- Historic Sites
George Washington In Love
The Vivacious Sally Fairfax stole the young man’s heart long before he met Martha
Fall 2009 | Volume 59, Issue 3
“I am now set down to write you on a subject which fills me with inexpressible concern— and this concern is greatly aggravated and increased when I reflect on the uneasiness I know it will give you—It has been determined in Congress that the whole army raised for the defence of the American cause shall be put under my care and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it. You may believe, my dear Patcy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavour in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you, at home, than I have my most distant prospect of reaping abroad, if my stay was to be seven times seven years.”
Those words reveal how the intervening years had transformed Martha Washington from an agreeable contort to a woman who had become the central person in her husband’s life.
Sally Fairfax and her husband had remained friends and neighbors of George and Martha until 1773, when they went to England to prosecute a lawsuit to establish George William’s right to a large estate left him by a relative but challenged in the courts by another relation. His right to inherit the Fairfax peerage was also at stake. They never returned to America. George William lost the lawsuit and died in 1787 a disappointed man.
In 1797, after Washington came home to Mount Vernon from two exhausting presidential terms, he learned that Bryan Fairfax, Sally’s brother-in-law, was going to England to inherit the title. George gave him a letter for Sally. It reported, perhaps unnecessarily, that “Many important events have occurred and changes in men and things have taken place” too complicated to discuss in a letter.
What he wanted to say to her was simpler and more important: none of those events, “nor all of them together have been able to eradicate from my mind the recollection of those happy moments, the happiest in my life, that I have enjoyed in your company.”
In the same packet, he enclosed a letter from Martha.
Adapted by the author of The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers.