J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Martha Washington: “perfectly agreeable”

James Duane. Digital ID: 1224407. New York Public LibraryYesterday we left the merchant Christopher Marshall (shown here, courtesy of the New York Public Library) at a “large and respectable” meeting of Philadelphia Patriots on 24 Nov 1775 demanding that there should be no balls “while these troublesome times [i.e., the war] continued.”

This meant that someone had to tell Martha Washington and Dolly Hancock, in whose honor a ball (or “meeting”) had been proposed, that there wasn’t going to be a party after all. Marshall wrote:

a Committee was appointed, immediately to go to inform the directors of this meeting, not to proceed any further in this affair, and also to wait upon Lady Washington, expressing this Committee’s great regard and affection to her, requesting her to accept of their grateful acknowledgment and respect, due to her on account of her near connection with our worthy and brave General, now exposed in the field of battle in defence of our rights and liberties, and request and desire her not to grace that company, to which, we are informed, she has an invitation this evening, &c., &c.

Came home near six. After I drank coffee, I went down to Samuel Adams’s lodgings, where was Col. [Eliphlaet] Dyer. Spent some time pleasantly, until Col. [Benjamin] Harrison [of Virginia] came to rebuke Samuel Adams for using his influence for the stopping of this entertainment, which he declared was legal, just and laudable. Many arguments were used by all present to convince him of the impropriety at this time, but all to no effect; so, as he came out of humor, he so returned, to appearance.

25. At half past eleven, went to the Committee Room at the Coffee House; came away near two. At this time, Major [John] Bayard, one of the four gentlemen appointed to wait on Lady Washington, reported that they had acted agreeably to directions, that the lady received them with great politeness, thanked the Committee for their kind care and regard in giving such timely notice, requesting her best compliments to be returned to them for their care and regard, and to assure them that their sentiments on this occasion, were perfectly agreeable unto her own.
This was probably the first political dilemma of Martha Washington’s life; we don’t have many of her personal letters, but she appears to have left such public dealings to her husbands. Several hundred miles from her home and from the general, she was nonetheless able to finesse this potentially difficult situation and come away with the locals’ admiration and affection.

Two days later, Marshall described her departure:
27. About ten, Lady Washington, attended by the troop of horse, two companies of light infantry, &c., &c., left this City, on her journey to the camp, at Cambridge.
At the end of the year, Washington described her time in Philadelphia for a Virginia friend this way:
I did not reach Philad till the tuesday after I left home, we were so attended and the gentlemen so kind, that I am lade under obligations to them that I shall not for get soon. I dont doubt but you have see the Figuer our arrival made in the Philadelphia paper—and I left it in as great pomp as if I had been a very great somebody
Though it took many more years before Martha Washington became an American icon, she had certainly preserved her husband’s popularity in Philadelphia in 1775.

TOMORROW: The Washingtons’ wedding anniversary.

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