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George Washington

George Washington

George Washington: Martha Washington

In December 1758, with the official end of the war still five years away, Washington abruptly resigned his commission. It's not completely clear exactly what caused him to withdraw. Diminishing hostilities in Virginia, along with his increasing frustration with the British, probably played a part in his resignation. But the most important factor was probably love. In 1757, when her wealthy husband suddenly died, Martha Custis became the most eligible widow in all of Virginia. She was still young, almost inconceivably rich, and a total babe to boot. As for Washington, all that we know for sure is that he had love on his mind. In September 1758, he wrote a letter to his best friend's wife, Sally Fairfax, which most historians read as a confession of his love for her. Unfortunately, we don't know how George felt about Martha when he first met her; after his death, Martha destroyed all of their correspondence. But his actions speak for themselves: he courted Martha assiduously and beat out a rival to win her hand. Within ten days of resigning his commission, the two were married.5

His marriage to Martha instantly catapulted him into the highest reaches of Virginia society. He was already a fairly well-known military man—indeed, it was his military reputation that gave him the status to court Martha—but he didn't really have any wealth of his own. That changed forever on 6 January 1759, his wedding day. Martha brought to their union almost 18,000 acres of prime farmland, along with the buildings, livestock, and slaves to cultivate it. Overnight, George Washington became one of the wealthiest men in Virginia.

Washington spent the next several years setting himself up as a gentleman farmer. He assumed the care of Martha's two children and provided her son Jacky with the education he wished he'd received himself. He used his wealth and reputation to win election to the Virginia House of Burgesses. He remodeled Mount Vernon, which he was then leasing from his brother's widow. And he promptly put himself into debt with his London agent by ordering a never-ending supply of luxury goods. It was like a dream come true; George Washington was living the life he'd been aspiring to since childhood.

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