About Becoming Lady Washington:
Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband… no matter what the dangerous future may hold.
Excerpt from Becoming Lady Washington
Mount Vernon – 1775
“Doll, would you please put together a tray of refreshments?” The kitchen bustled, with the servants hurrying to prepare the food necessary for meals later in the day.
“Yes, Madame. Would you want biscuits as well?” Doll wiped her hands on her apron, leaving smears of apple juice as evidence of her labors. “Something to complement this afternoon’s light dinner?”
“A fine idea. Thank you. And have Breechy bring a table out to the lawn overlooking the Potomac in a while.”
I turned and left the kitchen to return to my guests. The house teemed with visitors on the eve of the next Congress. I had been busy keeping everyone fed and entertained. Breakfast had been a crowded affair with several of my husband’s acquaintances stopping in, most of whom had continued on their way by late morning. George had gone outside to converse with Major Horatio Gates, now retired from service. Our good friend and neighbor, Bryan Fairfax, had also come to stay the night. I could only wonder who else might join us before the day ended.
I walked out the door and crossed the lawn to where the men enjoyed the early May sunshine while sitting on the bank overlooking the river. Breechy passed me, lugging a table out to the group. He was followed by Mulatto Jack, who laid a cheery cloth on it so Doll could set down the tray of chocolate and coffee as well as a plate of biscuits. I joined the group, resting my weary feet for a few minutes. Apparently, I’d interrupted a rather intense exchange.
“We must do something to end the siege of Boston by those New England troops. The city cannot last much longer.” Tension rolled off of Major Gates, belying his relaxed pose.
Major Gates, or rather Captain Gates back then, had known George since they fought together in Braddock’s defeat in ’55. He’d also fought in the French and Indian War before returning home to England to retire as a major. Three years ago he and his family decided to move to America, to their pretty farm, Traveler’s Rest, on Opequon Creek. While not far from our home, we didn’t often have the pleasure of his visits. With the recent skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, I was not surprised he made the effort to come speak with George on the situation.
“The matter is to be addressed at Congress next week.” George regarded each man in turn. “We must consider every angle, every option open to us before we land upon the right course of action.”
“Agreed. If any one can ensure all the possibilities have been identified it will be you, my friend.” Bryan puffed on a clay pipe, the smoke rising lazily on the gentle breeze.
“I fear we may end up fighting again.” Major Gates crossed his arms over his broad chest. “My retirement may be coming to an end.”
George nodded slowly, his eyes troubled. “We will work to avoid a full rebellion by striving for a tactful solution to the impasse.”
“Do you believe such a solution is possible?” Bryan asked.
“Providence will show us the right course to follow.” George gave me a look that made my pulse race with apprehension, and then turned back to his friends. “We must defend our rights against tyranny.”
Major Gates huffed and shook his head. “We may end up fighting against our old commander, General Thomas Gage. I never thought I’d be opposed to the commander of the British troops. It’s quite a daunting prospect.”
“Verily, but we shall do all in our power to succeed in our endeavors, including fighting against our friends who take up the king’s cause.”
As the sun set, the group moved inside to continue their dialogue until it was time to light the candles. Then as was our custom, we retired to our bedchamber for the night. The next day brought more visitors and saw Bryan depart for his home. Our friend and one of many Lees in the colony, Colonel Richard Henry Lee, and his brother Thomas, as well as Colonel Charles Carter arrived in the afternoon. Colonel Lee would accompany George on the morrow to Pennsylvania. As had been occurring all week, the men settled in to discuss the state of affairs with regard to the recent battles and the British response.
Colonel Lee was a long-time acquaintance who had served as a burgess along with George and had also been a delegate from Virginia for the first Congress, and again for the second. His sister, Anne, was married to George’s brother Augustine.
I didn’t know much about the other men, having infrequent contact with them. I did know that Colonel Carter served as a burgess representing Stafford County and so George had more occasions to be in his company than I had.
My role was not to know everything about everyone but to ensure everyone had what they desired. I also helped Billy with gathering George’s things together for the imminent trip, adding a few last minute items I thought he’d require. I’d be lonely for my husband while he was away, but I had to tend to matters at home. I hoped he would not stay away any longer than necessary, to come home to me in a matter of weeks unlike the last time when he was away nearly two months. Naturally, I did not share my feelings with any one else, knowing he was well aware of my preferences.
I stood on the front step saying my farewells to my husband the next day, on the fourth of May. “I shall miss you more than I could convey in my letters.”
“Write me often, my dear, as I will write you.” George held my upper arms for a moment, studying my face as if to fix each of my features in his memory.
Despite the servants passing by, I wanted nothing more than to be held in George’s strong embrace. We had no way of knowing the end result of the treasonous actions. When he’d return. Or, much worse thought, if. The king could order his hanging, after all, for participating in the dangerous rebellion. After he rode away on such a harrowing mission, he may never see his home, his family again. He must have felt the same. He flicked a glance at Billy, who moved to stand in front of us, facing the carriage-way.
George pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me, and holding me tight. My cheek pressed against his coat, the beat of his heart reassuring in my ear. I clung to him. I wished he’d never let go, that he not leave. But my wish remained pure fancy. He’d been called to duty, a summons he heard and could never deny.
“I will be home at the earliest possible hour.” He pulled far enough away to clasp our hands together between us, allowing him to study my face a few moments more. “Never doubt my love and my desire to be with you here.”
I cried, hot tears of pride and fear, as George departed with his companion, heading to Philadelphia in our family coach. Traveling across the country remained a dangerous endeavor despite the progress within the colonies. George’s cousin, Lund, had moved to Mount Vernon in order to supervise the workmen and, to my mind, generally make a nuisance of himself. He seemed to feel I should answer to him, but I would not tolerate such a situation. I had run the household for fifteen years without major lapses or inconveniences and I’d continue to do so. George relied upon my judgement and good sense. The younger man would have to learn his place.
Award-winning author Betty Bolté is known for authentic and accurately researched historical fiction with heart and supernatural romance novels. A lifetime reader and writer, she’s worked as a secretary, freelance word processor, technical writer/editor, and author. She’s been published in essays, newspaper articles/columns, magazine articles, and nonfiction books but now enjoys crafting entertaining and informative fiction, especially stories that bring American history to life. She earned a Master’s Degree in English in 2008, emphasizing the study of literature and storytelling, and has judged numerous writing contests for both fiction and nonfiction. She lives in northern Alabama with her loving husband of more than 30 years. Her cat, Calliope, serves as her muse and writing partner, and her dog, Zola, makes sure she goes outside frequently. Get to know her at www.bettybolte.com.
Becoming Lady Washington is available today on