The Truth About George Washington's Single Mom

Mary Ball Washington, George Washington's mother, is often described very differently by historians. Not a lot of information is available regarding her life, and most of the stories about Mary were written by biographers who interpreted George's description of her.

Mary Ball was born sometime between 1707 and 1709 in Virginia to Mary Johnson and Joseph Ball. Mary lost both her parents at a young age; her father died when she was an infant and her mother died when she was 12 years old (via Mount Vernon.) After the death of her parents, Mary acquired three enslaved people, a horse and saddle, as well as two parcels of land. She was an independent and religious woman, which may have given attributed to her will and strength later in life.

When Mary was 22 years old, she married a wealthy 36-year-old widower, Augustine Washington, who had three children from his first marriage. According to Capital Gazette, the two owned a large plantation and, together, they had five children, with George Washington, who was born in 1732, being the eldest.

In 1743, Augustine died at the age of 49 years old. He left most of his properties to his sons from his first marriage, and Mary was allowed to reside at the Fredericksburg farm property but had to turn it over to George when he reached 21 years old.

Mary's life as a widower

Mary was only in her mid-30s when she became a widow, and most women that time would opt to remarry after losing their spouse. Mary, however, was unlike most women and chose to raise her five children on her own. According to The Conversation, being a single mother was tough for Mary, but she persevered and ensured that her children had proper education and clothing. Most of her late husband's properties and wealth were distributed among his elder children, and the younger children would come upon their inheritance when they reach the age of 21.

George Washington moved out of their home in the late 1740s. He wanted to join the British Army when he was 14 years old, but Mary wouldn't allow him. He then became a land surveyor but years later, would serve in the Virginia militia. Years passed and one by one, Mary's children went on to marry and live their own lives, as reported by History.

Mary's death

Mary and George didn't have the best relationship, but it was not the worst either. During the Revolution, Mary was experiencing financial difficulties just like most farm owners at the time. She would ask for financial help from George and in 1781, George penned a letter which read, "Before, I left Virginia, I answered all her calls for money; and since that period, have directed my Steward to do the same..." (via Mount Vernon.) In a separate letter, George told his mother to live with one of his siblings, but Mary refused and chose to live on her own at the Fredericksburg property.

As George Washington rose through the ranks in the army and led the Revolution, Mary rarely saw him. Washington, however, didn't fail to praise his mother in an address to the citizens of Fredericksburg that happened in 1784 after the revolution. He acknowledged his "revered Mother" and said that her "Maternal hand" was what led him to his manhood as his father died when he was young. (via National Archives.)

1789 would be the last time the mother and son would see each other. According to History, George visited his mother in Fredericksburg on his way to his presidential inauguration. Mary Ball Washington died in August 1789 due to breast cancer, just months after his eldest son became the first president of the United States.