Lay Down Sally: More You Should Know


Her name was Sally Cary Fairfax. She was the oldest of four Cary children. Vibrant, effervescent, and vivacious were words often used to describe her. And of course, beautiful and stunning were equally common terms from the guys around her.

Both the Cary and Fairfax families embodied every stereotypical image you have of wealthy, plantation-based Tidewater colonial Virginia families. Think Scarlet O’Hara and Tara and then triple it.

The most intense period of George Washington’s relationship with Sally Fairfax was in the mid to late 1750s. It’s interesting to note that the two biggest disappointments of young Washington’s life came at roughly the same time—his failure to develop a real relationship with Sally and his failure to realize what he thought was his life’s calling as an officer in the British Army.

A double kick in the stomach—ever suffered from one of those? How long did the effects last? Looking back now, how would you say it affected your leadership and Your River?

You should remember that this was the time of the French and Indian War, the last of the colonial British wars in North America where the colonies and mother country fought on the same side.

Nearly simultaneous with the deterioration of Washington’s relationship with Sally was the appearance of an anonymous newspaper essay written in scathing criticism of Washington’s behavior as a colonial Virginia officer.

Washington never had children of his own. Martha Dandridge Custis, his new love after Sally axed him, had two children of her own from a previous marriage.

I should have said in the video that another advantage to Washington from his marriage to Martha was access to her wealth. Washington was mildly wealthy before marrying her, but Martha’s fortune made him a very rich man indeed.

The absence of children of Washington’s own likely led him to display a very strong fatherly strain in his leadership as an adult. He gravitated toward bright, younger men whom he could advise, teach, guide, and nurture. It was one of the signatures of his leadership later in life.

Have you ever personally known a leader whose relationship with his or her followers helped offset a void at home?

People who were around Washington in his mid-20s noted that Sally’s influence could be seen in his improved dancing skills and overall social grace. Amid the problems, she did offer a boost or two.

The Fairfaxes continued to visit the Washingtons after George and Martha wed. Again, there’s no evidence—zero—that any impropriety ever occurred.

William and Sally Fairfax left America in 1773, two years before fighting broke out between England and the colonies and three years before the declaration of American independence.

Once in England, it was a bitter life for the Fairfaxes. All of their wealth was based in the colonies, and all of their wealth was lost with the American victory by 1783. William died in 1787, the year of the American constitutional convention. Sally never remarried, dying in 1811, one year prior to the War of 1812 between the United States and England.

Sally wrote a family member a year after William’s death: “I know now that the worthy man is to be preferred to the high-born who has not merit to recommend him…when we enquire into the family of these mighty men we find them the very lowest of people.”

Washington wrote to Sally that he had “never been able to eradicate from my mind those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company.”

Eric Clapton’s song is a perfect piece for how Washington felt about her in his younger days.