If it's true that behind every great man is a great woman (and it is, as evidenced by my wife, Gena, who does more for me and others than the world will ever know), then Washington's wife, Martha, is definitely to be credited for part of the power behind the myth of the Father of Our Country. For example, for each of the eight years of the Revolutionary War, Martha came to Washington's winter encampments (including Valley Forge) to boost his morale, as well as the other officers' morale.
No doubt Martha's initial struggle to support Washington's departure as president must have had some emotional connection to her finally having him home at Mount Vernon after his service in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention and his eight years of leading the war. Though Martha refused to attend his inauguration, she stood by her man by living with him at the temporary U.S. capitals New York and Philadelphia.
Though Martha and George had a strong relationship, there's no doubt he had a lifelong love interest in the beautiful and intellectually astute Sally Fairfax -- the wife of his friend George William Fairfax -- whom he met when he was just 16. Sally's father never would have allowed her to marry someone other than a man from a wealthy family like theirs, and Washington didn't fit the bill.
Mount Vernon historians noted how Sally "remained ever faithful to her marriage" yet a good friend of the Washingtons'. In 1773, she moved with her husband to England, where he died in 1787. In 1798, just a year before Washington's death, he wrote to Sally, urging her to return to Virginia. He added, "(Nothing has) been able to eradicate from my mind the recollection of those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company." Sally never returned and died alone in England in 1811.
No man is perfect, and that included George Washington. He himself confessed: "We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals." Remembering that was likely the key to his humility, service and mercy to others. Maybe his own struggle to receive the Holy Eucharist when he attended services at an Anglican church was born from his wrestling with his own humanity and possibly even the human toll that incurred when he was leading the war.
George was married to Martha for roughly 40 years. Just before her death in 1802, Martha destroyed nearly all of Washington's letters to her, though three did survive.
Next week, I will finish my top 10 and discuss how some people today view Washington as yesteryear's presidential billionaire mogul. For more on the monumental figure, I recommend the amazing book "George Washington's Sacred Fire," by Peter Lillback and Jerry Newcombe.
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