuinely growing older an aging through and feeling in a sense were they too old to to go to to be this
the figurehead power couple the power couple it. but but then you as we know abigail adams becoming just about to become first lady gave. this you know abigail spoke as she felt and and i don't think it was an ideal complement when she said, you know, no one could have done this as and they established that role, those roles for all. you can see it's so interesting, the humor that comes through. but then this very exacting nature when it came to things such as we talked a little bit about something that comes through her esthetic sensibility, her orders, you're talking about some of and some of this financial papers or receipts. yes. one of my favorite letters with is ordering, writing to
merchants demanding better quality goods that she said she could have gotten in philadelphia for half the cost and twice the quality. so she she says she thinks and that's that wonderful is it a letter when she writes or perhaps it's george who one of them writes to. is it mrs. tilburn the the the dressmaker and says, i had five ladies from alexandria here. and we looked at this later and we all agreed that it was quite inferior. i imagine this sort of sewing bee looking, i think it was for patsy, wasn't it? it was for patsy and, you know, i would like i mean, she could be a tough, arrogant in her business dealings and. sure with with with those who worked the house, whether they were hired or or enslaved or
not, fun being martha's employee, that exacting demanding nature. yeah. comes through in many of our interactions. i was i wondered if if there was anything in particular that surprised either you about her and your research new discoveries or something this totally unexpected that you ran across. i, i don't know if it's surprising but one of my favorite martha washington moments is, um, she's being a little bit reluctant to go up to new york after george becomes president and. tobias lear who's george washington, writes a letter trying to lure martha washington up, and he says, i she likes seafood. tell her how good lobster is in new york and maybe that'll get her to go a little faster. i like that. do you think it worked?
i don't think she's treated the last, but i couldn't forget. i love that. it's great. the the i think that there were two, um, um. two. two. very rich veins i felt in. well, there were many, but in in the papers. one is a just, uh. how much martha controlled washington's painted image and, and indeed his sculpted image and. she used come from a very artistic her uncle dandridge was a famous court painter in london and painted the image of frederick prince well and of father who's of virginia court clerk has this a portrait of him
at her richer uncle house. but it's very unusual portraits at that time. i mean, it's it's it's they're only coming into into fashion. the idea that you have your portrait done and so she's aware of power of portraits and throughout papers she's having those miniatures we saw of her children. she's having them pictures as in bracelets like a like a watch a sort of the miniature set into bracelets she's approving. one image of washington. another, she says, isn't like she orders prince. the washington family. we saw the savage of the for the
washington and martha with the two grandchildren with enslaved servant. so that's. so we become very of of her taste and i think the paper is wonderful in that way that they build on the work that many here at mount vernon and others have done and you feel this is a woman with a tremendous esthetic sense but was also used see using it and washington comes first to don't want to be painted but he comes to see that this is the way the country wants to see this. it's so interesting to me this this power of portraiture and her sense sensibility her eye. do you think that translates into that? she had a sense. we think of washington self as
having a sense for his persona and his legacy in his own lifetime and sort of crafting that to some extent. would you say the same for her and that she had a for herself and as well for him that there is a public persona, public face presence. yeah. i think she approves of that that that represents nation of of her as in the washington present in the presidential family that i think she approves. i'm not sure that she really approves the many of other ones we see as it get bigger and bigger. and so that and but but but she used to i think that a public persona now when she's received king at in new york and received
in philadelphia her clothes or was it mrs. adams said to her close the plane but always of the best and you're right from beginning with that. wallace portrait of the young custis you know, it's shimmering. and we have her wedding shoes, the red sequined red shoes. so she loves fashion and she's a she's a material girl. but but but then as she and washington become figures. yes, i think she i don't think she wants to put portraits to herself forward. but but i think that's why that. right. yeah. well, katie had said earlier that you wore a print tonight in honor of how much and you did to to write that.
