Topic: Religion

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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“Went to Church at Alexandria”: George Washington and Christ Church

Christ Church exteriorBy Neal Millikan, Assistant Editor
March 31, 2016

As the Washington Papers editor headquartered at Mount Vernon, I live and work in the community where George Washington spent his happiest times as an adult. Along with physically being on Washington’s estate during the week, I also serve as a docent at Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria on some weekends.1 Originally part of the Church of England (the Anglican Church), today Christ Church is part of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (formed after the American Revolution).

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“To Set the Captives Free”: Christianity and Slavery in George Washington’s Youth

Alicia K. Anderson, Research Editor
March 11, 2016

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”1

"Sanctuary at Sea's Edge." St. Joseph's Parish Church, Barbados. Photo by Kaspar Coward, used with permission.

“Sanctuary at Sea’s Edge.” St. Joseph’s Parish Church, Barbados. Photo by Kaspar Coward, used with permission. Link to source.

Perhaps the two most controversial aspects of modern Washington scholarship are the question of his Christian faith and the undeniable fact of his ownership of human beings. The first has been the object of heated argument for a century (when it is not overlooked entirely or de-emphasized by modern studies), though historians of the 19th century rarely questioned its centrality in George Washington’s life.2 Slavery, on the other hand, is the skeleton in the closet: a matter of fact that is difficult to accept and understand.3 I would argue that these dilemmas are a double-edged sword, forged by the paradoxical relationship between the two institutions of religion and slavery (and specifically between Christian doctrine and the practice of 18th-century Anglicanism). Moreover, their foundation in the spiritual realm—the salvation and liberty of souls, not just of bodies—further marginalizes their dynamic relationship as a topic of academic scrutiny.

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