Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lorri Glover's "Founders as Fathers"

Lorri Glover is the John Francis Bannon Endowed Chair in the Department of History at Saint Louis University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries, and reported the following:
The cover of Founders as Fathers depicts a rare and idealized domestic scene from the revolutionary era: George Washington’s family. On page 99, readers learn the truth behind that image.

The beautifully-attired children standing beside George and Martha Washington are her grandchildren, his step-grandchildren. Martha Custis was the wealthiest young widow in Virginia and mother of two when she accepted the overtures of George Washington. He was ambitious, and her fortune and connections smoothed his entry into the highest echelons of society. They never had children of their own, either because of his infertility or impotence.

George Washington tried to be good stepfather, but Martha’s son, Jack Custis, thwarted him at every turn. Tutors the couple hired to properly educate Jack routinely pronounced him entitled and lazy. As a young man, Custis squandered every opportunity given him, abandoned his education, and married too young and against parental advice. During the Revolutionary War and despite his stepfather’s repeated pleas, Custis sold land for a song to cover his growing gambling addiction. In the closing days of the war, he desperately sought to share the glory. But he never saw action, caught camp fever, and died the same month Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Washington left the battlefield to sit at Custis’s deathbed. His was a pointless death that left an estate in chaos and four children under age six. Jack’s young widow kept the younger two and sent the older ones to be raised by the most famous couple in America. Washy and Nelly Custis are the children in the family portrait.

The truth behind the painting gets to the heart of Founders as Fathers. Too often we’ve etched the founders in amber; in statues and memorials they are literally rock-solid, larger than life. Scholarship on revolutionary leaders’ political, military, and intellectual roles typically ignores family. But that was not how the founders lived their lives. My book reveals that we cannot fully understand the revolutionary generation or the country they forged without going home with them and exploring the intimate parts of their lives. We must meet these founders as fathers.
Learn more about the book and author at Lorri Glover's website.

--Marshal Zeringue