Uncovering George Washington's Family Tree: Mary Washington Keyser

By: Emily Bach

Not surprisingly we have found another amazing dress with a fascinating history while rehousing the collection in Pratt House! As we opened the lid of a deteriorating cardboard box, a gorgeous three piece dark blue velvet dress with a white lace and navy satin trim revealed itself. The garment dates back to the late 19th century and includes a cape, bodice, and skirt. The cape features a velvet trim of satin balls and a chiffon trim along the neckline. Connected to the chiffon is a piece of lace with purple fabric violets attached. The bodice has hand-embroidered white lace with navy satin edging on the waist, along with sleeves in the leg-of-mutton style with white satin inserts. The dress has a wide circular skirt, which forms a train, with silk taffeta lining. It was made by Mrs. Arnand of Bassano, Paris for Mary Washington Keyser, a woman who possesses an extraordinary history. Mary Washington Keyser was born in 1874 in Baltimore and attended Mrs. Cary’s Southern Home School. On June 1st, 1897, Mary married John Stewart Jr. and had two children with him, John Stewart and Mary Washington Stewart, before John’s death in 1903. After John’s death, Mary married a second time on June 14th, 1910 to DeCourcy Wright Thom and they had two children, Elizabeth Keyser Thom and DeCourcy Wright Thom. Her second husband DeCourcy Wright Thom dedicated time and effort to the Maryland Historical Society. He was the Vice President of the Maryland Historical Society and the originator of the Maryland Historical Magazine. His involvement is only the beginning of this family’s importance in Maryland history.

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After researching Mary and her family, genealogical records show she was related to George Washington through his brother John Augustine Washington, which excited all of us! Her family was extremely proud of their lineage, which was shown through her mother’s deep involvement in patriotic organizations throughout her life. Her mother, Mary Ann Washington, was one of the founders of Chapter I of the Society of Colonial Dames of America, which is “the oldest colonial lineage society for women in the United States” that still flourishes today. It is composed of women who are descended from an ancestor involved in American Colonial history and Mary Ann Washington served as its president for eleven years. Along with her presidency of the Colonial Dames of America, she served as Vice President of the Mary Washington Monument Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the burial site of George Washington’s mother. Due to Mary’s fascination in Maryland history, she became involved with the Maryland Historical Society as well. In 1919 Mary generously donated the historic Pratt House, which fascinated us since we search through the house every week looking for new treasures to uncover. She also donated funding for a fireproof gallery where we now store microfilm and books on genealogy, a library now known as the H. Furlong Baldwin Library, and a storage room. Henry Irvine Keyser, the father of Mary Washington Keyser, married Mary Ann Washington in 1864. Like his wife, he was involved in Maryland organizations and the city of Baltimore. He and his brother took over his father’s iron and steel firm once he passed and the two renamed the company Keyser Bros & Co. He was one of the founders of the Grace Protestant Episcopal Church, contributing to his reputation as a philanthropist and religious man.

Taking after her mother, Mary Washington Keyser involved herself in historical organizations as well. She was the Vice Regent for Maryland of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which focuses on preserving the estate of George Washington, an especially important historical location to her and her family due to their family lineage. She was also the President of the Mount Vernon club in Baltimore. She became involved herself in Colonial Dames of America Chapter I by serving on the Board of Managers, following in her mother’s footsteps.

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Thank you to Leo Witt for his in-depth research on Mary Washington Keyser and her family.

For more information on the Colonial Dames of America: http://cda1890.org/