Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Eminent Women: Ann Fairfax Washington Lee and Susanna Rogers Sangiovanni Pickett Keate, Part 1

Eminent Women: Ann Fairfax Washington Lee and Susanna Rogers Sangiovanni Pickett Keate, Part 1

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - November 28, 2011

Ann Fairfax Washington Lee’s life was better documented than many women of her era since she belonged to three notable families and was one of the central figures in a lurid scandal that rocked colonial Virginia.

Ann’s father, William Fairfax, was the nephew of the fifth Lord Fairfax. The Fairfax family was of immense wealth and influence on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ann’s mother was Sarah Walker Fairfax. Sarah’s father was a major in the British Army in the Bahamas and her mother may have been of half or full African descent.

Ann was christened in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 1730, shortly after her parents arrived there from the West Indies. Her name is alternately written “Anne,” as it was in the St. George Temple record, but her family and friends called her Nancy.

A year after Ann was christened, Sarah Walker Fairfax died giving birth to her next child, leaving forty-year-old William Fairfax with four children under the age of seven, including a one-year-old and an infant.

By the time Ann was two years old, her father had married Deborah Clarke, a young widow described as “excellently educated…haughty, proud…calculating… [and] of considerable influence and power.” Deborah and William Fairfax had three or four additional children.

The Fairfax family moved to Virginia in 1734, and Ann’s father quickly became one of the most influential men in the colony. The Fairfax plantation, Belvoir, was situated on the Potomac River, not far from the Washington family plantation later named Mount Vernon.

Ann grew up in a wealthy, privileged household, but it was not always a happy one. Her father and stepmother argued and used the children as pawns in their disagreements. From the time she met him when she was six years old, Ann came to rely more and more on a close family friend, the Rev. Charles Green, as a confidant and source of emotional support.

The Rev. Charles Green was a young, talented, ambitious man, a minister and a physician, a graduate of Balliol College at Oxford. When he arrived in Virginia he became close friends with William Fairfax and Augustine Washington, and they advanced his career in the ministry. Fairfax included Green in many land ventures, and William and Deborah Fairfax left their children in the care of Charles Green and his wife while travelling.

Augustine Washington’s son Lawrence, the beloved older half-brother of George Washington, had made a name for himself in land ventures and as a captain in the War of Jenkin’s Ear, and when he returned to Virginia, he courted and married fifteen-year-old Ann Fairfax with the strong encouragement of her parents.

Lawrence Washington may or may not have known before the marriage that his wife had been repeatedly abused by the Rev. Charles Green. Ann was nine when the abuse began, and when the Fairfax family had found out about it and confronted Green, he replied by letter that despite his attempts to seduce her, she was still “Virga Intacta” [sic]. The Fairfaxes responded by burning the letter in an attempt to preserve Ann’s reputation and marrying the fifteen-year-old girl to Lawrence Washington, a talented up-and-coming neighbor, ten years her senior, right when he returned from fighting in the war.

The year after the marriage, Lawrence wrote to the highest church official in Virginia, the Reverend William Dawson, with details of the abuse, asking that Charles Green be moved to another parish. Dawson responded by writing to Green, suggesting that he voluntarily leave his parish.

Green denied the charges and said he would fight for his parish and his reputation, and Lawrence Washington then decided to take the case to the Virginia ecclesiastical court.

The charges included the language that Green “did Sollicite allure and entice her with Wanton behaviour unchaste Dallyance and Immodest Speeches … And Instigated by the Devil did attempt and Endeavour to debauch and committ the foul Crime or Sin of adultery, fornication and Incontinence with the said Ann Washington.” The charges also included miscellaneous accusations related to Green’s family and business practices.

The trial took place at the College of William and Mary and must have been painful for everyone involved, particularly since the defense took the default tack of questioning the virtue of Ann Washington, who was only fourteen years old at the time of Green’s last reported attack.

The notes from the trial were misfiled for years and the entire event had been lost to history until a professor at George Mason University requested some Charles Green materials at the Library of Congress and library staff brought him the wrong folder. The trial is a fascinating look at power structures, family life, and crime in 18th century America. It paints a picture of a vibrant, charming, affectionate young girl who looked for affection from people who took advantage of her trust.

Part of the tragedy of the case is that it was not entirely about the abuse. It was a fight over elections and the struggle between ecclesiastical and landed and government power in early Virginia. Ann was a pawn in a case motivated by power and revenge, and she was the person who suffered the most from the abuse, the trial, and the loss of her reputation.

The trial ended with a settlement negotiated by Governor William Gooch. Green remained in his parish, but he paid the court expenses and had to promise to “behave himself for the future with general Decency & good manners toward Fairfax[,] Washington & their families.”

