Saturday, November 7, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 17

A cranky George Washington hit the road from his Watertown accommodations, which he was not too fond of, early on the morning of Friday, November 6, 1789. This day would be his last full day traveling through Massachusetts on his way back to the capital of New York City. The weather was threatening. The president wrote in his diary that he left Watertown "under great appearances of Rain or Snow."

The president's disposition wasn't much better this day. He was a little steamed at having to stay in Watertown, rather than in Waltham, in the first place, let alone in his subpar accommodations. In his diary for November 6, the president dispels any notions that the difficulty of navigating roads around Boston is a modern phenomenon and then he goes off on the inability of Bay Staters to give proper directions: "The Roads in every part of this State are amazingly crooked, to suit the convenience of every Mans fields; & the directions you receive from the People equally blind & ignorant; for instead of going to Watertown from Lexington, if we had proceeded to Waltham we should in 13 Miles have saved at least Six; the distance from Lexington to Waltham being only 5 Miles and the Road from Watertown to Sherburn going within less than two miles of the latter (i.e. Waltham)."

Back on the crooked roads, the presidential party passed through Needham before stopping in Sherborn for breakfast after covering 14 miles. Luckily, the skies brightened (although we can't be sure the same could be said of the president). Washington then crossed through Holliston, Milford, and Mendon before settling in for the night in Uxbridge.

In a case of Washington (Almost) Slept Here, the presidential party was turned away at the first place it tried to stop for the night. Washington wrote in his diary: "The House in Uxbridge had a good external appearance (for a Tavern) but the owner of it being from home, and the wife sick, we could not gain admittance." A National Park Service brochure identifies that tavern as the Ammidon Tavern, which still stands on Main Street in Mendon.

Being turned away at the Ammidon, Washington stayed instead at the Samuel Taft House in North Uxbridge. (President William Howard Taft would later visit his ancestral home as well in 1909.) The president's review of the Taft house wasn't overwhelming in his diary: "though the people were obliging, the entertainment was not very inviting." However, Washington must have been very smitten by the Tafts, since two days after his stay he penned the following to the family and included some gifts: "Being informed that you have given my name to one of your Sons, and called another after Mrs. Washington's family. And being moreover very much pleased with the modest and innocent looks of your two daughters Patty and Polly I do, for these reasons, send each of these Girls a piece of chintz. And to Patty, who bears the name of Mrs. Washington, and who waited more upon us than Polly did, I send five guineas, with which she may buy herself any little ornaments she may want, or she may dispose of them in any other manner more agreeable to herself. As I do not give these things with a view to have it talked of, or even to its being known, the less there is said about the matter the better you will please me; but that I may be sure the chintz and money have got safe to hand, let Patty, who I dare say is equal to it, write me a line informing me thereof directed to 'The President of the United States at New York."

Washington left the Tafts early on the morning of November 7, before sunrise. After passing through the Douglas woods, the president had left Massachusetts, nearly three weeks after he first passed through Agawam. I hope you've enjoyed reading about the first presidential visit to the Bay State. Many more presidents would follow George Washington's lead in the centuries to come finding Massachusetts a welcoming place to visit. Alas, the roads may not have gotten that much better since George's time.

No comments: