Presidential biographer John E. Ferling wrote that George Washington engaged in a “rather shadowy love affair with another woman during his marriage to Martha.” Washington revealed an intimate part of his personality in correspondence, “When once the woman has tempted us and we have tasted the forbidden fruit, there is no such thing as checking our appetites, whatever the consequences may be.”
At 16, George was totally taken by the beautiful, flirtatious 18-year old Sally, who married his neighbor, 25-year-old sedate George Fairfax. The flame and passion for Sally “continued for the rest of his life.” When Fairfax’s sister found letters from George to Sally, she pleaded with him not to write again. George continued writing to Sally while in military service for the British, asking for one more letter to “make me happier than the day is long.” Sally responded, inviting him to Belvoir, her home, while her husband was in England on business. George received criticism thereafter for his frequent trips away from his troops to Belvoir.
At age 27, Washington proposed marriage to Martha, the wealthiest widow in Virginia. The romance was “respectful but not passionate, as it had been with Sally.” While on military service, George received a letter from Sally, his first contact from her since his engagement to Martha, kidding him on his coming marriage. He responded by stating that although he was engaged to Martha, he confessed his true love was to Sally. The Washington’s and the Fairfax’s thereafter became close neighbors, often staying at each other’s homes.
Sally and her husband traveled to England for medical reasons in 1773 and never returned. Years later, upon the death of Sally’s husband, George again wrote to Sally expressing his feelings for her, advising that nothing could “eradicate from my mind those happy moments, the happiest of my life, which I have enjoyed in your company.” He suggested that she might consider returning to Virginia. She never returned. After George died, Martha burned most of his correspondence, perhaps feeling that the country would be better off not knowing everything about the “Father of Our Country.”