In 1756, Colonel George Washington, then commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces, had some difficulties concerning rank with an officer holding a royal commission. He found it necessary to communicate with General Shirley, the commander-in-chief of His Majesty's armies in America; and for this purpose left his head-quarters at Winchester, and travelled to Boston on horse-back, attended by his aids-de-camp. On his way, he stopped in some of the principal cities. The military fame he had gained, and the story of his remarkable escape at Braddock's defeat, excited general curiosity to see the brave young hero; and great attention was paid to him. While in New York, says his biographer, Mr. Sparks, "he was entertained at the house of Mr. Beverley Robinson, between whom and himself an intimacy of friendship subsisted, which indeed continued without change, till severed by their opposite fortunes twenty years afterwards in the Revolution. It happened that Miss Mary Philipse, a sister of Mrs. Robinson, and a young lady of fare accomplishments, was an inmate in the family. The charms of this lady made a deep impression upon the heart of the Virginia Colonel. He went to Boston, returned, and was again welcomed to the hospitality of Mrs. Robinson. He lingered there till duty called him away; but he was careful to entrust his secret to a confidential friend, whose letters kept him informed of every important event. In a few months intelligence came that a rival was in the field, and that the consequences could not be answered for, if he delayed to renew his visits to New York."
Washington could not at this time leave his post, however deeply his feelings may have been interested in securing the favor of the fair object of his admiration. The fact that his friend thought fit to communicate thus repeatedly with him upon the subject, does not favor the supposition that his regard was merely a passing fancy, or that the bustle of camp-life, or the scenes of war, had effaced her image from his heart. Mr. Sparks assures me that the letters referred to, which were from a gentleman connected with the Robinson family, though playful in their tone, were evidently written under the belief that an attachment existed on Washington's part, and that his happiness was concerned. How far the demonstrations of this attachment had gone, it is now impossible to ascertain; nor whether Miss Philipse had discouraged the Colonel's attentions so decidedly as to preclude all hope. The probability is, however, that he despaired of success. He never saw her again till after her marriage with Captain Roger Morris, the rival of whom he had been warned.
Mary Philipse was the daughter of the Hon. Frederick Philipse, Speaker of the Assembly. He was lord of the old manor of Philipsborough, and owned an immense landed estate on the Hudson.
Mary was born at the Manor Hall on the third of July, 1730. No particulars relating to her early life can be given by her relatives; but the tradition is that she was beautiful, fascinating, and accomplished. A lady now living in New York, who knew her after she became Mrs. Morris, and had visited her at her residence near the city tells me that she was one of the most elegant women she had ever seen; and that her manners, uniting dignity with affability, charmed every one who knew her. The rumor of Washington's former attachment was then current, and universally believed. Her house was the resort of many visitors at all seasons. She removed to New York after her marriage, in 1758, with Roger Morris, who was a captain in the British army in the French war, and one of Braddock's aids-de-camp. A part of the Philipse estate came by right of his wife into his possession, and was taken from him by confiscation, in punishment for his loyalism. Mrs. Morris was included in the attainder, that the whole interest might pass under the act. The rights of her children, however, as time showed, were not affected; and the reversionary interest was sold by them to John Jacob Astor.
The descendants of Mrs. Robinson, the sister of Mary Morris, speak of her with warm praise, as one who possessed high qualities of mind and great excellence of character. To one of these, a gentleman high in office in New Brunswick, the author of the "Loyalists" once remarked in conversation, that there was some difference to his aunt, between being the wife of the Commander-in-chief, the first President of the United States; and the wife of an exile and an outlaw - herself attainted of treason. The tables were turned upon him by the reply, that Mrs. Morris had been remarkable for fascinating all who approached her, and moulding everybody to her will; and that had she married Washington, it could not be certain that she would not have kept him to his allegiance. "Indeed, Washington would not, could not have been a traitor with such a wife as Aunt Morris." Without dwelling on the possibilities of such a contingency, one can hardly think, without some degree of national shame, that a lady whom we have every reason to believe had been the object of Washington's love, should be attainted of treason for clinging to the fortunes of her husband."
The authentic facts relating to Captain Morris and Colonel Robinson, and to their wives, have been preserved by Mr. Sabine in his "American Loyalists." He visited the relatives of the family in New Brunswick.
Mrs. Morris died in England in 1825, at the advanced age of ninety-six. The portrait accompanying this monograph of her is engraved from an original painting taken after her marriage, and now in the possession of her namesake and grandniece, Mrs. Governeur, who resides at "Highland Grange," Philipstown, in the Highlands. It is stated in the History of Westchester County, that Miss Mary Philipse was the original of the lovely character of Frances, in Mr. Cooper's novel of "The Spy " but this is incorrect.
Susannah, the sister of Mary Philipse, was the wife of Beverley Robinson of New York. There is some ground for the belief that she actually exercised over her husband's mind some portion of the influence said to have been possessed by her sister; for it appears that he was at first disinclined to take any active part in the contest between the Colonies and Great Britain. He was so much opposed to the measures of the ministry, that he would not use imported merchandise; but was at length prevailed on by his friends to enter the royal service. As before-mentioned, he and Washington were intimate friends before they were separated by difference of political opinion. "The Robinson house," which had been confiscated with the lands, was occupied by Arnold as his head-quarters, and by Washington at the time of Arnold's treason.
When Colonel Robinson gave up the quiet enjoyment of country life, his wife took her share of the outlawry that awaited him; she, as well as her sister; being included in the act of confiscation. After their removal to England, they lived in retirement. She died near Bath, at the age of ninety-four, in 1822. Her descendants in New Brunswick preserve, among other relics of the olden time, a silver tea urn, of rich and massive workmanship, said to be the first of such articles used in America.