Cover image for Martha Washington : first lady of liberty
Martha Washington : first lady of liberty
Bryan, Helen, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Wiley, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 417 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E312.19 .B79 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A contempary anecdote not only confirms that Martha commanded respect in her own right during her lifetime, but also suggests an awkward truth later historians have preferred to ignore-that without Martha and her fortune, George might never have risen to social, military, and political prominence.Toward the end of his life, George Washington, war hero, retired president, and object of universal fame and veneration, was negotiating to purchase a plot of land in the new capital city, to be named in his honor. The seller, an aged veteran of the Revolution, was reluctant to part with the plot, even to so distinguished a purchaser. Washington persisted until the veteran's patience snapped: 'You think people take every grist that comes from you as the pure grain. What would you have been if you hadn't married the Widow Custis!'
-from the Introduction to
Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty

From the glittering social life of Virginia's wealthiest plantations to the rigors of winter camps during the American Revolution, Martha Washington was a central figure in some of the most important events in American history. Her story is a saga of social conflict, forbidden love affairs, ambiguous wills, mysterious death, heartbreaking loss, and personal and political triumph. Every detail is brought to vivid life in this engaging and astonishing biography of one of the best known, least understood figures in early American life.

Author Notes

Helen Bryan was born and has spent much of her life in Virginia; she traces her ancestry to the Revolutionary period, when Martha Washington lived there. She is currently a barrister in London and a member of the Inner Temple

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was at the center of attention her whole life; mistress of large plantations, married to two of the most influential and wealthy Virginians, and as Lady Washington, the General's wife and First Lady. Unfortunately, with only a few of her actual letters extant, much of what we know about Martha Washington is from inference. Bryan mines the whole spectrum of the social, economic, and political world in which Martha moved, and even analyzes a few skeletons in the closet, not the least being the mysterious death of Martha's brother-in-law, Mulatto Jack, a slave who had been designated to inherit the fortune that went to Martha's first husband. The book is one of the best treatments anywhere of the early Virginia aristocracy; indeed, this comes in for so much emphasis that one half of the book covers the period before 1775. The author touches lightly on Martha's sojourns with her husband during the military campaigns and as First Lady. Nevertheless, this book is a singular accomplishment, beautifully written and most enlightening about both Martha and George. Recommended for general and academic collections. H. M. Ward emeritus, University of Richmond

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 Twenty-Five Miles as the Crow Flies from Williamsburgp. 15
2 "John Dandridge's Daughter"p. 38
3 A Young Matron and Her Familyp. 53
4 The Widow Custisp. 74
5 George Washington, His Family and Friendsp. 90
6 A Twelfth Night Weddingp. 116
7 Halcyon Daysp. 129
8 Uneasy Timesp. 146
9 Sudden Changes and Milestonesp. 163
10 "Mrs. Washington, a Warm Loyalist"p. 183
11 "I Doe My Dear Sister Most Religiously Wish Thare Was an End to the Matter"p. 194
12 "General Washington's Lady, an Example of Persistent Industry"p. 211
13 "A Dreary Kind of Place"p. 223
14 Middlebrook and Morristownp. 234
15 "We Look Upon the Americans as Already at Our Feet"p. 244
16 A Long Time Going Homep. 256
17 "Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree"p. 265
18 "The General Is Gone to New York"p. 284
19 "A State Prisoner"p. 297
20 Philadelphiap. 310
21 "Duty and Inclination"p. 324
22 Transitionsp. 336
23 "Once More, Under Our Own Vine and Fig Tree"p. 350
24 "No More Trials to Pass Through"p. 367
Epiloguep. 382
A Culinary Lagniappe: Recipes from Martha Washington's Books of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeatsp. 388
Notesp. 391
Bibliographyp. 403
Indexp. 408