Dear George, Dear Mary: A Novel of George Washington's First Love

Dear George, Dear Mary: A Novel of George Washington's First Love

by Mary Calvi


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A novel about heiress Mary Philipse's relationship with George Washington, based on historical accounts, letters, and personal journals by nine-time New York Emmy Award-winning journalist Mary Calvi.

“Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore, contended that it cannot be resisted.” —George Washington

Did unrequited love spark a flame that ignited a cause that became the American Revolution? Never before has this story about George Washington been told. Crafted from hundreds of letters, witness accounts, and journal entries, Dear George, Dear Mary explores George’s relationship with his first love, New York heiress Mary Philipse, the richest belle in Colonial America.

From elegant eighteenth-century society to bloody battlefields, the novel creates breathtaking scenes and riveting characters. Dramatic portraits of the two main characters unveil a Washington on the precipice of greatness, using the very words he spoke and wrote, and his ravishing love, whose outward beauty and refinement disguise a complex inner struggle.

Dear George, Dear Mary reveals why George Washington had such bitter resentment toward the Brits, established nearly two decades before the American Revolution, and it unveils details of a deception long hidden from the world that led Mary Philipse to be named a traitor, condemned to death and left with nothing. While that may sound like the end, ultimately both Mary and George achieve what they always wanted.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250162946
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 177,408
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

MARY CALVI spent years wondering about the heiress who lived in the grand manor in her hometown of Yonkers, New York. Curiosity propelled her to do her own research that spanned several years. This novel is based on what she uncovered. Calvi is a nine-time New York Emmy award-winning journalist. She serves as a New York television anchor and reporter. Mary is also First Lady of the city of Yonkers where she serves as a member of the board of Hudson River Museum. Dear George, Dear Mary is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


Guardian's Wall

Love is said to be an involuntary passion and it istherefore contended that it cannot be resisted.



Mary Eliza lay upon cold leaves whose color had washed away a season ago, wishing she could bring back the living. Dead things surrounded her; every flower bud hung shriveled. The dull winter had brought only a few flakes. Spring, when fragrance emerged from its cocoon, was her favorite time of year. That was not this time. Today nature emitted not even a scent to smell.

Wan light peeked through the dark cloud hovering above her. She'd been here at Hudson's Hook since sunrise, writing poetry in her head:

Here I lie,
As mine eyes, my heart, wait,
So close art thou and I.
Here I lie,
Where the ravens fly,
And the guardian's wall, my gate.
Here I lie,
As mine eyes, my heart, wait.

The gallop of approaching stallions echoed. She attempted to rise, but alas, guilt confined her limbs like a fetter. The horses halted. She knew who had arrived. Boots crunching across hardened grasses came next. His silly chain clinked louder as he drew closer. She expected her brother to holler. She assumed that was coming. Instead, he just stood there, glaring at her. His murmuring sounded as if impatience was boiling in a kettle.

A long silence followed. She heard another audible exhalation from him. Frederick lay down, leaving just inches between them. "Polly." He never used her birth name. "I have a great inclination to take you back by force!" Agitation combined with steam in his threat.

She added a few more inches between them.

A deep groan released from his lips. His body shifted sideways. "This trial of my patience ... ends now." He spoke through teeth clenched.

She didn't respond. What would she even say? Worrying thoughts had taken up much of the space in her head, for no ordinary winter's day was before them. This night, as the sun found its repose, the Philipse family would welcome the hero of the South to a grand banquet and pleasure ball with beaux dressed in princely garments and belles adorned in royal costumes. For most hosts, it would be reason for celebration. For Mary, it was reason for tumult. In the midst of such crowds, the noisomeness of hair powder lingered like a fog, bringing back the image that forever haunted her: the little boy's eyes filled with horror, filled with fear. The memory caused her to cringe.

She would rather have remained here with her disquiet fading into the season's emptiness. But with her brother about to snatch her from her stillness, she closed her eyes and repeated to herself the words she promised Papa she would say each day: You are capable of the impossible, for you have survived the unthinkable.

