The Fredericksburg region is famous for being the boyhood home of George Washington, but with Mother’s Day approaching, I think we should talk about another important resident of this area during the eighteenth century.

Mary Ball Washington found herself with five children to raise and a plantation to run at Ferry Farm when her husband, Augustine, died in 1743. Unlike many widows or her era, she never remarried.

Here are my tips for touring Fredericksburg through the eyes of Mary Washington.


Ferry Farm, the Washington family plantation where Mary raised her children, just broke ground on an ambitious project to re-create the family’s house and outbuildings, on sites uncovered through years of archaeological work. Ferry Farm is a great place to learn about the circumstances under which Mary Washington raised her children. With all that she had to deal with, she still took pains to keep up appearances as best she could. At Ferry Farm today you can see a mended punch bowl with a cherry pattern that shows some of Mary’s taste (and the pains she took to glue together the pieces of what must have been a cherished piece of serving-ware). You can also walk the grounds to see the site of the Washingtons’ home, and to enjoy views of the Rappahannock River, where a ferry across to Fredericksburg brought much activity by the Washingtons’ estate.


In 1750, Mary saw her only daughter to live to adulthood, Betty, married to Fielding Lewis, a successful Fredericksburg merchant who would go on to be a colonel and Commissary General of Munitions during the Revolutionary War. Betty and Fielding Lewis completed a grand Georgian home on the Lewis plantation in Fredericksburg in 1775. That house, now known as Kenmore, is preserved today on Washington Avenue in the city’s downtown. Kenmore is a beautiful place to spend a spring afternoon. There are immaculate gardens to stroll through and a peaceful nature trail meanders through the property. But there is much more to see here. Take the tour to learn about the Lewis’ contribution to the Revolution, view the intricate plaster ceilings Kenmore is famous for and see the ongoing and painstaking effort to refurnish the mansion in a way that helps tell this gripping story.


In 1772, George Washington bought his mother a home on Fredericksburg’s Charles Street, just a short walk from Betty’s home at Kenmore, where she would spend the last 17 years of her life. Mary Washington House was set to be torn apart and moved to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1889, when it was purchased and preserved by Preservation Virginia. In 2013, the house came under the local ownership of the Washington Heritage Museums. Today you can tour it to walk through both the decorative and kitchen gardens, see Mary’s original kitchen—a rare surviving 18th-century outbuilding—and shop for gifts related to gardening, tea and 18th-century decorative arts in the gift shop.


Mary Washington died on Aug. 25, 1789. She requested to be buried near one of her favorite places on the Lewis plantation, known as Meditation Rock, because it was said to be her favorite place to read, pray and meditate during her later years. Her burial site became a popular stopping place for visitors, and after earlier plans by others failed, a granite obelisk was dedicated in 1894 and still stands today as the Mary Washington Monument. It was the first American monument funded by women for a woman. It is a pleasant stop today off Washington Avenue. Stroll around its landscaped pathways to Meditation Rock behind it, which overlooks one of the most popular parks in Fredericksburg.

After a day of exploring, there’s nothing like a nice cold treat. This recipe is shared by the staff of the Washington Heritage Museums. Make it with your mom to complete your Mary Washington-themed Mother’s Day celebration. A “syllabub” is an English dessert thought to have evolved during the sixteenth century. This recipe can easily be made with the help of young children.

Lemon Syllabub


1 ½ cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons apple juice

juice and zest of one lemon

½ teaspoon vanilla

Place all ingredients into a large plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until it reaches a curdled, yet fluffy, consistency. Chill until ready to serve. Serve the same day.

Last Updated:
December 14, 2018