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The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  118 ratings  ·  32 reviews
An insightful biography of Mary Ball Washington, the mother of our nation's father

The Widow Washington is the first life of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington's mother, based on archival sources. Her son's biographers have, for the most part, painted her as self-centered and crude, a trial and an obstacle to her oldest child. But the records tell a very different stor
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published June 11th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mary Ball Washington was not much of a writer. There is no diary and only a few letters remain. This means deep research for the biographer, checking vital statistics (what exists for the time), court records (fortunately, for history,Mary’s family was litigious), land records and wills (with personal property enumerated), purchase and payment records, personal possessions of proven provenance and letters and papers of others. For this biography, Martha Saxton interprets all of this to sleuth ou ...more
Sep 08, 2019 added it
A detailed and sympathetic biography of George Washington's mother that corrects some of the notions propagated by generations of the president's biographers.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Book Court - Where I'm the Judge and Jury

CHARGE (What is the author trying to say?): To explore why Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington, has never been recognized for her influence on t’he life of George Washington.

FACTS: With the author’s acknowledgment of the lack of primary sources about the life of Mary, Ball, she then goes on to spend much effort outlining how her life might have unfolded. This proved rather tedious. The prologue states: “I am not normally drawn to write a
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating approach to an endlessly complicated woman - George Washington’s mother. Saxton sets out to build a scholarly context around Mary Washington's life with only the barest of facts to go on. What she does know is that historians have vilified and indicted Mary on sparse evidence, so she reimagines Mary's life with more depth and fairness. "Since her death in 1789 the Founder's mother has endured a tumultuous half-life...By the mid-twentieth century, she had become unloving, jealous, w ...more
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Much ink has been spilled on the life and times of George Washington, but little attention has been devoted to his mother Mary Ball Washington. When Mary Washington appears in studies of her famous son, she is labeled as a “shrew,” “illiterate,” a “helicopter parent,” and “Medea in a mob cap.” It was with trepidation that I picked up Dr. Martha Saxton’s new biography, The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington. Would the same hackneyed stereotypes be repeated for three hundred pages? I qu ...more
Joseph J.
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mary Ball Washington has not received an even break from historians; Martha Saxton notes the negativity in which classic George Washington biographers-Freeman, Flexner and most recently Ron Chernow-have painted the Founding Father's mother. Saxton, using a wealth of primary sources-seeks redress in these pages. This biography is seen within the growing school of women's history, particularly women in the pre-Civil War plantation south, and the history and impact of slavery on all in this country ...more
Donna Pingry
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
The detail recorded by the author truly amazed me. Years of school books did not prepare me for the facts itemized in this story. I was aware that women weren't treated very well in the prewar English colonies. Life was short. There was disease. Babies and husbands died young. But families took care of each other, didn't they? Women didn't mistreat slaves or separate children from their parents, did they? Sometimes I liked Mary Washington. She was a woman accustomed to frugality and hard work. S ...more
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Widow Washington by Martha Saxton is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early June

