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February 22, 2015 all-day


Compiled, researched by Jim Moyer, 10/13/2015, 2/14/2017, 2/26/2017, 1/29/2018


Google Lightning Mary Ball Washington and you will find versions of this story:



Photo by Gary Blake – https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/36051721

Misty origins of a Greek God?

Super Hero Origin Story?


Lightning strikes and kills

a young girl seated across a Mary Ball,

the future mother

of George Washington.

And one more detail:


The fork and knife the girl held when struck?  It melded together.





G.W.P.Custis’ version of the Lightning Story

Where is the source for this story?  See Page 141 of George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington. (Washington, D.C.: William H. Moore, 1859)


“One weakness alone

belonged to this lofty-minded and
intrepid woman

[George Washington’s mom, Mary Ball],

and that proceeded from

a most affecting cause.

It was a fear of lightning.

In early life, a
female friend had been killed at her side,

while sitting at the table,

the knife and fork in the hands

of the unfortunate being melted by the electric fluid.

The matron never recovered from the shock

occasioned by this distressing incident.

On the approach of a thunder-cloud,
she would retire to her chamber,

and not leave it again
till the storm had passed over.”



Willard Sterne Randall’s version of Lightning Story

Mary Ball was pregnant with George Washington when lightning struck and killed her friend across the dining table.


The above story became more detailed in this version, echoed all over the internet, from a New York Times reprint of Chapter One of George Washington, by Willard Sterne Randall, Henry Holt, New York, 1997:


“When she was pregnant with George Washington,

she experienced a shock

that may have shaped her relationship

with the large child taking shape in her womb.

One summer Sunday afternoon,

while the family was having dinner with guests from church,

a thunderstorm rolled in.

A bolt of lightning struck the house

and traveled down the chimney and hit a young girl

who was visiting the Washingtons for Sunday dinner.

The electric current was so strong

it fused the knife and fork she was using to cut her meat.

She died instantly.

The lightning hit with such force

that it severely jolted the pregnant Mary Washington,

who was sitting only a few feet away.

From that time on, Mary Ball Washington cringed

and tried to hide whenever lightning passed overhead,

burying her face in her hands.

For the moment, she recovered,

but she became increasingly fearful over the years.

She was so happy a few months later

when a strong, sound baby was born

that she traveled around the Tidewater

showing off George Washington

to all his cousins for an entire month,

before she even had him baptized.”


There are no sources given for this reprint of Chapter One of George Washington, by Willard Sterne Randall, Henry Holt, New York, 1997.


The NY Times Review by BENSON BOBRICK of that book by Randall is critical of the dramatic approach author Randall takes:


” Randall has an eye for the controversial …..

Problems of coherence turn up early…….

Even granting such a long chain of hypotheticals,

Randall’s ”probably” presumes a lot. ….

That’s one kind of problem.

Another is a narrative style that occasionally

tries artificially to dramatize

an already dramatic life…

Other characterizations similarly lack restraint.

Washington is described as a

”sycophant at the feet of Lord Fairfax,” for example,

and as ”the first modern American corporate executive”

in his conduct of the war.”




What does Douglas Southall Freeman say about this story?

Douglas Southall Freeman looks at the story told by George Washington Parke Custis above, and relegates the story to a footnote doubting parts of the  story’s authenticity:


“It would be easy to load these pages

with the spurious anecdotes

and the dubious traditions of Mary Ball …  …

Some actual unpleasant occurrence

may underlie the sensational yarn

in G.W.P.Custis, 141,

that Mary Washington’s fear of thunderstorms

had its origin in the death by lightning of a friend

who was sitting beside her at the dining table.

As related, authenticity of the incident I

s discredited by the statement

that the knife and fork in the hands of the

stricken friend were melted by the bolt of lightning. “


Source: George Washington A Biography Volume 1 Young Washington, by Douglas Southall Freeman, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948, New York, page 45


Questions arise on Douglas Southall Freeman’s view.

Is the story true?

Are parts of the story true?


Neither G.W.P.Custis nor does Freeman mention Mary Ball is pregnant with George Washington. Was Mary Ball pregnant during the lightning strike?  Neither mention the stricken girl’s name.


But, Douglas Southall Freeman does consider the possibility that, ” Some actual unpleasant occurrence may underlie the sensational…”


According to Douglas Southall Freeman, (page 46 of George Washington A Biography Volume 1 Young Washington, by Douglas Southall Freeman, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948, New York):.

“Mary Ball knew she was definitely pregnant by June 1731.”


If the lightning struck, maybe it struck that summer?


So… have we proved or disproved all or parts of this story?






Myths and Fake News are getting a lot of attention these days.


Parson Weems, is the author of the I-cannot-tell-a-lie-I-chopped-down-the-Cherry-Tree story?


George Washington Parke Custis is another MYTH teller.

He is George Washington’s adopted son,

his Martha’s grandson,


Myths have a good pedigree.


John Milton’s Paradise Lost is where we have the story of the Eve offering Adam an apple.


The Bible doesn’t say what the fruit is.

Some scholars think it was the pomegranate.







Just look at this title, by a Parson no less:

The Life of George Washington, with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself and Exemplary to his Young Countrymen.  By W.M.L.Weems, formerly Rector of Mount Vernon Parish, published 1809




Washington’s Birth Date Issue


George Washington was born 10am, 11 February 1731/2 Old Style, Julian Calendar, as written in the family Bible.  But, using the correction introduced by the Pope in 1582 and not adopted by England and fully implemented until 1752, the New Style, Gregorian Calendar really makes GW born 22 February 1732, baptized later on 5 April 1732. See Calendar Changes.











Mount Vernon website link on family Bible


Mount Vernon Ladies Association who owns rights to family Bible



The story of young George Washington, by Whipple, Wayne, Published 1915,  Philadelphia, Henry Altemus company





The Mother of Washington And Her Times BY MRS. ROGER A. PRYOR, COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY. Set up, elect retyped, and published October, 1903. Reprinted November, 1903. Norwood Press, J. S. Gushing & Co. Berwick f Smith Co.Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


Washington Family information




Title: Legends of the Skyline Drive and the Great Valley of Virginia, Author: Carrie Hunter Willis and Etta Belle Walker, Release Date: June 29, 2010 [EBook #33018.


Follow up on pages 35-36



Chernow’s Washington


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