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. In the eighteenth century, Bibles physically united religion and family. Families passed them down for generations, writing births, deaths, and marriages into their pages. Martha, who gave her life to serving God, family, and country, would have cherished her Bible. In fact, nineteenth- and twentieth-century newspaper articles imply that Martha owned more than one.
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).
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. 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).