Green remained at Truro Parish for twenty years until his death. His reputation seemed to weather the attack. He was a friend and physician to George Washington, who was fourteen years old when the trial ended. Green died a wealthy man, well regarded in the community, often visited and invited to the homes of both Fairfax and Washington families.

Ann, meanwhile, suffered loss after loss. Her oldest child, Jane Washington, died the year the trial started. Her brother, Thomas Fairfax, died at sea the year the trial ended. Her stepmother, Deborah Fairfax, died a year later at age 39. One by one, Ann watched two or three more children die young. Meanwhile, her husband suffered from tuberculosis, and he died in 1752 at age 34, leaving Ann a very young widow with one daughter, Sarah Washington. Her father died in 1757.

Six months after Lawrence died, Ann remarried. She and her new husband, George Lee, rented Mount Vernon to George Washington and moved a hundred miles to Mount Pleasant on Chesapeake Bay. Two years later Ann’s daughter Sarah died. With the death of Lawrence’s last child, Ann kept a life interest in Mount Vernon, but the estate would pass to George Washington upon her death.

Ann and George Lee had three children: George Fairfax, Lancelot, and William, but Ann did not live to see any of them grow up. She died at the age of 33, shortly after receiving news of her sister Sarah’s death.

When Ann died, Mount Vernon became the property of George Washington, and Ann became largely remembered in history as the woman whose marriage to Lawrence Washington introduced George Washington into the influence of the Fairfax family, and then her inability to have children survive from the marriage and her eventual death provided George Washington his estate at Mount Vernon and contributed to his place in Virginia society and American history.

* * *

When Ann’s temple work was done in St. George in 1877, the men and women who did it would have known very little about her besides her place in the Washington family. I have not yet been able to discover which biography of Washington Wilford Woodruff used to compile the list of Washington’s relatives, but I am continuing to look, since there are several distinctive details about the family included in the temple record.

The temple work was done for Ann Fairfax Washington Lee by Lucy Bigelow Young and Susanna Mehitable Rogers Sangiovanni Pickett Keate. Like Ann Fairfax, Susanna had her own history of amazing adventures and abuse. Her life is fascinating enough to deserve an entire post of its own, with its stories of Italian revolutionaries, an assassin, a locked room, a treasure chest, bigamists, polygamists, a gold miner, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

This was the second installment in the Eminent Women series, introduced here (or search “Eminent Women” in the Topical Guide for the growing list of posts in this series).

Note on the image: There is no known picture of Ann Fairfax. Belvoir was her family home.



  1. Another terrific post. Thanks, Amy.

    And, almost anything can be improved by including a reference to the War of Jenkin’s Ear–so kudos for getting that into an otherwise sad and sordid tale.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 28, 2011 @ 8:32 am

  2. Thanks, Mark B.

    Surprisingly, there does not seem to be a biography of Ann anywhere on the internet or in any library. She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! This brief bio took many hours of combing through secondary sources related to her three families, and that’s one of the reasons she got her own post. : )

    And although this post is fairly short, a look at the original source documents from the three families and the Library of Congress records of the case against the Rev. Green could result in a biography which would do her life the justice it deserves.

    Comment by Amy T — November 28, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  3. Amy, thanks for all that research and writing. I love stuff like this.

    Comment by Carol — November 28, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  4. Truly a fascinating short biography, and what a fortuitous accident that brought more of this story to life. A somewhat sad and tragic tale, but one that deserves the telling. Thank you for sharing this.

    Comment by kevinf — November 28, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  5. I just can’t help but think how harrowing this all would have been for poor Ann; it’s difficult enough in today’s society for abuse victims to confront their abusers, but how much more delicate then.

    Fascinating post Amy, thank you.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — November 28, 2011 @ 11:33 am

  6. Thanks, all. One of the parts of the story I thought interesting was the identification of Ann being part African. The historian who figured that out made a decent case, and although some of his work is controversial, it does illustrate the point that history is often more diverse than we’d expect.

    Comment by Amy T — November 28, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  7. Any woman with six names deserves her own post.

    Comment by The Other Clark — November 28, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

  8. What an amazing story. Thank you for your research. I’m currently reading Michener’s “Chesapeake” and the overlapping time and characters made this entry doubly interesting.

    Comment by charlene — November 28, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  9. Remarkable! and very well done. Thank you.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — November 29, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  10. Thanks again, everyone! I’m having an enjoyable time with this project and meeting lots of wonderful and helpful people in the process.

    Comment by Amy T — November 29, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  11. Thank you for this informative article. Anne Fairfax is my 5th great grandmother on my mom’s side via her father. Recently I took a DNA test through Knowing the story of Anne’s African heritage it surprised me that my results had no indication of any African ethnicity. Perhaps it’s too far back to show up. I am wondering how we can nail this down. Her story is so compelling.

