Miller Center

George Washington: Family Life

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Martha Washington had two young children from her first marriage, Martha and John. She had no children with George Washington. Washington thought it his duty as a stepfather to be "generous and attentive," and expensive orders to London merchants during the childhoods of "Jacky" and "Patsy" reveal doting, caring parents.

Martha Washington was highly indulgent toward her children. Patsy had everything a teenage girl would want in that day—countless clothes, her own piano, a parrot, and dancing lessons. However, by her adolescence, it was plain that Patsy was epileptic. In 1773, the sixteen-year-old girl died during a seizure, and a distraught Martha promptly turned all her attention to her son. Jacky did poorly in school, grew up soft and lazy, and did little during the Revolution. He horrified friends by teaching his two-year-old child to sing obscene songs at adult parties. Against his stepfather's wishes, he visited the Continental army encampment shortly before the Battle of Yorktown. Such camps were rife with diseases, and Jacky soon died, again devastating his mother. His two young children were raised by the Washingtons at Mount Vernon.

The Washingtons lived in a rented house in New York at the beginning of the presidency. In early 1790, they moved into an executive mansion in Philadelphia when the nation's capital was relocated there. At first, the house was swamped with visitors and office seekers. The President's advisers finally instituted strict visiting hours. Once a week, Washington opened the doors of his home for public receptions and events that were open to any citizen meeting the dress code. Martha Washington hosted similar events for women.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Stephen Knott

Professor Knott is an Associate Professor in the National Security Decision Making Department at the United States Naval War College. Prior to joining the War College faculty, he served as project director for the Ronald Reagan and Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Projects at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. His writings include:

The Reagan Years (Facts on File, 2005)

Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (University Press of Kansas, 2002)