Skip to comments.George Washington’s Return from Service to Mount Vernon, Christmas Eve, 1783
Posted on 12/23/2013 1:48:31 PM PST by Pharmboy
As many of you know, there was an hiatus between Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown (October 19, 1781) and the Treaty of Paris (September 3, 1783). Washington stayed with his army and did not return to his beloved Mount Vernon until word of the treatys signing reached him, and he would see the British Army and Navy depart NYC on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783.
New Yorkers had made up a rhyme, From Kips Bay to Evacuation Day that had much meaning to them since Kips Bay (near present day First Avenue and 30th St. on the East River) was the site of the British/Hessian invasion of NYC in September of 1776.
The General would finally be able to return to Martha and the family, but not before taking part in a week of ceremonies, parades and fireworks marking the end of the surrender. A higher pleasure came to Washington in the addresses delivered by churches, societies, and municipal bodies. If it was embarrassing to have to stand and listen to one functionary after another read a eulogistic paper, Washington daily had new evidence in these addresses, and in other ways unnumbered, that he possessed an unbounding measure of the reward he cherished most, the good will of honest men, good will won by the devoted service he had rendered them. (George Washington, Volume Five, Douglas Southall Freeman, 1952, Scribner, p. 464).
He did find time to do some shopping in New York in between all the speeches and dinners. Some of this was Christmas shopping for the family back home in Virginia, some furnishings for Mount Vernon and a few personal items. This was all topped off by an emotional farewell to his remaining officers on December 4, 1783. The place for this farewell was the second floor of Fraunces Tavern, on the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets in New York City.
Sir Guy Carleton, the British Commander, had written the General that if wind and weather cooperated, he hoped to leave on December 4th, and thus Washington had set that dateonce he saw the back of the very last Redcoat leavein order to ensure no hostilities would occur between the departing Brits and the resident New Yorkers and incoming Patriot celebrants. Henry Knox was given final instructions on the temporary peacetime establishment of the forces; the last detail of the homeward journey by the shortest land route received Washingtons usual precise attention: he would cross at Powles Hook [now Paulus Hook, Jersey City, NJ, across the Hudson River from NYC] and would proceed to Philadelphia by way of New Brunswick and Trenton. In Philadelphia, he would settle his accounts, which he had put in order, and then, as quickly as he might, he would go to Annapolis, where Congress was to meet, and return his commission. Thenhome and a private life! (Freeman, p. 465).
He thought that an afternoon departure would work, and he planned the farewell for noon at the tavern. The plan was for a barge to be waiting at Whitehall [near Fort George, now the site of the old Customs House which now houses the National Museum of the American Indian). Steuben would accompany the General as far as Philadelphia, and three officers and a few dragoons would be with him afterwards. For his farewell, Washington wrote no speech; the gathering was small and fully assembled when he walked into the long room at Fraunces at noon.
Freeman, p. 466: Of all the twenty-nine major Generals that Congress had commissioned, only Henry Knox, Steuben, and McDougall [who gave his name to McDougall St. in NYC] were present. Seven had resigned during the war, six had died, and one had betrayed the cause. Forty-four men had been made Brigadier during the years of fighting and had not been advanced beyond that rank. James Clinton alone of these was in the room. The Colonels of the line were represented probably by Henry Jackson of the Fourth Massachusetts, who previously had commanded one of the sixteen Additional Regiments, and now wore the ribbon of a brevet Brigadier [brevet can signify a field commission that is temporary, and is not accompanied by the pay of the rank]. The senior Dragoon was Benjamin Tallmadge, major of the Second Continental, and now Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, one of the most daring leaders of a corps that had borne its full share of danger and hardship. If the others who stood up when Washington entered the room were not renowned and in some instances may not have been known personally to their Commander-in-Chief, they were typical of the hundreds who had remained at their posts in poverty and shabbiness while their families at home had pinched and patched though speculating neighbors had grown fat. The poorest officers, many of them, had been among the finest. Now, as the last representatives of a vanishing Army, they were looking at their commander and were awaiting his word.
Washington did not know what to do, so he thought he might take some of the food that was set out. He could not he took a few moments to compose himself and poured himself a glass of wine and passed the decanter. The men all filled their glasses. The General, half-choking, said: With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your later days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable. They all drank. Emotions overtook them all, and Washington did not shake hands with Knox, his Chief of Artillery, (the Boston bookseller who brought back the cannon from Fort Ticonderoga and placed them on Dorchester Heights chasing the Brits from the harbor below). Rather, he took him around and kissed him on the cheek. He did so with every man in the room. These tough, war-weary soldiers were all blubbering with little control. The General could not take much more, and left after raising his arms in one final sign of farewell. Now, it was south to Martha, the family and Mount Vernon!
Arriving four days later in Philadelphia, the citizenry came out to greet the General. He was escorted by the familiar Light Horse Regiment of Philadelphia. The main account he had to settle was the expenses he incurred while C-in-C. He had agreed not to take any pay when he was appointed in that same city, but he had had many expenses including the spy network he had paid. By the morning of the 15th, he had accomplished enough to cross the Schuylkill and continue his trip. He made Wilmington by nightfall, and on the 17th, after a hard ride (he was an excellent horseman) made Baltimore.
