Reading: Martha Washington : an American Life

Yorktown was on every American’s lips. Rather than stay at home in her sorrow [over her son Jack’s death], Martha decided to go with her husband for the comfort of his presence. This trip was a reprise of 1775, with escorts, addresses, and cheering crowds. Philadelphia, as usual, outdid every place in its welcome. In addition to the usual celebratory illumination of lanterns and candles placed on windowsills, large transparent paintings, lit from behind, covered many windows like glowing shades. Patriotic and allegorical themes ran riot.” — Patricia Brady, Martha Washington: an American Life.

How different Philadelphia is later, during the yellow fever epidemic that began in July 1793.

Follow Martha Dandridge from her first marriage to Daniel Custis, and then to her second marriage to George Washington, after she was through mourning her first husband. Martha burned most of her letters, so many of the records of her life are second hand and not in her words. But the author does manage to paint a picture of a woman who wasn’t afraid to follow her husband to Valley Forge, who traveled to see family and didn’t let the tragedy of losing family and friends to war and death keep her in despair so long as George was still alive.

Even though I thought I “knew” Martha Washington from the children’s history books, and 12th grade history class, this was a gently surprising book with blended families against the backdrop of history, without sugarcoating some things that current Americans might like to forget. Lovely library find, and thin enough to read on the beach during the last brief days of summer.

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