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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story

by
Walter B. Norris

published by
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 13
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

p191 Chapter XII

Washington Visits Annapolis

Reference has already been made several times to the visits of the Father of His Country, to Annapolis, but there are so many of these, begun so early and continued so long, that it will be worth while to bring them together for the light they throw on the personality of Washington, especially because they illuminate a side of his character which has usually been overshadowed by outstanding and public traits as a general and statesman. The records of his life in Annapolis show that his was a well-rounded personality, and all the greater for these minor qualities. In Annapolis he appears once as a great military figure, but at other times as the man of fashion, the friendly visitor, and the conscientious husband and stepfather.

To Washington, Annapolis had many attractions which made it a rival even of Williamsburg, to which he was obliged to repair for his duties p192as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses or as the commander of its militia in the defense against Indian attacks. Annapolis was nearer, directly on the route to the North, and the center of many commercial, political and social activities in which he was interested. And it was a larger place than the Virginia capital. From Mount Vernon Washington would cross the Potomac to Port Tobacco on the Maryland side, and then ride on through Upper Marlborough across the South River to Annapolis, a comfortable day's journey. From Annapolis, or in returning to Mount Vernon from Philadelphia, he would use the easy stretch of water with its regular ferry between the Maryland capital and Rock Hall or Chestertown on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake.

Questions of military co‑operation between Maryland and Virginia probably first brought Washington to Annapolis, for the letters between him and Governor Sharpe are numerous, and we have a record of his presence in the town on February 14, 1757. There is even an interesting tale, which may be true, that he was entertained at White Hall by Governor Sharpe p193about this time, and that he danced there with Mary Ridout, sister of John Ridout, while Benjamin Franklin, who was in Annapolis on some errand at the same time, played the tune on the musical glasses.

By the year 1770, however, Washington had become a leading character in the southern colonies, and as a man of wealth and social standing became a fairly frequent visitor, for now Annapolis was distinctly the social center of the section that lay along the shores of the Chesapeake and the Potomac. Several visits are recorded in detail in the diaries that Washington, so methodical in all things, kept. They reveal the manner of the life he led and show his enjoyment of all the various social activities of the period, the club, races, the theater, the ball, and — the one which seems to have engrossed the time and strength of gentlemen of the period more than any other — the dinner table. We also learn the breadth of his acquaintance in both Tory and patriot circles, for he seemed to know everybody.

Besides the diaries which are to‑day lovingly preserved in the Division of Manuscripts of the p194Library of Congress, there are also to be found in the same place the ledgers in which Washington kept the accounts of Mount Vernon and his own personal expenses from 1754 on. We are enabled therefore to reproduce not only the records of his movements from his diaries but also the intimate details of his travelling expenses, his gifts to servants, his losses and winnings at cards, and his bets at the races. These records as far as they relate to Annapolis follow:

[Sept.] 21 [1771]. Set out with Mr. Wormeley for the Annapolis races — dined at Mr. William Digges's and lodged at Mr. Ignatius Digges's.

22. Dined at Mr. Samuel Galloway's and lodged with Mr. Boucher in Annapolis.

23. Dined with Mr. Lloyd Dulany and spent the evening at the Coffee House.

24. Dined with the Governor and went to the play and ball afterwards.

25. Dined at Dr. Stewart's and went to the play and ball afterwards.

26. Dined at Mr. Ridout's and went to the play and ball after it.

27. Dined at Mr. Carroll's and went to the ball.

28. Dined at Mr. Boucher's and went from thence to the play and afterwards to the Coffee House.

29. Dined with Major Jenifer and supped at Daniel Dulany, Esqr's.

p195 30. Left Annapolis and dined and supped with Mr. Samuel Galloway.

Oct. 1. Dined at Upper Marlborough and reached home in the afternoon, Mr. Wormeley, Mr. Fitzhugh, Mr. Randolph, Mr. Burwell, and Jack Custis came with me — found Mr. Pendleton here.

1771

Contra [cash paid out]1

£

s.

d.

