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Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty (History) Hardcover – 18 Apr 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (18 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471158925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471158929
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.4 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,354,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Helen Bryan was born in Virginia, grew up in Tennessee, graduated from Barnard College and since 1971 has lived in London where she qualified as a barrister and is a member of the Inner Temple.She has written a layman's guide to the English planning system "Planning Applications and Appeals" and a biography "Martha Washington First Lady of Liberty" which was awarded a Citation of Merit by the Colonial Dames of America. She has written a novel, a World War II romantic saga " War Brides" inspired by the stories and reminiscences of the wartime generation, especially those of women who joined Churchill's Special Operations Executive, and family holidays in a small East Sussex village where, according to local legend, an old smugglers' tunnel led from beneath a grave in the churchyard to the seacoast, obviously waiting for a story to be built around it.

Her next novel is another romantic saga, set in sixteenth century Spain and Spanish America

Product Description

Review

"...tells Martha′s story with a seductive mix of relish, insight and scholarship..." (Camden New Journal, 15 August 2002)

"Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was at the center of attention her whole life; mistress of large plantations, married to two of the most influential and wealthy Virginians, and as Lady Washington, the General′s wife and First Lady. Unfortunately, with only a few of her actual letters extant, much of what we know about Martha Washington is from inference. Bryan mines the whole spectrum of the social, economic, and political world in which Martha moved, and even analyzes a few skeletons in the closet, not the least being the mysterious death of Martha′s brother–in–law, Mulatto Jack, a slave who had been designated to inherit the fortune that went to Martha′s first husband. The book is one of the best treatments anywhere of the early Virginia aristocracy; indeed, this comes in for so much emphasis that one half of the book covers the period before 1775. The author touches lightly on Martha′s sojourns with her husband during the military campaigns and as First Lady. Nevertheless, this book is a singular accomplishment, beautifully written and most enlightening about both Martha and George. Recommended for general and academic collections. Copyright 2002 American Library Association"



"...tells Martha′s story with a seductive mix of relish, insight and scholarship..." (Camden New Journal, 15 August 2002)

From the Inside Flap

The privileged daughter of an established Tidewater family, a teenage bride to a rich plantation owner more than twice her age, and at twenty–six, a fabulously wealthy widow managing one of the largest land holdings in Virginia, Martha Dandridge Custis could have no inkling that the greatest drama of her life was still decades away.

Prepare to meet one of the best known and least understood figures of the American Revolution as you’ve never seen her before. Traditionally portrayed as an amiable hostess and the loyal companion of America’s greatest hero, Martha Washington emerges in this surprising biography as a complex, intelligent, fiercely capable woman who played a pivotal role in the founding of a nation.

This long overdue reappraisal of America’s first first lady explores how "the Widow Custis" met the challenges of running a huge plantation, examines her whirlwind courtship with the young George Washington, and reveals that the status he gained through their marriage was key to his appointment as commander of the Continental Army. Richly flavored with detailed descriptions of the realities of colonial life, Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty also recounts Martha’s ceaseless efforts to provide clothing and shelter for the army when the Continental Congress failed to do so.

Author Helen Bryan explores many rarely mentioned aspects of Martha’s life, including the mysterious death of her mulatto brother–in–law, her frantic search for an effective treatment for her daughter’s epilepsy, and her profound unhappiness during Washington’s presidency.

Supplemented with numerous letters and other communications, vivid portraits of the lives of slaves on Virginia plantations, and first–hand accounts of the glittering social life enjoyed by the elite, Martha Washington is must reading for anyone interested in the American Revolution, colonial life, and the true story of one of the most important and remarkable women in American history.

