Thursday, October 22, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 2

Just after the sun broke the horizon on October 22, 1789, George Washington hit the road to continue his New England tour. The president preferred to get an early start and make some progress on the road before having a hearty breakfast. Washington may have had a customary few bites of bread and cheese or some beer--hardly a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast--but probably not much more before leaving Parson's tavern in Springfield at 7 a.m.

Washington's journey out of Springfield took him by the arsenal before heading onto the Boston Post Road, in many towns roughly the route of the present-day US 20. The road was not unfamiliar to Washington. He had passed by many of the same towns and taverns in 1775 on his way to take command of the Continental Army. Surely as he passed over the hills and vales along the Boston Post Road, Washington must have thought back to his trip 14 years ago, a time when the fire of freedom was merely a flicker, a time when the future course of the colonies and his own personal fate was a great unknown. Now, here he was as the first leader of a new nation.

Washington planned to visit all of the New England states on his trip. In October 1789, that meant a grand total of three, not six, states. Vermont did not achieve statehood until 1791, and Maine did not become a state until 1820. Washington chose to snub Rhode Island, which had yet to ratify the federal Constitution and was the only state to refuse to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

The traveling party stopped at Scott's tavern in Palmer for breakfast. The tavern was located near the present-day intersection of US 20, Route 181, and Shearer Street. An historical marker along US 20 commemorates Washington's trip through Palmer in 1789 and on June 30, 1775.

The presidential convoy then traveled through Warren and the Brookfields along a route near today's Routes 67 and 9. In West Brookfield, the traveling party was met by a messenger from Governor John Hancock with an offer to lodge at Hancock's private Beacon Hill mansion (located on the land occupied by the State House today) when the president arrived in Boston. "I could wish that the accommodations were better suited to a gentleman of your respectability; but you may be assured that nothing on my part shall be wanting to render them as agreeable as possible," Hancock wrote to Washington. The letter also sought to begin the formal arrangements for Washington's arrival in the city. Click here to read Hancock's letter.

The president declined Hancock's offer to stay at his private estate as he decided before the trip to stay at public taverns and inns and not in private homes, so as not to offend. Washington wrote to Hancock, "From a wish to avoid giving trouble to private families, I determined, on leaving New York, to decline the honor of any invitation to quarters which I might receive while on my journey and with a view to observe this rule, I had requested a Gentleman to engage lodgings for me during my stay at Boston." (Click here to find Washington's response.) The back and forth between Washington and Hancock as to the arrangements for his stay and protocol will bear watching in the next few days.

While in West Brookfield, Washington reportedly visited the Ye Olde Tavern, which dates back to 1760 and still stands today on East Main Street. According to the tavern's web site, John Adams, Lafayette, and Daniel Shays were also notable visitors.

Washington then traveled through Brookfield, and today there is a small marker across the street from the Brookfield Inn on West Main Street designating the road as the George Washington Memorial Highway. According to the Brookfield Inn's web site, George Washington, well, almost slept there: "As the story goes, Washington and his entourage stopped at Brookfield Inn, then owned by a Mrs. Bannister, and wanted to stay the night. Unfortunately, Mrs Bannister was suffering from a migraine headache and turned them away not knowing it was George Washington who wanted to stay the night. Washington moved on to Spencer, MA, where the innkeeper there was only too happy to oblige! Poor Mrs. Bannister was devastated when she learned of her faux pas, exclaiming that had she known it was Washington, her headache would have gone by the way."

If the story is true, the beneficiary of Mrs. Bannister's hard luck was Issac Jenks of Spencer. The tavern keeper ended up hosting the president and his party for the night, and he likely would have been pleased at Washington's Good Housekeeping seal of approval as the president wrote in his diary that Jenks "keeps a pretty good Tavern." Alas, Jenks's tavern no longer stands, but there is a marker at the tavern's former site at the corner of Main and Pleasant streets noting Washington had passed through Spencer to take command of the Continental Army and spent the night in the town on October 22, 1789.

For more, read Washington's diary entry for October 22, 1789.

TOMORROW: Washington travels from Spencer to Weston

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