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A lesson from George and Martha on marriage

Martha and George Washington
Martha and George Washington

On July 4, 1776, Martha Washington had just turned 45 years old. I’ve always been a fan of our first president, but just learned that Martha and I share a birthday of June 2.

As the Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia, Martha was evacuating along with others from New York, the site of the next big battle of the Revolutionary War. The British armada just off shore numbered more than 400 ships and was the largest naval force ever seen in American waters. The Americans had just won the fight in Boston but this was an unprecedented escalation.

She had already buried her first husband and a daughter. No stranger to grief, she must have been concerned as she made her way home to Mount Vernon. Maybe you know how she felt during this season of life.

George and Martha were quite a pair. She was quite possibly the wealthiest widow in Virginia when they married. But at 5 feet tall, Martha’s style caught the eye of the 6’2” George. She enjoyed her jewelry and was married in a pair of purple silk shoes. Their love is evident in the letters between them. In later years, he wore a painted miniature locket of her and apparently had it on him when he died.

Just a year before, as he was being named the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, George wrote a letter dated June 23, 1775, from Philadelphia. He tells her he is headed to Boston. He includes, “I go fully trusting in providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve, and in full confidence of a happy meeting with you some time in the fall.” And, “I return an unalterable affection for you which neither time or distance can change.”

It’s a political statement to say that George Washington’s character was absolutely critical to the birth of our nation and the freedom we enjoy today. The shared experience of Christian faith and devotion to each other secured George and Martha in that foundation.

They had married in 1759 and had some years of peace together between the French and Indian wars and the Revolutionary War. He was a happily married man. Our first president enjoyed cards, hunting, fishing, dancing and theater, but it is interesting to note that once married he never again recorded in his diary attendance at a cock-fight.

In 1785 he wrote, “I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.”

George was circumspect with his private life but gave some advice about coupling.

“Neither directly nor indirectly have I ever said a syllable to Fanny or George upon the subject of their connection. But as their attachment to each other seems to have been early formed, warm and lasting, it bids fair to be happy: if therefore you have no objection, I think the sooner it is consummated the better.”

On this holiday, we remember the courage and moral fiber underpinning our celebrations.

Bruce Conn is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and works with individuals and couples. Contact him at or call 478-742-1464.