After a late dinner/dance on the 18th that lasted until 2 AM, Washington left a bit before that and apologized to the hostess saying he needed to hurry since he had promised Mrs. Washington that he would dine with her on Christmas at Mount Vernon. A few miles north of Annapolis he was met by Gen. William Smallwood of the Maryland Line. That night was a quiet one no celebration. For that he was happy. The next few days were spent in Annapolis sharing lunch and dinners with the delegates of congress; only seven states were represented, but they decided that they were adequate to accept Washingtons resignation.
After tendering his resignation and reading a prepared speech, praising his officers, of course. Allow me to quote one of his final sentences: I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.
He left the chambers after shaking each delegates hand, and rode off. He did not stop at any of his Maryland friends that he normally would have, since time was short. He and his small party stayed the night at a Maryland tavern, and were off the morning of the 24th riding as hard as they could. They reached the Potomac, and after a blustery passage, the last stage of the ride. Then into the doorway, and finally, Marthas embrace. This was all accompanied by the happy screams of Jack Custis younger children.
Christmas Day and dinner with the family at Mount Vernon: as he had hoped for and promised. For a better picture, allow me to quote from an interview published in National Review Online in 2003. Kathryn Lopez asked the questions of Stanley Weintraub, the author of General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783.
Lopez: What did Christmas in Mount Vernon look like? Was it typical for an American Christmas of the day-save for the hero general in attendance?
Weintraub: Mount Vernon in 1783 still did not have the now-familiar cupola, or many of its outbuildings. Washington wanted to complete its reconstruction. It snowed heavily on Christmas Day, and it is hard now to visualize Mount Vernon totally isolated by snowdrifts, as it was the day after the general's return.
Lopez: "His Christmases [were] more hearty than solemn," you write. What did Christmas mean to Washington?
Weintraub: Christmas to most Virginia planters meant fox hunting, feasts of meat pies, guns shot into the air, Yule logs that meant freedom from work by servants (and slaves) as long as they burned, and festive drinking and conviviality, and "Christmas boxes" usually a coin or two for the servants, given on "Boxing Day," the day after Christmas. Not much churchgoing. Churches were often too far away by horseback and wagon for a family. Washington's church at Powhick was attended mostly by Martha. He invoked the Deity on occasion in speeches but he was not profoundly religious in the sense of prayer and church attendance. Our traditional Christmases, with Christmas trees, were still decades away.
Merry Christmas to all of you!
The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list
Well done! Merry Christmas!
A beautiful post!
I miss America so much. It's too bad we let it get away from us.
Merry Christmas, Pharmboy, to you and yours. Thank You.
Grateful thanks for posting this!
We all should reflect on and ponder the sacrifices that were made by these good men to leave us so much we now take for granted — and which is now being allowed to slip away by an inattentive citizenry!
WASHINGTON LOVED HIS PUPPY SWEET LIPS
In February we celebrate the birth of the father of our country, George Washigton. Did you know that the first president deeply loved dogs?
During the American Revolution soldiers brought their hunting dogs to battle, including Washington who brought along a young foxhound he had bred, which he named Sweet Lips.
Washington so loved animals that he halted the war at one point on behalf of a dog.
At the Battle of Germantown in 1777, British Gen. William Howe's terrier was captured by the Continental Army. Washinton took care of the dog and eventually sought a truce to send the dog safely back to Gen. Howe.
I was unaware of this story. Terrific! Thanks so much...it certainly makes sense, since he was an avid fox hunter. Even in his teens he always led the hunt—and became a favorite of Lord Fairfax because of his horsemanship.
I'm quite sure the General would approve.
Washington is credited for developing the American Foxhound (which is somewhat different from its English counterpart.) But, I did not know that the soldiers took their dogs to war, and I did not know about Gen. Howe’s terrier and Washington’s courtesy to his British counterpart. I thought it was a charming story and thought of you immediately.
Also the name he chose for his hound. I can “hear” him talking to Sweet Lips, as he scratches the dog’s ears, and I imagine that his voice sounds like Eric Cantor’s soft Virginia accent.
I grew up near Mt. Vernon and knew it well.
If only all Americans could have access to this history, they would understand how blessed America was and still is.
I read the descriptions of the suffering and dedication of all these Patriots—from Washington through the officers and the infantrymen—and I am in awe. I read about the hardships and my eyes well up.
Federalist & Anti-Federalist ping.
You sure the anti-Federalists will want to see this? LOL!
The FReeper Book Club that Billthedrill and I ran four years ago was remarkably fair and balanced.
I’m 74 years old and am not ashamed to say that I wept as I read this!
A wonderful post, Pharmboy. Merry Christmas to you and all on the forum!
As many of you know, there was an hiatus between Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown (October 19, 1781) and the Treaty of Paris (September 3, 1783). Washington stayed with his army and did not return to his beloved Mount Vernon until word of the treatys signing reached him, and he would see the British Army and Navy depart NYC on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783.Thanks Pharmboy.
Great post. Also sounds like a great book.
