George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Burgess Ball, 25 August 1789

From Burgess Ball

[Fredericksburg, Va.] 25th of August 1789.

Dear sir,

I am sorry that it devolvs on me to communicate to you the loss of your Mother who departed this Life abt 3 oClock today.1 The Cause of her desolution (I believe) was the Cancer on her Breast, but for abt 15 days she has been deprived of her speech, and for the five last days she has remain’d in a Sleep.

She has lived a good Age &, I hope, is gone to a happier place than we live at present in. Mrs Lewis being in much trouble, and all her Sons absent, she requested I wd write to you on the Subject, and, as it may be necessary for you also to be acquainted with the last Will of the Old Lady, I herewith inclose you a Copy thereof2—Mrs Lewis wishes you to communicate your wishes & directions to her as early as convenient.3 With my best respects to Mrs Washington, I am, wth great Esteem Dr sir, Yr mo: obt servt

B. Ball

Excuse Incorrectness as the Mail is abt to be closed.


Burgess Ball (1749–1800) originally lived in Lancaster County, served in several Virginia regiments during the Revolution, and ended the war as a lieutenant colonel. After the war he lived for a time in Spotsylvania County, moving in 1791 to Loudoun County. Ball was married to Frances Washington (1763–1815), the sister of George Augustine Washington.

2Among her other bequests to members of her family, Mary Ball Washington left GW “all my Lands on Accokeek Run in the County of Stafford, and also my Negroe Boy George. . . . Also my best Bed, Bedstead & Virginia Cloth Curtains (the same that stands in my best room) my Quilted blue & white Quilt & my best dressing Glass . . . . Lastly I nominate & appoint my said Son General George Washington Executor of this my Will—And as I have few or no Debts, I direct my Executor to give no Security—nor to appraise my Estate, but desire the same may be allotted to my Devisees with as little trouble & delay as may be—desireing their Acceptance thereof as all the Token I now have to give them of my Love for them” (20 May 1788, DLC:GW).

3See GW to Betty Lewis, 13 Sept. 1789. Upon the receipt of Ball’s letter GW ordered “mourning Cockades & Ribbon” for his household and official New York adopted the modified or American mourning prescribed by the Continental Congress in 1774—“black crape or ribbon on the arm or hat, for gentlemen, and a black ribbon and necklace for ladies” (CtY: Household Accounts, 15; Gazette of the United States [New York], 9 Sept. 1789; JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 1:78). For a short time formal levees were not held but by 21 Sept. the younger members of the presidential household were again attending the theater (CtY: Household Accounts, 16).

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