Sally Fairfax

Sally Fairfax

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Sally Fairfax'
Start a new discussion about 'Sally Fairfax'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Sally Cary Fairfax was the wife of George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax was a planter and member of the landed gentry of late colonial Virginia. He was a contemporary and good friend of George Washington, and made opportunities for him through his powerful family....

 (1729–1787), a prominent member of the landed gentry
Landed gentry
Landed gentry is a traditional British social class, consisting of land owners who could live entirely off rental income. Often they worked only in an administrative capacity looking after the management of their own lands....

 of late colonial Virginia. As such, she was mistress
Mistress (form of address)
Mistress is an old form of address for a woman. It implies "lady of the house", especially a woman who is head of a household.An example is Mistress Quickly in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. The title did not necessarily distinguish between married and unmarried women.The title Mrs. is...

 of the Virginia plantation
Plantation economy
A plantation economy is an economy which is based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few staple products grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income...

 and estate
Estate (house)
An estate comprises the houses and outbuildings and supporting farmland and woods that surround the gardens and grounds of a very large property, such as a country house or mansion. It is the modern term for a manor, but lacks the latter's now abolished jurisdictional authority...

 of Belvoir
Belvoir (plantation)
Belvoir was the historic plantation and estate of colonial Virginia's prominent William Fairfax family. It was situated on the west bank of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia at the present site of Fort Belvoir. The main house — called Belvoir Manor or Belvoir Mansion — burnt in 1783...

. She is well-remembered for being the woman George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 was apparently in love with just before his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis
Martha Washington
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was the wife of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States...

.

Family, early life and marriage


Sally Cary, as she was born, came from one of Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

's oldest and wealthiest families. Her forefather, Miles Cary of Bristol
Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, first came to America in the mid-17th century and established himself as a Virginian nobleman. Colonel Wilson Cary, Sally’s father and a member of the House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America. The House was established by the Virginia Company, who created the body as part of an effort to encourage English craftsmen to settle in North America...

, inherited one of Virginia’s largest fortunes and the family estate, Ceelys on the James
Ceelys on the James
Ceelys on the James was a plantation on the James River in Virginia, built in 1706 by Colonel William Wilson.Wilson's daughter, Mary, married Colonel Miles Cary of Richneck Plantation...

. Little is known about his wife and Sally’s mother, Sarah, on account of an 1826 fire that destroyed many of the family’s records. Out of Colonel Cary’s four daughters, the eldest Sally was the most sought-after and a grande belle in Virginian society. Although she had many suitors, George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax was a planter and member of the landed gentry of late colonial Virginia. He was a contemporary and good friend of George Washington, and made opportunities for him through his powerful family....

 eventually won Sally’s favor, and in records found by Wilson Miles Cary, a writer and family historian, their marriage was announced in The Virginia Gazette
The Virginia Gazette
The Virginia Gazette is the local newspaper of Williamsburg, Virginia. Established in 1930, it is named for the historical Virginia Gazette published between 1736 and 1780. It is published twice a week in the broadsheet format.-Historical papers:...

in December of 1748. After their marriage, Sally and George William moved into the Belvoir
Belvoir (plantation)
Belvoir was the historic plantation and estate of colonial Virginia's prominent William Fairfax family. It was situated on the west bank of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia at the present site of Fort Belvoir. The main house — called Belvoir Manor or Belvoir Mansion — burnt in 1783...

 estate that had been established in the early 1740s, by his father Col. William Fairfax
William Fairfax
William Fairfax was a political appointee of the English Crown and a politician: he was Collector of Customs in Barbados, and Chief Justice and governor of the Bahamas; he served as Customs agent in Marblehead, Massachusetts before being reassigned to the Virginia colony. There he was elected to...

.

The Fairfax family
Lord Fairfax of Cameron
thumb|Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of CameronLord Fairfax of Cameron is a title in the Peerage of Scotland. Despite holding a Scottish peerage, the Lords Fairfax of Cameron are members of an ancient Yorkshire family, of which the Fairfax Baronets of The Holmes are members of another branch...

