Topic: Caitlin Conley

Faith and Family: Martha Washington’s Bibles

by Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
November 17, 2016

“Thank god we are all tolerable well,” Martha Washington wrote in missive after missive. She worried in nearly every letter—was anyone ill? How were her friends doing? When were they going to come and visit?

Martha persistently asked about her loved ones because she kept losing them, one by one. Her son, Jacky, wrote to her after his little sister died: “I am confident she enjoys that Bliss prepar’d only for the Good & virtuous, let these considerations, My dear Mother have their due weight with you…”1 Martha heard variations on this sentiment her entire life. She heard it when her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, died; when each of her children passed away; and the times when she lost her parents and siblings. Hundreds of mourners wrote her after she watched George go to the grave.

No one knew better than Martha that life was fragile. And so, nothing was more important to her than investing in her family and in her religion.2

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Martha Washington, Dr. Frankenstein, and the Empty Tomb

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
August 10, 2016

It was a dark and snowy night, and George Washington’s stiff body lay frozen in Mount Vernon’s drawing room.

Three desperate doctors had tried and failed to save him. They blistered his legs, prescribed emetics,1 applied poultices to his swollen throat, and bled him almost dry.2 Martha Washington watched, unweeping yet frightened by the amount of blood pouring from her beloved husband of more than 40 years.

The night had worn on.

Martha, sitting at the foot of her partner’s bed, saw George’s quiet become quieter. “Is he gone?” she asked. George’s secretary (and Martha’s friend) Tobias Lear couldn’t speak. He held up his hand in assent. Martha said simply, “‘Tis well. All is now over I shall soon follow him! I have no more trials to pass through!”3

She was wrong.

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Photo taken by Caitlin Conley.

Impressions of Martha Washington: A Visit to New Kent County

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
May 12, 2016

Photo taken by Caitlin Conley.

Historical marker for New Kent County, Virginia.

Sometimes I’ll go stand in front of our shelves of Martha Washington documents and give them a calculating look-over. Each decade has its own shelf, from the 1750s to the 1800s. The 1790s and 1800s bulge with the most envelopes, and get a contented nod. The 1750s get a narrow look because we don’t yet have anything earlier than 1757. That’s 27 years of Martha’s life that have escaped, for the most part, from the documentary record.

I yearn to know more about her younger life, about her relationship with her first husband, about her family, about her home, about what her favorite dresses were, even.1 Who was this girl, Patsy Dandridge, before she became the wealthy Martha Custis, before she was thrown into the spotlight as Martha Washington? Alas, I’m forced to settle for getting only glimpses of her, when I can get them.

So I was excited to visit New Kent County, Virginia, with our Martha team. I wanted to walk the land she grew up on, to see her Pamunkey River, and to wander about the foundations of her family homes.

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The Battle for Martha Washington’s Will

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
March 1, 2016

For the past few months, I’ve been searching for Martha Washington documents that have been printed or referred to in newspapers. So far as I have seen, only once in the years between her life and the present day has there been a press furor over Martha. The key players included a Civil War brigadier general, finance giant J. P. Morgan, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the state of Virginia, and the United States Supreme Court. The time frame: the Civil War and World War I.

The object of contention? Martha’s will.

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To Make a Great Cake

From Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons. Link to source.

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
November 24, 2015

Martha Washington’s “Great Cake” recipe is a sweet document, written in a careful hand by her granddaughter on a piece of folded scrap paper. Its instructions are incredible to the 21st century eye. It asks for forty eggs, four pounds each of sugar and butter, five pounds of fruit and flour, a pint of wine, an ounce of nutmeg and mace, and plenty of French brandy.

I knew that I had to try and make it.
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George’s Farm Animals in the Classroom

By Caitlin Conley
April 24, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

We recently produced a series of short, educational videos called “George’s Farm Animals,” which directly feature GW’s documents. Even though the videos focused in turn on his cattle, sheep, hogs, and mules, the documents concerning these animals also show his daily life at Mount Vernon, the importance of agriculture in the United States, his network of foreign connections, and even a glimpse of his elusive personal side. We hoped that educators would find them useful in classrooms, and that kids would enjoy learning about George and his monumental achievements from the perspective of his daily home life.

Emily Marrs is a public educator who teaches second grade at Foothills Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She generously agreed to show “George Washington’s Black Cattle,” featuring George’s cows, to her second graders and to tell us if they found it interesting. Here are the comments they gave her:

AM class

What was your favorite part of the video?

-Walking into the manure

-Liked learning about George Washington

-Everything about the manure!

-Hearing the letters that he wrote

-Seeing the animals

-The music was nice and felt calm

-That the girl had a coat like mine! (one of my girls has a coat like yours!)

