This play illustrates the notion that behind every good man stands a good woman. Colonel George Washington has just returned from fighting in the French and Indian War, weak with dysentery. The year is 1758, and the setting is Williamsburg high society.
George is obsessed with Sally Fairfax, who is married to a much older man. The two of them have been carrying on a discrete affair for some time, but Washington is 26 and knows he should get married soon. Mrs. Chamberlayne serves as narrator and matchmaker.
Martha Custis has been recently widowed. She is only 25, and she has two children and a great fortune left to her by her late husband. She isn’t terribly lonely, but she knows she needs help managing her estate. At a party, Mrs. Chamberlayne throws George and Martha together, sure they will hit it off.
George and Martha talk of a great many things while sitting in Mrs. Chamberlayne’s parlor. George is tired of fighting and is afraid his illness might be consumption. Martha senses the loneliness he feels in his affair with Sally. Because Martha is educated and well-read in philosophy, she tells George that she knows eventually America will have to break its colonial ties and become its own nation.
George disagrees, saying the British need to push further into the Western frontier to claim more land for their empire. Owens suggests that Washington’s zeal in fighting for American independence was really his soon-to-be wife Martha’s influence.
They see each other several times when George is on leave. His health greatly improves, and he affectionately ends his affair with Sally. Martha’s young children grow very fond of George, and he teaches them to ride his great horse. As the play closes, the two are obviously making plans to marry.
Although this may have started as a courtship of convenience, the two are obviously well-suited. They both are contemplative, shy, and agreeable, and they both seem to need each other’s support. Mrs. Chamberlayne ends by prophesizing a great future for George as a general and political leader.