, as the Carys, was a living remnant of European feudalism and English aristocracy. Fairfax family members generally held the reins of social and political power in Virginia.

Relationship with George Washington


George William’s sister, Anne Fairfax, married Lawrence Washington
Lawrence Washington (1718-1752)
Lawrence Washington was a soldier and prominent landowner in colonial Virginia. As a founding member of the Ohio Company of Virginia, and a member of the colonial legislature representing Fairfax County, he was chiefly responsible for securing the establishment of the town of Alexandria, Virginia...

 soon after her brother had wed. A young George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, Lawrence’s half-brother, began to visit Belvoir frequently. Wishing to advance his brother’s fortunes, Lawrence introduced George to George William. A friendship grew between the two men, despite the fact that George William was considerably older. Yet a relationship also blossomed between Sally Fairfax and George Washington. Sally had been well-educated under the Colonel’s supervision, and as a young man with limited education and a low rung on the social ladder, Washington was impressed with this attractive, popular, and intelligent woman—arguably held her as the paradigm of womanhood. She was a key inspiration for the future President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 to elevate himself to a higher social, cultural, and intellectual sphere, which is clear in the increasing level of refinement in his letters to her.

While serving in the Forbes campaign in September of 1758, Washington wrote a particularly famous letter to Sally, telling her that “Tis true, I profess myself a Votary to Love…I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand tender passages that I wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive them – but experience alas! Sadly reminds me how Impossible this is.” In another letter, he makes an allusion to the literary characters Juba
Juba II
Juba II or Juba II of Numidia was a king of Numidia and then later moved to Mauretania. His first wife was Cleopatra Selene II, daughter to Greek Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Roman triumvir Mark Antony.-Early life:Juba II was a prince of Berber descent from North Africa...

, prince of Numidia, who loves Cato's daughter Marcia
Marcia
Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias, better known as Marcia, was the mistress and one of the assassins of 2nd century AD Roman Emperor Commodus from 182–93...

, in the play Cato
Cato the Younger
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis , commonly known as Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather , was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy...

, by Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was a man of letters, eldest son of Lancelot Addison...

. This ambiguity makes the question of the relationship’s consummation frustrating to historians, and the answer is still unknown. (Because actual textual evidence of an affair between Sally Fairfax and George Washington is slim, there are skeptics who doubt the truth in all the gossip. Yet the letters prove that a strong relationship between the two most surely existed.)

Despite any ardor that Sally and young Washington may have shared, the forbidden temptation that Sally represented could not fit into the lofty standards that Washington had established for himself. All evidence points that they were on their best behavior. Washington married the wealthy Martha Dandridge Custis, initially perhaps only to heighten his social status, but their marriage appears to have been strong. Sally and George William were, in fact, the most frequent visitors to Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon (plantation)
Mount Vernon, located near Alexandria, Virginia, was the plantation home of the first President of the United States, George Washington. The mansion is built of wood in neoclassical Georgian architectural style, and the estate is located on the banks of the Potomac River.Mount Vernon was designated...

, implying that any inkling the spouses had of previous indiscretions, (or flirtation) were politely ignored.

Later years


The happy foursome separated in 1773 when the Fairfaxes repaired to England to attend to family matters. Thereafter, George William’s fortunes were crushed. As a Loyalist
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

, he had every intention of returning to America after the 1776 insurrection
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 was over, but the success of the Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

prevented either of them from ever returning. He died in 1787 and Sally then lived alone until her death in 1811.

There were signs of regret on Sally’s part in the end. She wrote to her sister-in-law in 1788: “I know now that the worthy man is to be preferred to the high-born who has not merit to recommend him…when we enquire into the family of these mighty men we find them the very lowest of people.” Washington, too, confesses to Sally in a letter that she was the passion of his youth and told her that he had: “never been able to eradicate from my mind those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company.”