and some of her friends don't see her represented in a lot of it. but indeed she she did like a oh yes and some fun when when they're friends at the fairfax is leave belvoir and go back london and george and sally fairfax who've on washington's of those the t the t copies to and with with so i mean puts to such good use so that when the english ambassador is comes and says how did he get so grand he moves he has the she practically saying he would do he could be a nobleman at a european court. well, he learned it from the fairfax's but over they go to acquire all bed hangings and the
you know, they i think they both they come together george and martha in so many ways the they the whatever it is jax brett could eat. no fat, his wife could eat. i mean, he's told you to. is she she gets large but but they love mount vernon with a they love this place. and when you come here you feel everything in the house in the the outside it it was a it was true love a very beloved for them both. i think that's here even though it's so such a place. and then also in the papers, you see them, then her in particular as very much part this of of a wider world you see the networks you see that sort of pulling back the curtain which leads me we're going to pivot to your
questions in a moment here. but i wanted hear from each of you about about biography or how you think biographical approach, the life of one person any person this person enhances our historical understanding what is the power of biography the one one life to them show something larger. i think particularly with someone like martha who was alive and lived through such a key, important era in american history. it makes it easier for us to understand bigger systems and bigger moments in history when you see it through the perspective of one person. so i think seeing martha from growing up in newton county, living through the american revolution, being at so many winter encampments and traveling and then being through the presidency and all of that, i think it helps to humanize both george and martha and to sort of give a strong perspective of that time period. i think might be especially
important in or differently in women's women's gendered histories. i mentioned it's it's a feminine perspective of the revolution. so she's there the winter of where they're doing things like having balls and dances. she's not there during. the warfare, except for certain other moments. but so you get to see from an interesting different perspective. yeah, i think the. what i when read it historical books, history books, i'm looking. it might be a micro book but but it's still looking at a sweep of events and this is a biography, a biographical approach and just biography you'll see the
unfolding of her mind and that mind is sometimes stressed by or reacting. it's the mind of one person that you'll from cradle to grave. and it's a it's a real privilege to to follow that mind. and i love writing biography and i love reading it too. it's it's a it's a it's it's quite an extraordinary feeling to be in someone's mind and for and i know it's another biography. that's next for you, ed, before so quickly before before we do pivot, what's next for flora? what's next for you?
and then what's next for you in the washington papers? so i'm publishing in january my next biography a pretty young rebel the life of a flora macdonald and. she is another 18th century woman. she was actually a rebel in the jacobite rebellion in scotland. in 1745. and we separate not that she was a loyalist, but 30 years later. but i think she had a of the rebels and nice pretty young rebel right right yeah. so forthcoming. yeah then and i'm working on an edited digital edition of the papers of bush washington. so that'll be george washington's nephew who inherited mount vernon and was a supreme court justice so that we're we're working on that project next more great
washington family stuff and scott's stuff turned to north carolinian again to come so i believe in the back samantha and or front stephen here there might be another microphone somewhere floating so if you want to find stephen here, if you have any questions. first of all, thank you. a very enlightening and enjoyable. i was struck by the quote from her regarding the slaves. is there anything in her writing that shows an abhorrence to the institution of slavery or even a questioning of the morality? slavery that unfortunately does turn up? it seems that martha washington grew up in slave society. she was surrounded by slavery her entire life, and does not seem like she ever questioned it.
that she she was in charge. and as flora mentioned, she sort of saw this as a financial transaction between herself and her heirs. so while george washington, he did his slave he did a lot of thinking about the morality it and decided to free the people that he could free. but the slaves were completely under martha's control. she she her her goal was to pass this she saw as a financial asset onto children. so as far as the actual harm that was being done to other human beings, she doesn't seem to question that at least from her writing. we have a. we have a question from our online audience. judy anderson asks was possible for you to determine how many that were signed by martha had actually been written or dictate it by george. yes. so that is a big part of editing
a volume is trying to determine sometimes. is behind different letters who's writing it. a lot of the letters that we transcribe were actually in george washington's handwriting. so sometimes the letter was a team effort between them where she would write a draft and then would clean it up. you could tell it from her examples that i had that spelling was not always accurate. there's a lot of it. she had creative spelling you could tell, which meant phonetically, but so if she was writing somebody that she wanted to, she wanted to really impress. sometimes she would have george go over it. there's a great example, though, of george washington drafting out a letter and then martha writing and adding, because had just mentioned the family as well and martha in her draft of it adding and yet my sister's two children, they're doing great. they're it. so he didn't go into the amount of detail and bragging that she wanted him to when she added that in so it is included in the
source notes to the letters. what who's handwriting it then whether think that this was somebody writing another somebody else's behalf and also certain george washington letters that are in my handwriting because she helping him out during the american revolution when he was making so many copies of these. so i my somebody said i read you mention her father was a county clerk several times is that a job of substance or is she brought is she raised in a society of where she formed her taste and style. as a county, county cook, the county courthouse was his place of work. he was also a verger, a colonel in the militia. he was definitely part of the local new kent county society.
