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Did George Washington commit adultery?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: March 21, 2013 
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Hello Mr. History,

Despite the upcoming NBC or ABC or whatever channel's expose' on President Washington that will purportedly paint him as "deeply flawed" and an "adulterer," is there any real evidence to support this that you are aware of? It appears to be conjecture rooted in circumstantial evidence of unrequited feelings toward another woman previous to his marriage to Gracie. Wait … that's George Burns.

I am of an understanding that all accounts of Washington by those who knew him best refute unequivocally any such nonsense.

What say you?

Thank you.

Brian Rood

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Rood,

Young George Washington became friends with William George and Mary (née Cary) Fairfax when he was just starting his social climbing from an unrefined country boy to a country squire. His correspondence with Sally reveals that he was, in fact, smitten with her, but a letter during the Forbes campaign includes a confession that he is aware of how impossible such a love could be. They also show, however, that he acquired a lot of knowledge and refinement in the course of knowing the more established Fairfaxes, and the 1758 letter shows Lt. Col. Washington to be well past the country bumpkin his earlier letters made him seem in comparison. That his affection remained platonic is also evidenced in the fact that the Fairfaxes were the most frequent visitors to Mount Vernon after he'd married Mary Custis, until 1773, when they sailed to England and were unable to return after the Revolutionary War due to William George Fairfax's loyalist stand. He died in 1787, and Sally never remarried, dying in 1811 at age 81.

Fond of one another as the two seem to have been, soaping things up with rolls in the hay impress me as taking too many liberties with evidence that suggests otherwise.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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