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Threats To the Wife
Kidnapping. Espionage. Such were some of the rumored threats against Martha Washington’s security throughout the war. Year after year, as she followed the road of ...

Threats to the Wife

Kidnapping. Espionage. Such were some of the rumored threats against Martha Washington’s security throughout the war.

Year after year, as she followed the road of loyalty by joining her husband in his winter camp, Martha heard the whispers of plots to kidnap her or attempts to steal her mail for information. The worst part for Martha was detecting the truth. It was impossible to know if these threats were as real as a snake in the river grass or as imaginary as a ghost in the attic. She relied on her family and friends for information.

“I am sorry I have Nothing to inform you of, Every Thing being quiet (which is I think the best News) since is reported & sworn to by Two Deserters, that Dunmore is dead of the Flux (I wish it may be true),” Martha’s son Jack wrote to her in August 1776. He had heard that Lord Dunmore was dead.

Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, was at the center of kidnapping threats against Martha, which began in 1775. Before the war, the Washingtons and Dunmore had been on such friendly terms that they had shared a meal together. But Washington’s decision to lead the Continental Army made him a traitor to Dunmore. Thus, rumors that Dunmore planned to sail up the Potomac, ransack Mount Vernon, and capture Martha spread throughout Virginia.

Washington asked his cousin Lund to manage Mount Vernon in his absence. Although he wrote Lund that he could “hardly think that Lord Dunmore can act so low, so unmanly a part, as to think of seizing Mrs. Washington by way of revenge upon me,” Washington couldn’t take any chances. When the rumors reached their peak in the summer of 1775, Lund and others urged Martha to flee Mount Vernon. She did, but stayed away only a short time. She wasn’t going to let a governor-turned-pirate frighten her. The end of 1776 brought relief from the Dunmore kidnapping rumors. He didn’t die as Jack had heard, but instead had escaped to New York.

Martha also knew her correspondence could be used as intelligence if read by the wrong person. She usually limited her letters to known facts or family fare, such as the birth of Jack’s children. Sometimes she was a propagandist. In a letter to Mercy Otis Warren, she deftly veiled the miserable conditions faced by the army at Valley Forge in 1778.

“The General is in camped in what is called the great Valley on the Banks of the Schuykill officers and men are cheifly in Hutts, which they say is tolarable comfortable; the army are as healthy as can well be expected in general the General’s apartment is very small he has had a log cabben built to dine in which has made our quarter much more tolarable than they were first,” she wrote.

Martha Washington knew that kisses from the enemy could be fatal. But she didn’t let them keep her from living her life of loyalty to her family and friends. She simply was cautious.


Father, may I not let the bad news I hear in the media or other sources trap me in a state of fear. Give me discernment for trusting others.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

(Proverbs 27:6 KJV)

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