-That it was on a farm


What is something new that you learned from the video?

-That he liked cattle

-That he had a thousand animals on his farm

-Manure was gold!

-He had five farms

-He liked animals

-He was also a farmer and that he had so many different jobs!

-He named his cattle

-His farm was 8 thousand acres

-He got food from his cattle

-His cattle worked on the farm

-That people now can read all the letters and diary pages that he wrote so long ago


PM class

What was your favorite part of the video?

-The girl almost stepping in manure

-Told us more about what George liked

-That we got to see the hens!

-How the girl talked about manure

-They showed the actual letters that he wrote

-It was fun seeing real animals and the real farm that he had

-That a someone was reading his real letters out loud to us


What is something new that you learned from the video?

-He hired farm hands to help him with the animals, so he must have had a lot!

-That he was a farmer

-That manure was so important

-That he had three different jobs!

-That manure was used for fertilizer

-That he had five farms

-That he had over a thousand animals

-All the acres he had

-That he would plow

-That he liked experimenting

-That he owned cattle

-Surprising that his favorite job was farming


Emily herself says:

“As a public educator I am always looking for new ways to engage my students in the classroom. That is why I was so excited when I discovered the “George’s Farm Animals” series. The short videos were both engaging and educational, and were integrated in effortlessly with our Famous American’s unit and our President’s Day activities. My class really enjoyed learning about a different aspect of George Washington and his love for his animals, a topic that isn’t generally focused on in basic elementary text books and curriculum. I have shared the YouTube links with fellow educators who were also highly pleased with the quality and the content that the videos provide. I have shown three of the animal series videos to support several different lessons in my class, and I am eager to see what content they are producing next!”

Thank you Emily–we’re excited too!

If you have a story of how you have used the videos, please let us know!


New Video! George Washington’s Royal Gift

By Caitlin Conley
March 10, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

We’re excited to bring you the fourth episode of “George’s Farm Animals!” This video features the remarkable story of Royal Gift, a prized Spanish jack sent to George by the King of Spain, Charles III (1716-1788).

Mule plow harnessGeorge had been trying to procure a Spanish donkey for quite some time. Through his research on the new methods of agriculture and his own experiments, he had determined that mules were harder and cheaper workers than horses. He wrote to Arthur Young, the famous British agriculturalist who popularized new agricultural techniques, about his hopes for the future of American farming.

Virginia had excellent horses, including pure bloodlines of Arabians and Thoroughbreds, but the donkeys and mules in the colonies were not of the same high quality. Finding a quality jack to breed with a mare in order to have strong mules meant, for George, importing one from Spain. Thought the best in the world, the donkeys were difficult for foreigners to procure because the permission of the King of Spain was required to buy one–even after gaining permission, the cost of importing one was enormous.

George had made connections with members of the Spanish court during the Revolutionary War and attempted to use them to procure his jack. Don Juan de Miralles, a Cuban Merchant, slave trader, and agent of the King of Spain during the war, had promised a jack to George, but passed away in 1780, after visiting George’s encampment at Morristown. After several more attempts, George had nearly given up on the prospect because of the expense of the animals.

However, George’s networking finally paid off. His contact Richard Harrison (d.1795), consul for the United States in Cadiz, asked William Carmichael (1738-1795), the U.S. chargé d’affaires at the Spanish court, to help him with getting George a jack. Carmichael then asked the Spanish foreign minister, José Monino y Redondonde, Conde de Floridablanca (1728-1808), for the favor, and Floridablanca at last procured King Charles’s permission. 

George was immensely excited about his jack’s arrival and wrote careful instructions for how the jack was to be treated on his journey from Gloucester, to Boston, to Mount Vernon. John Fairfax (d.1843), a young overseer at Mount Vernon, completed his mission successfully, and arrived with the jack and his Spanish keepers in December 1784. When his jack arrived safely from long, long trek from Spain, George was eager to begin breeding mules right away.

He hadn’t counted on the jack’s reluctance to perform this duty; in several instances, George was forced to offer the services of his Arabian stallion Magnolia to people who had already paid for their mares to go to Royal Gift. His customers didn’t seem unhappy with the alternative of the stallion, who was descended from one of the American “foundation mares,” Selima, a famously successful racehorse. George had gone through too much trouble to get Royal Gift to give up on his mules, though, and at last managed to excite the jack’s desires by letting him catch sight of female donkeys, or jennies, and then substituting them for a mare at the last moment.

There were mules and jacks in the colonies before Royal Gift came along, of course, but George improved and popularized his breed of mule and did much to increase their presence in the United States. If you’re still curious about Royal Gift, Mary Wigge recently wrote a blog post on her own project featuring his journeys.