Slowly, she rose and retied her riding dress's silk sash into a proper bow. Throughout, she envisioned the man of honor of the evening, the most celebrated colonel of the colonies, riding more than five hundred miles to be in attendance. His name was George Washington.

* * *

THE TRIP BACK to the manor was quiet, except for the clank of the chain Frederick was wearing. Then he began lecturing her. "Two hundred and twenty of the highest-ranking citizens will converge on our home, each of them viewing each of us, including you, Polly."

Mary could not even acknowledge him, not with the confusion of emotions affecting her spirit. Certainly she would want to meet the hero. She already knew more about Colonel Washington than she was comfortable talking about. He was a brave one, unlike her. But the number of guests — 220 — it sat like a weight upon her chest.

If she made the decision, she would be riding Willoughby back to the Yonkers manor. This four-wheeled, horse-drawn, covered carriage was the kind people of quality rode in, always moving at a leisurely pace to make the journey comfortable. She didn't need comfort. She needed air.

The carriage was conveying them along the dirt roads that belonged to her and Frederick and their sister Susannah. Theirs was an immense treasure of land along the Hudson River, stretching from the center of Manhattan Island to parts north in the Highlands, 390 square miles in total. As she looked upon it now, she could see only winter's barrenness instead of a season of torpid inaction when even love's embrace could not force a flower's bloom out of a dormant state.

Mary's brother waved to the elderly fellow with a pile of white hair upon his face and head who was keeping order at the bridge they needed to cross. Other travelers, including farmers with livestock and merchants with their wagons full of goods, formed a long, chaotic line. But the Philipses never needed to wait nor pay the three-pence toll, unlike every other man or animal to cross. They had inherited this, too — a toll bridge twenty-four feet in width, with a draw, the first and only link connecting the metropolis to the mainland. They called it King's Bridge. The franchise had been granted to their great-grandfather by British charter.

Frederick turned back to her and bumped upward as they crossed over the bridge's wooden planks, "As for your attendance, Polly, what is your answer?" Mary attempted to sit up straight. "You summon these men to our home, Frederick, and expect I should open the door to let a stranger in."

"You speak as if I've brought commoners."

"You are well aware that titles are of no consequence to me."

"Do you not realize who you are?"

"I am a woman who knows a good fortune does not necessitate the yearning for a husband." She tried to keep her head from bouncing up and down.

"These are accomplished men. The sheriff is a fine gentleman with a superior estate."

Mary had to cover her mouth, for the beginning of a giggle almost came from her lips. The previous attempt at a suitor left Frederick waiting alone with the sheriff for nearly an entire teatime.

"Colonel Washington is trekking from Virginia on horseback to be here!" Frederick's nostrils flared when he raised his voice to her. "Polly, you will attend!"

"Will you be wearing this accoutrement about your neck?" She pointed to the ridiculous pendant she knew he enjoyed displaying.

Frederick's eyes shifted down. "Do you not like it?" The hefty gold chain with a jeweled badge signified his role as Keeper of the Deer Forests. The ancestral office had been passed down through generations of the Philipses.

Mary only shrugged.

They arrived at Philipse Manor. The Georgian-style mansion, covered in brick and accented with ivory moldings, was the most exquisite example of refinement that could be found anywhere in the colony. It overlooked the immense Hudson River and provided a view of the Palisades' earth formation, cliffs across the water that appeared as outstretched hands reaching for the heavens. A guardian's wall is how she thought of it. She often wished she could climb to the top and embrace those who had been taken too soon.

She was glad of the weather's crispness as she exited the carriage, for she was in desperate need of cooling off. The moment Mary entered the manor, she smelled its warmth. Baking. Fresh loaves. Bread made her mouth water.

Up the grand staircase she went and entered her bedchamber that had not changed her entire life. A gilded four-poster bed with a lofty canopy sat opposite a hearth framed with blue-and-white Delft tiles. An intricately carved desk and chair paired with a massively sized bookcase climbing high to the ceiling. A tall mahogany chest took up another wall. In the closet hid a space for washing.

