Soldier’s Return

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His mother had again asked for money. He sent her fifteen guineas, which he stated was all the cash he had, and then pointed out angrily what a drain on his estate her activities had been. She had requisitioned all the supplies from a plantation he conducted near Fredericksburg, and during the war he had advanced her between three and four hundred pounds from his own pocket. Despite this, she had talked in such a way that he was “viewed as a delinquent and considered, perhaps by the world, an unjust and undutiful son.”

She should rent her farms, which would supply her with “ample support”; break up housekeeping; hire out all her servants except a man and a maid; keep only a phaeton and two horses; and live with one of her children. “This would relieve you entirely of the cares of this world and leave your mind at ease to reflect undisturbedly on that which ought to come.” Since her expenses would use up only a quarter of her income, she could “make ample amends to the child you live with.” She might then be “perfectly happy,” that is, “if you are so disposed, … for happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s mind than on the externals of the world.”

Washington hastened to add that he was not suggesting that she come to Mount Vernon: “Candor requires me to say that it will never answer your purposes in any way whatsoever.” Since the house was always crowded with strangers she would be forced to do one of three things: be always dressed for company, appear in dishabille, or be a prisoner in her own chamber. The first, she would not like as being too fatiguing for one in her time of life. The second, he would not like, as his guests were often “people of the first distinction.” Nor would it do for her to stay in her own room, “for what with the sitting up of company, the noise and bustle of servants, and many other things, you would not be able to enjoy that calmness and serenity of mind which, in my opinion you ought now to prefer to every other consideration of life.”

Mary Washington did not relish her son’s desire to make her into a conventional fireside figure of tranquil old age. She did not rent out her land or break up her personal housekeeping. But, on the other hand, she did not permit George’s interference and scolding to displace him as the favorite of her children. When she died in 1789 she left the lion’s share of her estate, including her best bed and best dressing glass, to the descendant who, from all appearances, least needed the bequest; to George Washington.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS