Saturday, October 24, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 4

When George Washington awoke on the morning of Saturday, October 24, 1789, he knew the tenth day of his trip through New England would be unlike the first nine. His itinerary called for him to return to Cambridge, where he first took command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775, and, despite his protestations, the town of Boston was planning a warm welcome for Washington’s return to the town he helped to liberate in 1776.

With a full day of festivities in front of him, the president was dressed to the nines in his blue uniform crested with epaulets and his sword at his side. Before leaving Flagg’s tavern in Weston, he was formally welcomed by the inhabitants of the town and officers who had served under him in the Continental army. By 8 a.m., Washington was on his way, and the Watertown Calvary Company escorted the president to Cambridge.

The presidential party passed through Waltham (an historical marker commemorating the George Washington Memorial Highway stands at the intersection of US 20 and Route 117) and Watertown, arriving at Cambridge by 10 a.m. It was a town very familiar to Washington. On Cambridge Common, he first took command of his troops, and he made in his headquarters in what is now the Longfellow National Historic Site, which is open to the public.

While Washington arrived in Cambridge at his duly appointed time, unfortunately the militia he was due to review didn’t materialize until after 11 a.m.—undoubtedly stuck in Boston’s notorious traffic. (The true reason was the long distance they needed to traverse.)

After reviewing the troops and meeting up with Lieutenant Governor Samuel Adams, Washington set off for Boston about an hour behind schedule. His approach into Boston would take him through Roxbury to the lone thoroughfare connecting the town’s peninsula to the mainland. The section of that road from Roxbury to the fortification guarding the city was rechristened Washington Street in 1788. However, the portions of the road in town that Washington rode down atop his prized steed, having quit his coach in Cambridge, still retained their original monikers and would not be renamed in his honor until the 1800s. (This map from 1796 shows how the peninsula was configured in Washington's time with the one road on the isthmus. It also shows that only the stretch on the outskirts of the city was named Washington Street.)

The weather was cold and raw when Washington made his grand entrance into Boston around 1 p.m. The crowds lined the windows and rooftops, and the skies reverberated with the sounds of church bells and artillery fire from Roxbury, Castle William (on Castle Island), and the heights of Dorchester, from which Washington’s troops ensured the British evacuation in March 1776.

The president recounted in his diary the splendor of his procession into Boston: “We passed through the Citizens classed in their different professions, and under their own banners, till we came to the State House; from which, across the Street, an Arch was thrown; in the front of

which was this Inscription--"To the Man who unites all hearts" and on the other--"To Columbia's favourite Son" and on one side thereof next the State House, in a pannel decorated with a trophy, composed of the arms of the United States--of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts--and our French Allies, crowned with a wreath of Laurel was this Inscription--"Boston relieved March 17th. 1776." This arch was handsomely ornamented, and over the Center of it a Canopy was erected 20 feet high with the American Eagle perched on the top.”

A rendering of the arch, designed by Charles Bulfinch, is at the left.

Washington was then taken into the State House, now open to the public as the Old State House Museum. He was led out to the balcony where he was given three cheers by the vast crowd and serenaded with an ode composed in his honor. That was followed by a parade of the citizens of Boston organized by their different professions. Following the festivities, the president was taken to his lodgings owned by the Widow Ingersoll—a house at the corner of Tremont and Court Streets.

It seemed as if the whole town had turned out to greet Washington—with one notable exception. Governor John Hancock was not to be found among the dignitaries welcoming the president to the state capital, and he did not call upon him at his lodging. Apparently Hancock hadn’t brushed up on his Emily Post because, according to some accounts, he believed protocol dictated the president should pay the first call.

Hancock’s snub effectively sunk the dinner plans that the president and governor had for the evening. Washington chose to dine at his lodgings instead and wrote in his diary: “Having engaged yesterday to take an informal dinner with the Govr. To-day, but under a full persuasion that he would have waited upon me so soon as I should have arrived—I excused myself upon his not doing it, and informing me thro’ his Secretary that he was too much indisposed to do it, being resolved to receive the visit.”

TOMORROW: Hancock's mea culpa and sabbath in Boston.

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