The morning's muted rays made the silver softly sparkle on the wall's ornate fabric covering and cast faint shadows through silk draperies over the dark wood floor. The abigails rushed over to help Mary remove her riding clothes, until she was dressed in only a laced shift. A gaze at her reflection in a mosaic-framed mirror showed a figure that looked every bit of a woman, yet acted as an awkward lassie. Poise had never been her forte. If she brought back her shoulders, that might do it, but it didn't feel quite right, as if she was pretending to be regal when she was really just Mary Eliza. Beautiful? Others had described her as such. Her sister Susannah — yes, she was definitively beautiful. Many admired her for her fair skin, her hair of light amber waves, and her feet; she had the prettiest little feet. Susannah carried herself with natural grace.

As for Mary, she was of a shy disposition when surrounded by strangers in dressy clothing. Guests weren't fond of reticence. They responded to cheerfulness, to vivaciousness. They adored the social adroitness of Susannah, who spoke of all that was in vogue.

After the lady's maids departed, Mary practiced smiling. She had to rely on the art of distraction; a dimple formed on her right cheek, providing a diversion when she had little to say. Tonight would be one of those times when she most missed her younger sister. The white plague slowly robbed Margaret of her vitality, until there was nothing left. Margaret was the free one, a madcap, the one who laughed her way through any crowd encircling Mary, taking her far from the frenzy. With Margaret now gone, Mary felt even more trepidation, imagining the crush of people who would enter the house, especially the presence of one of them. She did not like to think about him, and worked to banish him from her thoughts. At the last banquet she attended, he pointed his deformed finger at her and whispered something that nearly made her collapse: "As goes the mother, so, too, the daughter."

The sound of a horn interrupted her thinking. One long sound was followed by a pause, and proceeded by two in quicker succession. She practically leapt toward the window overlooking the river. The usual disturbance tried to make its way into her being, as it did each time she looked out over the Hudson. She needed to put that aside now. She breathed in deeply and exhaled, leaving a cloud on the pane of glass. The water was tranquil, the sole movement coming from the ship with its lofty white sails carrying it toward the family's dock. With her ear to the chilled window, she listened. The horn of the vessel sounded again — one slow, two fast. This was the signal she had waited weeks to hear. With a squint, she could see sea captain Garvan Rous at the wheel of the Gabriel.

Mary had little time to fuss. She was too anxious to learn the particulars. She raced to her high mahogany chest and pulled out a woolen Brunswick. She felt its heaviness when she placed it over herself. She quickly picked a ruffled cap from her collection. Slipping on her burgundy walking shoes, she rushed down the stairwell and into the kitchen. As she moved, she set her loose chestnut-brown hair under the head covering.

Mary grabbed the basket she had asked to have prepared. She counted six glass jars, five of them containing pickled ingredients: fennel, onion, white plums, lemons, and walnuts. A jar of twenty-year catsup was filled to the brim. In the center of the jars was a silver spoon. She placed above the jars a steaming loaf that was a bit too hot to the touch. The delicious aroma excited her appetite. She knocked her hip against the back door to open it and moved as quickly as possible onto the porch, pinching her cheeks with her available hand as she went. Through the boxwood-lined gardens and down the stone path she went, dashing toward the family's dock at the Hudson River's edge, arriving just as the vessel was being secured.

"A miracle, Mary!" cheered Captain Garvan as he tucked his rumpled white linen shirt into his breeches. "A miracle has happened!"

She hurried faster, while carefully keeping her shoes from slipping off the path and into the mud nearest the dock. She put the basket down on the wooden planks. "Tell me! Tell me!"

Swiftly, he moved to greet her. His days at sea were apparent from his bronzed skin and sun-weathered wavy hair. "He is alive, Mary! My son lives ... because of you." He enveloped her in an embrace that wrapped her in the essence of an ocean breeze.

Elation poured over Mary. Concern for the child had given her such worry.

"He even took a step on his own without my help." His eyes became watered. "The apothecary you sent to my home, Mary, he saved my boy's life. What you have done for me ..."