    Comment by Jan T — February 13, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

  12. Wow. Thanks for commenting, Jan. That’s fascinating.

    I’m not a technical person, so I don’t know all the details of maternal vs. paternal DNA tests and what the test you took would show.

    If it does show your ancestral line back to Anne Fairfax’s grandmother, it could mean that the reports of African ancestry were yet another way that she became a pawn in a political game.

    I wonder if anyone reading this blog is an expert on what DNA tests do and do not show and could help interpret the test.

    I think one institution that would be interested in the question of Anne’s ancestry would be the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and there are probably university researchers who would be interested in the question as well.

    Comment by Amy T — February 13, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

  13. I have read this biography a number of times now, and I always find it a comfort. As an incest and rape survivor, who now mentors other survivors, I have used this at least a dozen times, as a reminder that even in “the bad old days when women were property,” there was still a recognition that children cannot consent or invite incest. (Using incest in its broadest sense of sexual molestation or assault by one in a trusted position of authority and affection.)

    I got an email back this evening, giving me permission to share the thoughts from one of the women I mentor, who is not Mormon, and was molested by a Methodist minister from ages 9-12.

    “Julia, thank you for the link you sent me. You are right that I am still getting used to taking, or even considering, advice from someone the age of my grandchildren, especially a Mormon woman. I had a lot of preconceived ideas about you, and about what history has “always” said about non-virgin girls. I needed to read the story of Anne Fairfax Lee. As I read about her husband publicly confronting her abuser, instead of throwing her away, it reminded me of my Bill, and his righteous indignation when I finally told him what had happened to me. I’m glad you weren’t offended when I told you I didn’t need the help of someone too young to have sense, and that you kept listening to me, so you would know which things would help. I feel ungrateful for all my railing against God and Jesus for Bill’s death. When placed next to all Anne lost, I am grateful instead for the 4 children, 2 almost-adopted sons, their spouses and my 5 grandchildren (I think there might be two more on the way, but I am trying to remember to let people share their news when they are ready.) Thanks for introducing me to Anne, and not giving up on me.”

    As I told her in my response, Amy Tanner Thiriot deserves the thanks. This truly is an invaluable resource for victims of childhood sexual abuse, who often feel so alone, to see that from before their were United States, there were people standing up for abuse victims. Thank you!

    Comment by Juliathepoet — June 15, 2013 @ 2:26 am

  14. Can you tell us the name of the George Mason University professor who found the misfiled information, and the year it was discovered? How can I view that material now? Thank you, C.

    Comment by Cathy Scalzo — July 9, 2013 @ 6:41 am

  15. Julia — I’ve been out of town for several weeks and just saw your comment. Thank you for your response and for sharing Anne’s story with someone who needed it.

    I’ve found that looking at history from the point of view of the woman tells us all sorts of interesting things about ourselves that would be too easy to miss if the stories were told entirely from the point of view of the men. (That should seem obvious, but it somehow isn’t to any number of historians.)

    Cathy — here’s an old newspaper story about Professor Peter R. Henriques’s discovery. He wrote up the discovery in the article “Major Lawrence Washington versus the Reverend Charles Green: A Case Study of the Squire and the Parson.” (The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 100:2, April 1992). That article lists all the source material.

    Comment by Amy T — July 9, 2013 @ 8:17 am

  16. Thank you for posting this wonderful article on my five times great grandmother. What is wonderful about this is that I can share this history with my children. Again, thank you for all your hard work and for sharing this piece of history.

    Comment by Mylena Mason — September 10, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

  17. Thanks, Mylena. I’m glad that you and your children and Ann’s other descendants are able to remember her and her experiences.

    Comment by Amy T — September 11, 2013 @ 7:50 am

  18. Every now and then descendants of Ann Fairfax Washington Lee comment on this post. It is touching to think that I was able to bridge the gap between academia and family history and bring her story to the attention of her descendants.

    However, my purpose was to tell her story, and I have not done any research on her descendants, and am not planning to do so.

    We would be interested in more responses or details or information about Ann’s life and experiences, including the question of African ancestry, but discussions and questions about her descendants should take place on genealogical forums about the family rather than here. Thanks much.

    Comment by Amy T — October 17, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  19. I just came across this information today as I was looking into George Washington and his family. I am collecting information on people with tuberculosis and unfortunately, Lawrence Washington qualifies.
    I hope someone will do at least an article on Ann Fairfax as her story is a very worthy one. As interesting as it is, it is unfortunately out of my area of expertise. However, her story reminds me of two more. The first is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle whose mother was African. Belle was raised in England with her cousin after her mother died.
    The second story is that of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). We do not know too much about her, but her father sued a man who had raped her. The trial records have survived as have the records of Lawrence Washington’s case. This gives us some insight into the lives of these people.
    Thanks again for the information.

    Comment by Pamela Smith-Irowa — August 11, 2015 @ 8:06 pm

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