Portrait of Betty Lewis, c. 1755-1757
Artist: Attributed to John Wollaston
Origin: Fredericksburg, Virginia
Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the Mount Vernon
Ladies' Association Betty Washington was born in 1733 to a gentry family at Pope's Creek in Westmoreland County, VA. Her parents were Augustine Washington and Mary Ball. Her older brother was George Washington (b. 1732) and she had 3 younger brothers, Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles. She also had two half brothers by her father's first marriage, Lawrence and Augustine Jr.
When Betty was 5 years old, the family moved to a 600-acre farm (now called Ferry Farm) across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Although in the colonial gentry class, the Washington family was not especially wealthy or prominent. After her father's death in 1743, life became difficult for Betty because of the family's financial situation. Betty inherited two slaves from her father:
- Mary daughter of Sue
- Betty daughter of Judy
At age 16, Betty married her second cousin, Fielding Lewis, a wealthy and prominent businessman in Fredericksburg. Her wealth and social status increased and she immediately became step-mother to 2 young children from Fielding's first marriage. Within a year, Betty gave birth to her first child, Fielding Jr., followed by 10 more children over a 20-year period. Only 6 of Betty's children survived to adulthood.
Upon her marriage, Betty moved into a large brick house in Fredericksburg where she and Fielding lived together for the next 25 years.
In 1775, the family moved into a new mansion (now called Kenmore) a short distance from the old house. Sadly, the family almost immediately entered a period of financial difficulty because of the Revolutionary War and, by 1781, Betty was a widow.
Betty remained at Kenmore for another 14 years although the property was inherited by Fielding's oldest son, John. She struggled financially and, at times, resorted to renting some of her slaves.
During the last two years of her life, Betty lived on a smaller farm about 12 miles south of Fredericksburg. In many ways, the property suited her more than Kenmore because it had better farm land and a mill that generated a small but steady income.
Betty died in 1797 at the age of 64 while visiting her daughter near Culpeper, VA, where she is buried. Read Betty's probate inventory.