Correspondence quoted from in the video:

George Washington to Arthur Young, 4 December 1788

William Carmichael to George Washington, 3 December 1784

José Monino y Redondonde, conde de Floridablanca to William Carmichael, 24 November 1784

George Washington to John Fairfax, 26 October 1785

George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, 10 May, 1786

Watch this video, as well as the rest of the videos in “George’s Farm Animals,” on our video page.


We had a lot of help with making these videos happen; thank you to you all!

Mule Historian Deb Kidwell was an enormous help to us and kindly shared some of her extensive research on Royal Gift from her upcoming book. She helped us with preparing the script, navigating the many myths surrounding Royal Gift, and finding images to feature.

Mary Thompson’s essays on George Washington’s animals, many of which appear in the Mount Vernon digital encyclopedia, were also extremely helpful in preparing the scripts for all the videos on the series.

Mary Wigge helped us navigate the financial papers concerning Royal Gift, and found the advertisement for his services in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser. Thank you!

Thank you to Tim and Melissa Branning for allowing us to film their donkey, J.J., Katie Erhler, for letting us film her miniature donkey, the Al Kaly Shrine for the footage of their mules, and Shari Conley for helping us with filming.

We’re very grateful to everyone who lent their voices to reading Washington’s documents, and to Eva Lucy Alvarado and Spencer Park, for volunteering their time and talents to help us film.

Thank you to Claire Eager, Patrice Kyger, Caitlin Hamilton, and Marti Lupinettem for your helpful feedback on the filming and scripts. Thank you especially to Emily Marrs and her third grade class, who gave us invaluable comments on “George Washington’s Black Cattle.”

Finally, thank you again to Mount Vernon for letting us film all of their beautiful animals and letting us have George’s home setting as the backdrop for our narration.


“George Washington Day-by-Day” Project Featured by Jefferson Trust

By Caitlin Conley
February 21, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

You may have heard about the exciting new project that began at The Papers of George Washington just this year. Associate Editor William Ferraro received a grant from the Jefferson Trust to create an online database of what Washington did every single day from his birth to his death. Several teams of talented undergraduate students are now working hard to write, proofread, and fact-check concise entries, to improve workflow, and to design the website. In writing these entries, Washington’s letters and other documents are of course invaluable, but other contemporary accounts and newspapers are also vital to consult, especially for his earlier years.

Only one other similar project, The Lincoln Log, has been undertaken. Interestingly, even though Washington lived long before Lincoln, we actually know more about what Washington did every day. Remember, there are at least 135,000 Washington documents! While The Papers of George Washington editions give Washington’s documents in chronological order, the “Day-by-Day” project will make his activities even more accessible by providing succinct summaries of what he was doing. This new tool will work as a complement to the edited Washington documents in many ways; for instance, it will streamline the process of deciding which documents to consult. Even on its own, the tool will offer an entirely different depth of perspective to Washington’s life.

The “Day-by-Day” project has already overcome many challenges and has steadily progressed towards its goals. The Jefferson Trust has been very pleased with how the project is living up to the Trust’s stated mission:

“The Jefferson Trust provides discretionary funding for trustee-selected projects that enhance the University of Virginia as a preeminent global institution of higher learning.  The Trustees solicit and evaluate applications, and provide grants and stewardship towards the execution of stated project goals.  The Trust measures the success of a grant by its ability to encourage creativity, innovation and leadership, and ultimately by whether it enhances the University and/or the student experience.”

The Trust honored the project’s successes so far by featuring it on the front page of the February 2015 newsletter:

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You can read the full newsletter article here. Congratulations to everyone working on the “Day-by-Day” project!



New Video! “George Washington’s Unnumbered Hogs”

By Caitlin Conley
February 17, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

Welcome to Part III of our series “George’s Farm Animals!” This video features GW’s hogs. Most of the references to his hogs in the Confederation and Retirement periods of his documents appear in his diaries, which are quite different in tone and character from his letters.
The diaries at first seem to be tedious, for they simply give the facts of what he did each day, rather than long reflections. In the introduction to the Papers of George Washington Diaries Series, Dorothy Twohig explains:

“…let us not be unfair to a man who had his own definition of a diary: “Where & How my Time is Spent.” The phrase runs the whole record through. He accounts for his time because, like his lands, his time is a usable resource. It can be tallied and its usefulness appraised. Perhaps it was more than mere convenience that caused Washington to set down his earliest diary entries in interleaved copies of an almanac, for an almanac, too, is an accounting of time.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 6.49.32 PM

Source: “The hog : a Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment of Swine” by William Youatt and W. C. L. Martin. New York: C.M. Saxon, 1856.

