Sunday, November 1, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 11

George Washington continued his presidential tour of New England, setting out from Newburyport on the morning of October 31, 1789, with Portsmouth, New Hampshire, his final destination. (It's a safe bet that Washington didn't don any costume for this final day in October since Halloween wasn't much of a holiday in colonial America.)

The president left his Newburyport lodgings around 8 a.m. and had breakfast with Tristram Dalton, one of the two men who first served Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, at the Dalton House at 95 State Street. (The Georgian house is now home to the private Dalton Club.)

After breakfast, Washington crossed the Merrimack River by ferry at Salisbury and soon came to the border with New Hampshire. Here, the president exchanged traveling parties. Dalton, General Jonathan Titcomb's corps, and other militia brought Washington to the border and a delegation that included New Hamsphire's two U.S. Senators, militia, and the vice president of the state took him from there.

The presidential party made their way up through the seacoast towns of New Hampshire. There was no Hampton Beach Casino or New Hampshire Liquor Store on the main highway back then in the Live Free or Die State, but Washington did stop at some of the towns on his way to Portsmouth. One historical marker in Hampton Falls commemorates Washington's visit.

Washington arrived in the (then) state capital of Portsmouth a little before 3 p.m. He wrote in his diary about the warm welcome: "we were received with every token of respect and appearance of Cordiallity under a discharge of Artillery. The Streets--doors and windows were Crouded here, as at all the other Places--and, alighting at the Town House, odes were Sung & played in honor of the President." (For more on Washington's entrance into Portsmouth and his stay in New Hampshire, click here.)

Washington's lodgings in Portsmouth was the tavern kept by Colonel William Brewster at the corner of Court and Pleasant Streets. The tavern was lost in an 1813 fire, but a white Bolton type coverlet from Brewster's tavern under which Washington is said to have slept is kept at the John Paul Jones House, which is open to the public seasonally. The Portsmouth Historical Society, which operates the house, also has in its possession a shoe worn by Sally Brewster when she attended the ball given in Washington's honor. Sally rode in the carriage with the president on the way to the ball. Lest you think the single shoe is a Cinderella-type saga, supposedly Sally gave one shoe to one daughter and the other to a second daughter. If anyone knows where the other shoe lurks, let the Portsmouth Historical Society know.

Washington dined that evening with the state's president, vice president, senators, and other dignitaries before having tea at the home of Senator John Langdon on Pleasant Street. The John Langdon House still stands and is open seasonally to the public by Historic New England.


Bruce Blanchard said...

A question:
Understanding there will undoubtably be a flurry of "whatdoyamean George didn't sleep here " comments...I'm curious to the belief he "addressed townspeople & militia" at the Rocky Hill Meeting Housein what was then West Parish of Salisbury,on his way up to Portsmouth.

Chris Klein said...


Newspaper accounts of the day (such as the Essex Journal & New Hampshire Packet, 11/4/1789) report that Washington "passed through the towns of Amesbury and Salisbury, where several companies of militia were paraded, which saluted as he passed." No mention of specific stops though. A document I found in research, "Washington's Historic Tour," places Washington on Rocky HIll Road to the training grounds of West Salisbury: