Today we Americans celebrate the great soldier and statesman George Washington. Born 284 years ago today, he was a wise and honorable leader—not a perfect man, but a good one. Like all men, he was rooted in space and time, and so was beset with the characteristic blind spots of his age. (What will posterity say of our glaring blind spots? Sobering thought!) We owe George Washington, along with the other founders of our country, a great debt of gratitude. A yearly observance of the day of his birth is fitting and proper tribute.
As the mother of five sons, I can’t help but also give quiet gratitude to the woman who cradled her newborn boy on that day—her firstborn. No doubt, she rejoiced in his first smiles, held out her hands for his first steps, heard his first prayers, kissed his scraped knees. Her husband died when that boy was but eleven years of age; she never remarried. From that time on, this remarkable woman raised George and his younger sister and his three younger brothers alone.
Amusing anecdotes, and even harsh criticisms, surround Mary. She certainly seems to have been a quiet and austere woman, as evidenced by his little vignette from one of the Marquis de Lafayette’s visits to her house in Fredericksburg:
As far as record shows and tradition verifies, Madam Washington’s feelings to Lafayette were most cordial. She would take him into her chamber which was the conventional sitting room for ladies of her day. She offered him ginger cakes from the cupboard which still stands and brewed him a julep with her own hands.
In the midst of their talk one day, she seemed to remember her unwonted levity, and suddenly exclaimed, “Marquis, you see a very old woman!” But the marquis with his French suavity endeavored to divert her, and in praise of her son, drew forth a smile and this quiet remark. “I am not surprised at what George has done, for he was always a good boy.”
No matter what slurs late writers have put upon Mary Washington, it is a fact that Lafayette was impressed with her granite nature, and remarked to friends at Mt Vernon later, “I have seen the only Roman matron alive at this day.”
We rightly honor George Washington as a founding father of our country. Surely we must likewise honor Mary Ball Washington as a founding mother. Perhaps most significantly, at her “Meditation Rocks,” along the Rappahanock River in Virginia, Mary Ball Washington prayed faithfully and regularly for her son and for our fledgling country.
Mary Ball Washington’s prayers surely included her children and their children, and even her future descendants—among whom I am numbered, by God’s grace. Many of her children and grandchildren were well-respected citizens and leaders, and more importantly, many were Christ-followers. And that eldest son, so indelibly influenced by her, whom we today celebrate, remains “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”