and indeed, he was the best removed with martha's first husband, daniel. so but the the i would say where she saw. what she might aspire to when she or at least was in her mind during her childhood was her uncle william's mansion. elston green also on the monkey and there there was a picture gallery. it was a much grander way of life he admired an heiress and a so i think there. a very solid childhood with the seven siblings and her parents and but but it was the uncle william who had the if you like,
that they they were. that they had a house where she could really see. a sort of elegant and elegant way to live. i had a question question i didn't know lot more about her life with daniel. how she how she met him, how how their marriage was. was there many writings about or there weren't that much before george's writings while i was researching i was able to come with her her father was in the same vestry of daniel park custis. and we do have accounts and some, i believe william byrd's diary mentions that daniel parker and john worked together.
so it seems as though they were friends. so we don't have the exact account of their courtship. but they were in the same sort of circles and that's probably how they met. there's we don't have any letters from this. we have letters from daniel custis to, other people and from then professes to him, but not between him and martha. i think my, my sense from the letters is that it was a it was a happy marriage. and she certainly married she married very well. he was very wealthy man, but we just don't have a lot of detail. but where i think there is detail which has been elucidated in the invoices that that in the papers are so beautifully annotated, give you a picture of what want what they want their life to be like, what they order from london, from in this consignment trade.
it's really a silver, a marvelous farrukh wig for for with fusco charles. but but it's she's living she's she's living at a much higher standard if you like her. she came from third tier planter family. and if daniel's not first he's definitely second tier. so so i think those influences give us and we have them over well all of married life yeah yeah so that that's in a way a wonderful resource and his his financial accounts it's in his handwriting up until he dies and then the handwriting switches and that's actually the earliest example of her hand writing is from that account book building
a fine life together, in a way. we have another question from our online audience. jamie arnold is curious about whether or not we can tell the amount of her wealth upon marriage. is there like a modern comparison we can make? and if not, how do we under stand the value of goods? historically. this is this is outside of my wheelhouse. i've had i wrote the number down of how much it was in her time, but i wouldn't feel confident saying i couldn't answer that question about her. but i would i would direct the questioner to the to the internet, because there there are calculators, right, where you can say, okay, this many pound sterling, you know, in this year, what would that be? equivalent pounds today and then cut. so there are various ways to convert money then into now. and you used to, i would say 20 years ago, you could get 18th century multiple of about 50,
but, you know but the the certainly in the of george washington i think there is somewhere to be found the i don't mean there's a ready but oh and and of course land cash and in the case of. the virginia other states the enslaved who also represented a financial asset they were all three different kinds of wealth thank you all for bringing this rich history for all of us to learn from. if either of could sit down with the first of first ladies and ask her a question, what would it be.
go ahead. well, well, i. i would ask and this may seem a very basic question, but i would ask. did you did you and your second husband, washington. ever consult a doctor about the fact that you didn't have children together, even you, martha, had had. four children and i've just be i would be very interested to know that. i think i would say tell me what you really think about thomas jefferson. i. on that note.
what a great concluding question. wonderful questions. thank you allor h thank you to katie to flora. and a round of applause to you. thank you. our conversation and our conversation can continue out of the reception. i'm going to ask that for a phrase. you'll be allowed to walk up to the stairs because we do want to get her at a signing table before the crowd really in for if you could start moving. thank you so much, professor hallman and katie gerard, thank you for frazier. so wonderful that you could all be here