"Your wife would have been proud of all you have accomplished with him."

"I wish she could have lived to see him. ..." He took some time before continuing. "She would have loved his great flop of golden hair." A tear trailed down his cheek.

Mary stepped back and held his hands in hers. "He will make a fine mariner, your William Rous, just like his father and his father before him."

She made the prediction with confidence, knowing full well the fabric of which Rous men were made. It was a confidence established when she was just a child. Captain Garvan, then a lad in his teenage years, swept her right out of death's door.

* * *

THAT EVENING, one cloaked in a deep red sunset, Mary's world went dark. In the midst of a refined affair at the manor, a fright came over the little girl, causing her to run as fast as she could. She found herself outside, alone on the south porch, steps away from the smaller Neperhan River, which flowed into the Hudson. She was not by herself for long that evening. Young Elbert Peck came to ease her worry, walking out of his cottage that sat near the mansion on the property. He was the head gardener's son, a playful, freckle-cheeked boy with ginger hair always in disarray.

Elbert's head tilted. "Are you crying?"

She could not answer. Her hands covered a face full of tears.

"I will show you something. It will make you happy." Elbert started to skip in the direction of the river. "I shall get it for you by the water."

"No, Elbert. Mama says it is dangerous by the river."

But Elbert had already begun to run along the garden path.

"No. No, Elbert." Mary started after him. She cried out, "Mama says no! Mama says no!"

She reached him at the water's edge just as he picked a stem of forget-me-nots.

"They are the color of your dress." His stance became wobbly as he stretched his arm to hand the flowers to her. "They are blue." His little black shoe was covered in mud. She knew Mama wouldn't like that. No, Mama wouldn't like muddy shoes. She stood still, not moving an inch. He reached farther toward her, trying to keep his balance to give her the blossoms, but the slippery earth forced him down. His body shifted ever nearer to the ancient, unyielding river. Mary lurched forward, her shoes now sinking into the mud. Her little hand got ahold of his, and she began to cry out as his body made a splash. His green eyes turned toward the unstoppable waters behind him. Then he stared back at her.

Without words, she knew; in his eyes, she saw desperation and terror.

Despite using every ounce of her strength, she could not bring him close enough to grab hold of the long grasses that lined the bank. Her right hand held on as mightily as she could to his right hand, which still held the flowers. Her wee voice yelled out for help. A wave pulledhim, plunging Elbert under the water. Refusing to let him go, she, too, went into the river.

The current moved her to and fro. She could no longer feel Elbert's hand in hers. As Mary frantically threw her head back to find breath, she caught a glimpse of Mama; Mama was coming. She looked scared.

"I am here!" Lady Joanna did not stop at the shoreline. "I am coming for you!"

Mary's heart screamed out — It is dangerous, Mama.

Mama's red dress with the pretty flowers spread out wide as she jumped into the water and tried to swim toward Mary. Mary could see her getting closer, calling out to her.

It was dark.

A chill overtook her body.

She was cold, so very cold.

* * *

THEN ALL she could see was light.

As if heaven wrapped her in its embrace, Mary felt strong arms lift her from a wet grave. Cradled to a young man's chest, she could hear a voice commanding, "Breathe, child. Breathe." She remained in this angel's arms, bundled in a quilted blanket embroidered with blue flowers. Her hand held tightly to wilted forget-me-nots as pandemonium swirled around them.

She watched as they carried Mama out of the river with her pretty red dress dragging upon the ground. Papa laid her mother's body on the porch. Lantern light shone upon her pale face. Mary saw her father's hands tremble. He was crying.

Papa placed a kiss upon the forehead and closed its eyes.

* * *

MARY'S ANGUISH OVER the loss never ceased. Why did they perish? Why did she survive? Why didn't she immediately reach for the flowers? If only she had held on tighter to little Elbert's hand.

Though years passed, the trauma never left her. With certainty, though, she knew what she needed to do. Papa helped her find herpurpose. "Protect. Save. As a beacon in the darkness, be the light," he told her. Every year on the anniversary of that fateful day, he would take her to light a tall lantern at Hudson's Hook.