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Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, destined to become the best-known American woman of the eighteenth century, was born in provincial obscurity. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 April 2002
Format: Hardcover
"First Lady of Liberty" is a well-documented, yet easily readable, account of the life of Martha Washington and the cataclysmic times in which she lived. Martha emerges as a complex character, not just the one dimensional figure about which most Americans learn in their schools. Privately preferring a life at home with her extended family,she becomes an active participant in George Washington's military and political career, doing much to ensure his success.
Bryan's extensive research reads lightly. There is a wealth of new material about each of her husbands, her little known half-sister who was part-African, part-Cherokee, Martha's views on slave owning, and indiviual stories and dramas involving many of the people to whom she was closest. (Look, for example, for the mystery of Mulatto Jack and the story of the Dunbar suit.)
Bryan appears to be a Trans-Atlantic author with understanding of both the British and Colonial points of view. Readers of biography, Georgian history, American history, Black history, feminist history, and those who enjoy a good read will all come away fulfilled from reading this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 48 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
America's Own "War and Peace" 11 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Based on exhaustive research and much new information and filled with period detail, this book is a fascinating portrait of Martha Washington, her two husbands, her epileptic daughter and feckless son, her grandchildren, slaves, her part-African half-sister, her plantation homes, the winter camps of the Revolution and the first presidential mansions. At the same time it traces many of the complex social, political, and economic developments of the earliest years of Virginia Colony, from Jamestown until the revolution and beyond, highlighting the issues of slavery, trade with the British mother country and plantation life in the New World and links them with the growing political tensions which arose with the Stamp Acts and, eventually, the American Revolution. It provides superb insights into a turbulent period of American history, when thirteen English colonies in North America severed themselves from control by the English king and parliament and began the laborious process of establishing a new form of republican government with no precedents to guide them.
Bryan wears her scholarship lightly, however, cleverly weaving Martha's personal story through the issues and events of the times, quoting from letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts of the period as well as from the memoirs of Martha's Custis grandchildren, little-known anecdotes, and oral traditions. She examines the partnership of George and Martha Washington, America's first "power couple," making the interesting point that had Washington not married the widowed Martha Custis, he might never have become the leading military and political figure of his age. It highlights Martha's little-known contributions to the war effort which made her enormously popular with the long-suffering, ragged, and hungry soldiers of the Continental army, who cheered her as "Lady Washington" and called her a "gallant trooper".
It also examines Martha's invaluable role as the Nation's first official hostess, and the dilemmas she faced in the early days of George's presidency over how to give the two adored grandchildren she was raising a normal life in the presidential mansion and how the wife of the head of the new republic ought to dress, entertain, or receive visitors in a manner which conveyed the dignity of the fledgling country she represented yet which avoided the appearance of behaving in "queenly fashion".
Martha's unflagging support for her husband and her success in public life reflected well on him, and it is interesting that so important a role as Martha played at Washington's side has received so little public recognition. In keeping with one of the discrete obituaries written when Martha died two and a half years after George, Martha Washington has been forgotten in "the silence of respectful grief." Bryan's book, published to mark the 200th anniversary of Martha's death, finally sets the record straight.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A Gripping Tale of a Revolutionary Woman 11 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"First Lady of Liberty" is a well-documented, yet easily readable, account of the life of Martha Washington and the cataclysmic times in which she lived. Martha emerges as a complex character, not just the one dimensional figure about which most Americans learn in school. Privately preferring a life at home with her extended family,she becomes an active participant in George Washington's military and political career, doing much to ensure his success.
Bryan's extensive research reads lightly. There is a wealth of new material about each of her husbands, her little known half-sister who was part-African, part-Cherokee, Martha's views on slave owning, and indiviual stories and dramas involving many of the people to whom she was closest. (Look, for example, for the mystery of Mulatto Jack and the story of the Dunbar suit.)
Readers of biography, American history, Black history, feminist history, and those who enjoy a good read will all come away fulfilled from reading this book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
More than a biography! 9 Aug. 2003
By mamareadssomuch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book was a wonderful insight into America's "first" First Lady. Not only did the book delve into Martha's life, it painted a picture of the times in which she lived. I learned more about the period and slavery than I thought I would ~ very well written. My favorite part was learning more about her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis. Background is everything and most biographies lack it ~ this book doesn't. Read it and learn.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Highly compelling and thoughtful review 12 Mar. 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Bryan does for Martha Washington what David McCullogh did for John Adams. This compelling and thoroughly researched account brings Mrs. Washington to life and paints the social forces in operation during her time. It is only once we understand the context in which important historical figures exist that we can understand those figures as people.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Solid history, overall very well done 6 July 2010
By Bruce Higginbotham - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As I write this review, I cannnot help but note that all previous reviews are sharply divided. To my mind, the really negative reviews border on the malicious. There are flaws in any book, but count me among those who praise this work as well written history ..... detailed, clear and nourishing. I can see some basis for objection to certain statements by the author regarding slavery .... it could be called "correct" in a sense .... but most of it is well researched and quite persuasive to my way of thinking. There seems to be no balance in the negative reviews, they wish to cast this work ... and its author ..... into outer darkness. The, perhaps, unfortunate remark that George Washington was something of a "good old boy," when he was a younger man, has been magnified out of all proportion and is a trivial element in a substantial effort. I respect the author's scholarship and style. I learned a lot from this book and I recommend it without reservation.
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