Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother

Pre-Order Craig’s new book!
Release Date: December 3, 2019



Just in time for Christmas, New York Times Best Selling Author, Craig Shirley,  has penned an extraordinary new book about the Mother of our Founding Father, Mary Ball Washington.



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“Shirley (Reagan Rising) acknowledges that this biography is as much a work of historiography as it is history. The life of Mary Ball Washington (1707–89) is relatively unknown, an amalgam of myth, legend, and oral tradition. Spending most of her days in Fredericksburg, VA, Washington was a devout widow who raised six children while tending to the family farm. George, her eldest son, always addressed her as “Honored Madam,” terminology that is at the heart of any attempt to unravel their complex relationship. What is most fascinating about her life and legacy is the way in which she has been perceived throughout history, alternately presented as a heroic mother of a prominent leader or a demanding mother who aimed to rein in her rebellious son. There is a lot of material here for a dual-biography of the pair, although that is not Shirley’s intent. He does a masterly job of sorting through these contradictions, using a rich array of primary sources to tell Mary’s story against the backdrop of Colonial America, slavery, and the marriage, child-rearing, and religious customs of the time. VERDICT For general readers of American history, especially those interested in the revolutionary period.”
Library Journal for “Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother.”

“Honored Madam,” the “Rose of Epping Forest,” Mrs. Washington, and the mother of George Washington, all described Mary Ball Washington. Shirley (Reagan Rising, 2017) expertly takes on the myths, legends, and plain falsities in the historical record and the hagiography of Washington, working from primary sources that survived over 230 years after her death. Colonial society required men and women to fill specific roles in both public and private spaces, which Washington, a traditionalist unlike her son, accepted. Yet she broke the norms after losing nearly everyone close to her, including her husband, raising her six children on her own while overseeing their large farm. Shirley excels at showing the interrelatedness between the Old World and the New, and how this contrast played out between Washington and her eldest son, George, revealing exactly who Washington was, and how, as a result of her personality and lack of personal boundaries even as she sought social and religious propriety, she was able to raise a son who became the fledgling and radical democracy’s first president. Full of groundbreaking analysis and fresh perspectives, Shirley’s biography provides a sharp and fully dimensional view of the singular Mary Ball Washington.
A review from Booklist of “Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother.”

Media commentator Shirley (Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative, 2017, etc.) confronts the problem faced by all of Mary Ball Washington’s biographers: lack of material.”Much of her life was a mystery,” writes the author, leaving him to speculate about her personality, appearance, beliefs, and especially her relationship with her eldest son, George. “Was she part helicopter mother, part ‘Mommie Dearest,’ ” he asks, using popular, if anachronistic, allusions, “or was she a saint and a joy for George? Historians down through the years have portrayed her as both.” Shirley looks to several earlier historians for their conclusions, making his biography “just as much a historiography of Mary Washington as it is a history.” Those historians, though, also worked with scant evidence, and their portraits were shaped by their own assumptions about how colonial women must have, or should have, behaved as wives, mothers, and citizens. Hagiographical portraits depicted Mary as “the grandmother and redeemer of America” while one of Washington’s early biographers portrayed Mary as an ardent Loyalist, fiercely opposed to the revolution. Shirley finds a sympathetic reading in Nancy Byrd Turner’s The Mother of Washington (1930), to which he frequently refers. He dismisses Marion Harland’s Story of Mary Washington, published in 1893, as being so hagiographical that it “glossed over” the death of Mary’s infant daughter “as if it was a distraction to the grand character of Mary and her relationship to her children.” Shirley thinks that Mary “must have been beside herself” because of the “inseparable and deeply unique connection between mother and daughter.” However, neither historian knows for sure. Throughout, Shirley guesses what Mary probably, might have, or perhaps felt. Although he draws on archival material from the papers of George Washington, the resources of the Mary Ball Washington House, and many biographies of Washington, at best, he offers more about Mary’s times—likely familiar to readers of Colonial history—than details of her life.A well-meaning but frustrated attempt to pierce the veil of history.
Kirkus Review

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