Now a woman, Mary stood here near the shore. The lad who rescued her a grown man, Captain Garvan gave her a quick peck on the forehead. "I am forever in your service, my dear Mary."

"As I am in yours."


Excerpted from "Dear George, Dear Mary"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Mary Calvi.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Note to the Reader,
Part I: The Encounter,
Chapter One: Guardian's Wall,
Chapter Two: George's Journal,
Chapter Three: Charming Miss Polly,
Chapter Four: Miracle at Monongahela,
Chapter Five: Gooch's Kitchen,
Chapter Six: The Hero Washington,
Chapter Seven: The Pleasure Ball,
Part II: The Courtship,
Chapter Eight: An Heiress's Prayer,
Chapter Nine: The Interview,
Chapter Ten: A Morning's Light,
Chapter Eleven: Poetry's Intimacy,
Chapter Twelve: The Winner's Cup,
Chapter Thirteen: A Hundred Eyes,
Chapter Fourteen: World in Miniature,
Chapter Fifteen: The Defiant One,
Chapter Sixteen: He Cannot Tell a Lie,
Chapter Seventeen: Bread and Butter Ball,
Chapter Eighteen: Cromwell's Head,
Chapter Nineteen: A Soldier and a Lover,
Part III: The Deception,
Chapter Twenty: Friend or Fiend?,
Chapter Twenty-One: Andromeda,
Chapter Twenty-Two: The Invisible Enemy,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Lord Loudoun's Banquet,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Doubtful Spring,
Chapter Twenty-Five: Genu,
Chapter Twenty-Six: State of Denial,
Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Games They Play,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Melancholy Things,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Weakened State,
Chapter Thirty: A Night's Ride,
Chapter Thirty-One: His Visit,
Chapter Thirty-Two: The Prophecy,
Chapter Thirty-Three: Awakening,
Part IV: The Reprisal,
Chapter Thirty-Four: Note to Self,
Chapter Thirty-Five: Hail to the Chief,
Chapter Thirty-Six: A Traitor Among Us,
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Cheval-de-frise,
Chapter Thirty-Eight: By Order of George Washington,
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Mary's Mansion,
Chapter Forty: Burn It Down,
Chapter Forty-One: The Heart of Neutral Ground,
Chapter Forty-Two: Let Freedom Ring,
Further Reading,
About the Author,

Reading Group Guide

1.A novel built on historical fact has to maintain accuracy to a previous era while reading smoothly to a modern reader. What sorts of decisions do you think the author made to ensure she was serving her audience?

2.Based on the knowledge you now have about George Washington’s relationship with Mary Philipse, what do you think his marriage to Martha Custis was like?

3.Mary Calvi speculates in DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY that unrequited love might have sparked a flame that ignited a cause that became the American Revolution. Do you agree that the young George Washington’s personal life may have affected his relationship with—and opinion of—the British?

4.Philipse Manor is still standing and operates as a New York State historic site in Yonkers, New York. Bottles from patent medicines and spices as well as shards of bone china and rougher stoneware plates and cups are on display at the site. What do you imagine daily life was like in Philipse Manor during Mary’s time?

5.The main topic in Mary Calvi’s novel is the relationship between George Washington and Mary Philipse, but Mary’s relationships with other women inform the book as well. Which one was most vivid to you, and why?

6.Part of the intensity of the action in DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY is heightened because communications in the mid-eighteenth century were so very different from communications in our time. What events do you think were dictated by the communications—or lack of communications—between the principals in the novel?

7.What did you think about George Washington as a soldier? A lover? Did this book change your view of him as president?

8.Why do you think Mary was branded a traitor? Do you think any part of her behavior or attitude was traitorous?

9.The author uses Washington’s hand-written copy of “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation”, which had been circulating for at least a hundred years before Washington copied it out, as a leitmotif. What did you deduce about Washington and his life from Calvi’s use of these rules throughout her novel?

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