GW also carefully accounted for all of his animals in his diaries, listing them variously by name, number, and color. Hogs, because they were so difficult to keep penned, were the exception, for they ran free in the forest and could not be counted for much of the year. Read the full diary entries featured in the video here:

Diary Entry 15 November, 1785

Diary Entry 12 December, 1785

Diary Entry 13 December, 1785

In addition to the diaries, the video features a letter to David Stuart, a letter from Benjamin Fitzhugh Grymes, and a letter from Gouverneur Morris. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition gives identifying information for each of these correspondents.
Dr. David Stuart (1753-c.1814) had intimate connections with GW. He had married the widow of GW’s stepson, John Parke Custis, in 1783, and taken over Custis’s business affairs in 1785. GW often turned to him to translate the letters in French that he received.  In the latter part of the decade, Stuart was a member of the Virginia Assembly and the Virginia ratifying Convention. Read the full letter featured in the video here: George Washington to David Stuart, 6 December, 1786.
There is less biographical information available for Benjamin Fitzhugh Grymes (died c.1803), who evidently was a more casual acquaintance of GW’s. He was a planter who lived in King George County, Virginia. Read the full letter featured in the video here: Benjamin Fitzhugh Grymes to George Washington, 14 March, 1787.
Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), on the other hand, was a prominent figure in the founding era and a longtime supporter and friend of GW. During the Confederation period, he was assistant to Robert Morris, the superintendent of finance. After leaving that position in 1785, he continued to have business deals with Morris and acted as an agent for him in Europe. Read the full letter featured in the video here: Gouverneur Morris to George Washington, 12 November, 1788.
In illustrating these documents, we were lucky to be able to feature Mount Vernon’s Ossabaw Island Hogs. This heritage breed is descended from hogs brought to the New World by Spanish explorers, and so gives an idea of what the animals George raised would have looked like. For more information on the breed, see the Livestock Conservancy site, and for more information on Mount Vernon’s hogs, see the page on their animals.
Watch this video, and the previous two installments, on our video page. Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

New Video! “George Washington’s Woolly Tribe”

By Caitlin Conley
February 9, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

Welcome to Part II of our video series “George’s Farm Animals.” This time we explore how GW cared for his sheep, which were his favorite part of his stock. Perhaps he enjoyed them so much because they were incredibly useful; they not only brought in money with their wool, but provided mutton and helped fertilize his fields. When he returned home from the Revolutionary War, GW instituted a careful breeding program in order to increase the numbers and strength of his flocks. When he had to leave again to assume the presidency, unfortunately the quality of his stock suffered, as it had during his absence for the war.


First edition title page of Arthur Young’s published correspondence with George Washington

He corresponded with noted agricultural experts of the day on all topics related to agriculture. In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts for me in doing research for this series was reading the correspondence between Arthur Young and GW. Young was fascinated by all aspects of American agriculture, and George wrote him long letters that described the landscape of Virginia, his frustrations with his fellow farmers, and his hopes for the future of American agriculture. Throughout this correspondence, George voiced particularly strong opinions about the importance of raising sheep.

The video features a letter to Henry Dorsey Gough, letters to and from Arthur Young, and a letter to James Athill. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition gives the following biographical information for each.

Henry Dorsey Gough (c.1745-1808) was a merchant and land speculator who lived in Baltimore County, Virginia. He raised improved breeds of livestock at his country estate, Perry Hall. He was also the president of the Maryland Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1786. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to Harry Dorsey Gough, August 23, 1797.

Arthur Young (1741-1820) was a prominent English agriculturalist who became the leader of the movement to modernize agricultural methods in England. In 1784, he began editing, and writing most of, the annual periodical Annals of Agriculture, volumes of which he periodically sent to GW. He began a long correspondence with GW in 1786, exchanging seeds, plans, books, and more. Read the full text of the letters between Young and GW here: George Washington to Arthur Young, 4 December, 1788, George Washington to Arthur Young, 18-21 June, 1792, Arthur Young to George Washington, 17 January, 1793, and Arthur Young to George Washington, January 25, 1791.

GW identifies James Athill (unknown dates) as the Speaker of the Assembly of Antigua in his diary entry on Athill’s visit to Mount Vernon on November 13, 1797. Athill sent GW five sheep and exotic plants from Antigua as a gift; in return, GW sent a ram and five ewes. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to James Athill, 4 September, 1789.

Bringing these documents to life are Mount Vernon’s rare Hog Island sheep, a breed native to Virginia. We’re not sure what kind of sheep GW raised, but this breed is a close approximation to what sheep would have looked like during his time. For more information on Hog Island sheep, see Mount Vernon’s website and the Livestock Conservancy website.

Watch the video on our video page, and please let us know what you think! Stay tuned for Part III, coming next week!