The life of Mary, George Washington's sainted, orphaned, and widowed mother, has been told early in colonial American history, only to have her image tarnished after the Civil War, long after she had died in the biographies of her eldest son, due to stories of her temper, beating her slaves, and asking the often cash-strapped Martha and George for money. Saxton's telling involves much begetting, bequeathing,
Mike Shoop
Feb 10, 2020 rated it liked it
More a history of the times Mary Ball Washington lived in, not so much a biography. Apparently, there isn't much in the way of source material on George Washington's mother. It's readable and informative about colonial life with its manners and mores before the Revolution, you get the basics of Mary's life, but throughout there are lots of assumptions made about Mary when there is no actual record to support. I found the family relationships interesting, especially during Mary's childhood and yo ...more
Aug 08, 2019 rated it liked it
When writing a biography of someone about whom there are very few primary sources, the choice is stark – either write a very short book or use the life to explore general issues and topics relevant to the times. This is what the author has chosen to do here, and the result is a meticulously researched and detailed account of Mary Washington’s life, as far as it can be ascertained, and more generally of the times in which she lived. It puts her into her historical context and gives a lot of backg ...more
Betty Adams
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I chose this because my alma mater is Mary Washington College and because I felt biographies of her eldest son painted a portrait that was not flattering to a woman who chose to stay unmarried so that she could exert her rights such as they were.
She was the daughter of an indentured servant and wanted a better life for her five children. It appears George was a social climber; she was more humble and down to earth. Religious, she imparted the values of hard work, modesty, and strength and it too
Apr 14, 2020 rated it liked it
The author of this social history says she doesn’t particularly like to write about slave-holding women or women whose claim to fame rests on how she influenced a man- and then she proves it. She acknowledges the lack of primary sources and then gives her opinion by using averages (80% of women emigrating to Virginia in the early colonial period were indentured servants so Washington’s grandmother was probably an indentured servant) or by saying Mary Ball Washington would have, could have, or sh ...more
Janilyn Kocher
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Martha Saxton does an excellent job of delivering a reassessment of the one dimensional perception of Mary Ball Washington. I loved how she delved into the history of Mary's family and fleshed out the story with historical documents. I've always been fascinated by the extended presidential families and this biography was long over due. Saxton does solid writing and I believe gives readers a more balanced view about the mother of George Washington. Thanks to NetGalley for the early copy.
Karen Taylor
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is about Mary, Mother of George Washington. I found it an interesting and eye-opening account of the life of a woman I knew little about. The life of Mary, as researched and presented by Martha Saxton, was memorable and logical from the presented information. Well written and engrossing read. Unfortunately, I did not find the time to read this prior to publication. My apologies to the writer, publisher, and NetGalley.
Feb 01, 2020 rated it liked it
I found this book to be a disappointment from the standpoint of what I expected based on the title and book jacket. I would say 1/3 of this book focused on slavery in VA during Mary's lifetime. Another 1/3 focused on George, his military career, and the Revolutionary War. While these are all important topics, I felt they carried too much weight and were used as filler because there just was not enough information about Mary to write a book.
Lisa Petrovich
May 03, 2020 rated it liked it
The author relied more on speculation in the first few chapters than I felt comfortable with, such as using period materials or culture to say very specifically how Mary would have felt about situations in her life, but later on the interpretations seemed more grounded in better evidence. Overall this was an easy, light read that reoriented or gave more context to situations or letters that previous historians have used to bash Mary.
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I lowered the rating for this book, although it was extremely well researched and documented, because there was so much information about Revolutionary era events that made it slow reading. Actually there is a paucity of information about Mary Washington, so the author puts her life in the context of the entire family and the time period which was great for a historical study.
Christopher Little
Martha Saxton's Widow Washington is a tour de force. Superb research, engagingly written, this book was thoroughly enjoyable. Of great interest to me was the minutia (no disparagement intended) about the domestic lives of Virginia slaves and the degree to which Virginia families of the time were litigious. Even intrafamily, folks were suing one another all the time. Highly recommended.
Charity Kelly
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Favorite line - George Washington told Mary that her favorite horse died while he was trying to train it and Mary says: "It is well; but while I regret the loss of my favorite, I rejoice in my son, who always speaks the truth."

All these years I thought George Washington chopped down a cherry tree then confessed his actions to his father who forgave him.

Glad to finally know the truth.
Terry  Watkins
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A fascinating investigation into the life of Mary Washington, mother of George. It re-examines her rather maligned place in history and reframes the discussion entirely by looking at her as a slave owner and the way in which that fact shapes her life and her son’s.
Andrea Waugh
Sep 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Kept attributing emotions to people. Narrative was confusing. Not good.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it liked it
There's a lot of missing data, so there are a lot of assumptions here. I thought she handled slavery well, emphasizing it throughout.
Michelle Mormul
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was a little bit to George Washington heavy. The writing was kind of dull.
Feb 13, 2020 rated it liked it
This was filled with good information but I preferred Craig Shirley's book about this lady. I did not care for how the author handled the story.
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This biography of George Washington's mother contained interesting information, however, the writing style was dull.
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Putting this down. Authors interest in the mistreatment of slaves and women overshadows the narrative. Repetitive points. Too slow to tell a story I guess because didn't really have enough material.
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was my quarantine book. I enjoyed it. Thoroughly researched.
Aug 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
Narrator should give it up
Taxing to listen to.
Poor enough writing that will not even give Saxon a 2nd try.
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really well written. Lots of detail...
Kelsey Matthews
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Okay, so I went to the University of Mary Washington and felt obligated to read this. I had heard a lot about Mary being an overbearing mother and how she prayed for George on a rock near her property in Fredericksburg. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book! At first, I felt like it was more a social history of the times, but the inclusion of that made a lot of sense.
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