Thursday, October 29, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 9

After four full days in Boston, George Washington hit the road again on October 29, 1789, to continue his tour of New England. Unlike his grand entrance into town on Saturday, Washington's departure from Boston was a low-key affair. The presidential traveling party left Boston at 8 a.m. by way of the bridge to Charlestown, due north. Washington was impressed with that bridge, and another nearby one, writing in his diary: "The Bridges of Charles town and Malden are useful & noble--doing great credit to the enterprizing spirit of the People of this State." (Along the way, Washington would have been in eyeshot of Breed's Hill, site of the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, a couple weeks before he took command of the Continental army.)

First stop for the president and his entourage, which included Vice President John Adams, was Harvard College. Washington was invited to visit the college by its leader, Joseph Willard, who had met with the president on Tuesday prior. Washington's tour of America's oldest college included visits to the philosophy room, a museum, and the library, which contained 13,000 volumes.

From Cambridge, Washington traveled through Medford and Malden to the Essex County line, where he was met by an escorting party led by General Jonathan Titcomb. The president's final destination for the day was Salem, but he requested to pay a stop in Marblehead, a town that had paid much in blood and treasure in the fight for independence. Nearly 600 Marbleheaders served in General John Glover’s regiment of mariners, who are best known for rowing George Washington and the Continental Army across the icy Delaware River to attack Trenton. By the end of the war, this town of 5,000 seventeen miles north of Boston had paid a terrible price for freedom, leaving more than 400 widows and nearly 1,000 orphans.

George Washington's description of Marblehead in his diary wasn't exactly Chamber of Commerce material, but it was reflective of the difficult days for the town following the Revolution: "About 5000 Souls are said to be in this place which has the appearance of antiquity. The Houses are old--the streets dirty--and the common people not very clean."

Washington was taken to the stately Jeremiah Lee Mansion, which can still be visited in Marblehead. The 1768 Georgian manse, more luxurious than Mount Vernon, must have awed even the president. Today, the estate still elicits “oohs’’ and “aahs’’ from visitors who enter the grand entry hall with its rich mahogany wainscoting and eight-foot-wide staircase. (Click here for an article I wrote about the mansion and other Marblehead sites.) After leaving the mansion, the president made a short trip down to Marblehead Harbor before turning north to Salem.

As soon as the presidential party crossed into Salem, guns were fired and church bells rung. As with his entrance into Boston, Washington chose to quit his carriage and ride his white horse. He arrived at the Court House where an address was presented and an ode was sung in his honor. Then, he was taken to his lodgings at the Joshua Ward House on (of course) Washington Street. The house at 148 Washington is today home to the Higginson Book Company.

Between 7 and 8 p.m. Washington went to a party in his honor at the Assembly House at "where there was at least an hundred handsome and well dressed Ladies," according to his diary. The building at 138 Federal Street is now the Cotting-Smith Assembly House, which is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum (and available for rentals if you'd like your own presidential gala.) Washington returned to his lodgings to turn in by 9 p.m.

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