One of the highlights of my sabbatical was the month I spent at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington in Mount Vernon. Virginia. You can read about my experience here.
Mary Thompson is Research Historian at the Washington Library. Some of you may know her for her excellent book “In the Good Hand of Providence”: Religion in the Life of George Washington. I am also thankful for her blurb on my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”: A Historical Introduction.
Over at The Journal of the American Revolution, Thompson has a very informative article on Mount Vernon during the American Revolution. Here is a taste:
Early in the war, there were concerns that both Martha Washington and Mount Vernon might be targeted by the British. Throughout the late summer and early fall of 1775, Mrs. Washington’s safety was the subject of much of the surviving family correspondence. General Washington wrote in late August that he could “hardly think that Lord Dunmore [John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore and royal governor of Virginia] can act so low, so unmanly a part, as to think of seizing Mrs. Washington by way of revenge upon me.” He was comforted by the thought that for the next couple of months she would be visiting away from home and so would “be out of his [Dunmore’s] reach for 2 or 3 months to come,” after which he hoped events would play out in such a way “as to render her removal either absolutely necessary, or quite useless.” He asked that, should Lund believe there was “any sort of reason to suspect” that she was in imminent danger, to “provide a Kitchen for her in Alexandria, or some other place of safety elsewhere for her and my Papers.”
Martha Washington does not appear to have been worried for herself until she received several letters from her husband mentioning that Dunmore might try to capture and imprison her. It probably added to the couple’s anxiety that about this same time, George Washington’s younger brother, John Augustine, tried to persuade his sister-in-law to leave Mount Vernon for her own safety. Early in October, Lund sought to calm Washington’s fears about the safety of his wife:
Tis true many people have made a Stir about Mrs Washingtons Continuing at Mt Vernon but I cannot think her in any Sort of danger—the thought I believe first originated in Alexandria—from thence it got to Loudon [Loudoun County, Virginia], I am told the people of Loudon talkd of sendg a Guard to Conduct her up into Berkeley with some of their principle men to persuade her to leave this & accept their offer—Mr John Agst. Washington wrote to her pressg her to leave Mt Vernon—she does not believe herself in danger, nor do I. without they attempt to take her in the dead of Night they woud fail, for 10 minutes notice woud be Sufficient for her to get out of the way … I have never Advise’d her to stay nor Indeed to go … you may depend I will be watchfull, & upon the least Alarm persuade her to move.
Before going south to visit her family, Martha Washington put many valuables, especially her husband’s papers, into trunks that could be easily moved if that became necessary, and Lund made plans to send the trunk containing papers to a neighbor for safekeeping. Lund had asked, presumably upon the General’s orders, that Mrs. Washington carefully tie the papers in bundles, so that “they might not be in any great confusion hereafter when they come to be open’d.” She insisted on packing the trunk herself, although when she set off to visit her relatives in New Kent County she left the key to Washington’s study with Lund, who assured his cousin that he would not “look into any part of [the desk], or in any other part of the Studdy, without her being present.” He also stated quite strongly that the General had nothing to worry about while the estate was in Lund’s hands, because “I will do every thing in my powr to, not only secure your papers, but every other Valuable thing that can be save’d even at the risque of my Life, if necessary.”
Read the entire article here.