Bump for later
A good time of the year to remember the men who endured so much hardship, and especially that one indispensable American, who allowed us to have so much freedom.
God blessed us with George Washington.
The Founders would weep if they saw what today's 'leaders' want for this great country.
Well done. Thank you.
I have had the honor of standing in that very room in Annapolis where Gen. Washington resigned his commission. Wonderful.
Thank you for the ping.
And Merry Christmas to you, my FRiend.
thanks for the work!!
and the ping!
A wonderful Christmas to both of you!
Thanks for this - fascinating! Living in New York, I have been able to visit Fraunces Tavern periodically over the years - it contains a restaurant and museum operated by the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York. If you are in New York City it is well worth a visit - their web site is at http://frauncestavernmuseum.org/about/
Merry Christmas to you Pharmboy, and to all of our fellow FReepers!
Many have forgotten that there was a two year period between Cornwallis' surrender and the British evacuation of New York. Congress neglected to pay the Army which nearly revolted. Washington deftly put down the Newburgh Conspiracy in March 1783 with his Newburgh address:
...While I give you these assurances, and pledge myself in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possessed of in your favour, let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained. Let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress; that, previous to your dissolution as an army, they will cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in their resolutions which were published to you two days ago; and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power to render ample justice to you for your faithful and meritorious services. And let me conjure you, in the name of our common country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man, who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country; and who wickedly attempts to open the flood-gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising empire in blood.
By thus determining, and thus acting, you will pursue the plain and direct road to the attainment of your wishes; you will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings: and you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind"had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining."
T’anks— well written and again T’anks..And A Merry Christmas to you too ! One question were you reminded of the television commercial that mixed Washington’s Army with the new cars when you saw that one picture of the old building and the vehicles I think Washington and his Army could have appreciated had they alone had the tech teams and horsepower? I note it was the only photo of its kind in the essay.
Thanks for the ping; thanks for your great post. Merry Christmas to you both, FReepers contributing to this thread and to all at Free Republic.
I lived in NYC for >25 years, and was a frequent visitor to Fraunces. Some of the meetings of the NYC Chapter of the American Revolution Roundtable were held there.
Now that I live in Maryland, I can get to Mount Vernon more often. But one of my most memorable visits was Christmas Day, 2001; we were visiting my daughter who lived in Alexandria at the time, and by 9:10 AM we were there. They open up some usually closed spaces on that day, and have the table set for Christmas Dinner, 1783.
Finally, I posted the modern picture of Fraunces rather than an old drawing to make sure folks knew that it was still there. I felt a bit ambivalent about the Dodge commercial mentioned, in that I have an aversion to the General being used to sell anything (I detest those mattress sales on "President's Day" with him selling them), but there was a certain dignity that Dodge invested in the General.
It is a great book.
George Washington was elected to the vestry of Pohick Church (Truro Parish) in 1762. I find it hard to believe that his attendance was so sporadic, except when duty required it.
Our HOA used to meet at Pohick Church.
He was one of the founders of the Powhick church; I will visit there some day for sure. I try and attend mass at the churches the General attended. So far, only three (Christ Church in Alexandria; Christ Church in Philadelphia; and St Paul’s Chapel in NYC). When he could, he attended with Martha and the family, but for reasons only known to him, he never took communion, but Martha always did.
What is your source for this?
While at church, Washington was "always serious and attentive," reported William White, the minister at Christ Church in Philadelphia during and after the revolution but he never kneeled. More significant, Washington did not generally take communion, perhaps the most deeply spiritual act in the Anglican Church. In fact, he would generally leave services before his wife Martha, who often did take the sacrament. Dr. James Abercrombie, assistant rector of Christ Church acknowledged that Washington was "a professing Christian" who attended regularly but added, "I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace." So disappointed was Abercrombie that he made a not-so-veiled reference to Washington's behavior in a sermon.
When Washington learned of the sermon he dug in his heels. He explained that if he were to suddenly switch to taking communion, after years of not doing so, it would be viewed as "an ostentatious display of religious zeal." Significantly, Washington's solution, then, was not to start taking communion but rather to avoid church on the Sundays when communion was being offered.
And please remember, sir, that the First Great Awakening had little effect on the Anglicans.
Thank you for a WONDERFUL post!
I don’t frequent this place much these days but very glad I did today! You have made this Christmas eve visit more than worthwhile!
Merry Christmas and God bless!
Merry Christmas! I had to make a few stops on the way home, and the retail clerks were saying Merry Christmas everywhere, it was *great*.
Thank you so much for posting this! I really enjoyed reading it. I am a big admirer of the General!
Merry Christmas to you and your family and all at FR!
Yes, it is wonderful to hear “Merry Christmas”.
But it is sad, also, isn’t it? Not too many years ago, you and I would not have found such a greeting remarkable.
Merry Christmas! Thanks for posting this. Congratulations on a job well done.
I get online email messages from Brooks Broothers. Today’s message was simply, “Merry Christmas” — I was pleasantly surprised to see this. I also got a email today from Wal-Mart but it was “Happy Holidays” — disappointing.