FIRST FAMILY: George Washington and His Intimate Relations by Miriam Anne Bourne

FIRST FAMILY: George Washington and His Intimate Relations

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The Father of our Country's relations with his relations""--via snippets from letters and diaries, and bridging text: an enterprise hamstrung by the spottiness of the sources and the author's feeble use of what exists. As Bourne notes, almost no correspondence between George and Martha Washington survives (why, ""years later,"" she ""burned most of her husband's letters,"" Bourne doesn't ask); and his references to her, in communications to others, attest to little more than concern for her well-being. What we chiefly see, at second hand, is her ""blind indulgence"" of son Jacky, offspring of her first marriage, and of his son ""Wash,"" whom the Washingtons also raised. To this motif is joined the inordinate trouble that the childless Washington took with the upbringing of his step-children and step-grandchildren, and of his orphaned nieces and nephews--and the trouble that most of them caused him. Bourne does attempt some exoneration--especially of Washington's termagant mother and the feckless Jacky. (Did they, as alleged, ""plague him with money matters"" during the Revolution? ""From her point of view the commander-in-chief may have been thoughtless and irresponsible. He never wrote and he had not been to see her in years."" As for Jacky, he ""was understandably immersed in his own learning and responsibilities as a landholder and head of a family."") For the most part, though, this is a mere roughing-in of relationships familiar from the writings of Elswyth Thane, and others--which becomes plain silly when it tries to mesh personal and public affairs: ""Martha hurried home to see her first grandchild, as Washington led the army into battle against the British.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1982
Publisher: Norton