Sept. 19

By expenses to and from Annapolis races

2

16

7

23

By John Parke Custis at ye Annapolis races

8

By a pair of shoes for my servant

8

By a velvet cap for ditto

1

4

By cards different times

13

4

8

By play tickets at ditto

3

By ball ditto

18

[Oct.] 4 [1772]. Set off for the Annapolis races — dined and lodged at Mr. Boucher's.

5. Reached Annapolis — dined at the Coffee House with the Jockey Club and lodged at the Governor's after going to the play.

6. Dined at Major Jenifer's — went to the ball and supped at the Governor's.

7. Dined at the Governor's and went to the play afterwards.

8. Dined at Col. Lloyd's and went to the play — from thence early to my lodgings.

p196 9. Dined at Mr. Ridout's — went to the play and to the Governor's to supper.

10. Dined with Mr. Carroll of Carrollton — and set out for Mr. Boucher's, which place I arrived at about eight o'clock.

11. Got home to a late dinner — John Parke Custis came with me — found Mrs. Barnes there.

1772

Contra2 [cash paid out]

£

s.

d.

October

By expenses of a trip to and from the Annapolis races — travelling

2

10

11

By servants on the trip

17

By sundry tickets to the plays there

1

By ditto ditto to the ball ditto

12

7

By cash paid Mr. Samuel Galloway for 2 boxes of claret containing 12 dozen

20

14

By ditto paid Col. Ab. Barnes for the horse Dr. Craik bought for me of his son John £. 50 Maryland Currency equal to

40

By charity

2

3

10

By cash lost on the races

1

6

By ditto paid for a hat for Miss Custis

4

4

By ditto paid Mr. Custis at Annapolis

2

14

p197 [April] 12 [1773]. Set off for Annapolis with Mr. Custis — dined and lodged at Mr. Boucher's with Governor Eden and others.

13. Got to Annapolis — dined and lodged at the Governor's — where I also supped.

14. Dined and supped at Mr. Lloyd Dulany's — lodged at the Governor's.

15. Dined at Col. Sharpe's and returned to Annapolis — supped and lodged at the Governor's.

16. Dined and supped at Mr. Daniel Dulany's — lodged at the Governor's.

17. Left Annapolis — dined and lodged at Mr. Boucher's.

18. Reached home to dinner after passing through Piscataway Town.

1773

Contra3 [cash paid out]

£

s.

d.

April 10

By expenses in Annapolis

1

1

4

By Mr. Custis's ditto

18

By ferriage going and returning there

8

6

By servant there

1

1

By charity

1

6

17

By fee to Mr. Thomas Johnson in my attach — against D. Jenifer's Adam

2

5

By cash paid for a horse

8

By ditto to Mr. Custis

4

12

p198 [May] 13 [1773]. Those two gentlemen stayed to dinner, after which I set out on my journey for New York — lodged at Mr. Calvert's.

11. Breakfasted at Mr. Ignatius Digges's — dined at the Coffee House in Annapolis and lodged at the Governor's.

12. Dined, supped, and lodged at the Governor's.

13. After breakfast and about eight o'clock set out for Rock Hall, where we arrived in two hours and twenty-five minutes — dined on board the Annapolis at Chestertown and supped and lodged at Mr. Reynolds's.

[Sept.] 26 [1773]. I set off for Annapolis races — dined at Rollins's and got to Annapolis between five and six o'clock — spent the evening and lodged at the Governor's.

27. Dined at the Governor's and went to the play in the evening.

28. Again dined at the Governor's and went to the play and ball in the evening.

29. Dined at Mr. Sprigg's and went to the play in the evening.

30. Dined at Mr. Ridout's and spent the afternoon and evening at Mr. Jenifer's.

Oct. 1. Still at Annapolis — dined with Mr. Ogle — spent the evening at the Governor's.

2. Set off on my return home — dined at Marlborough and lodged at home — Mr. Custis coming with me.

1773

Contra4 [cash paid out]

£

s.

d.

Sept. 23

By travel and expenses to and from the Annapolis races

4

16

10

By sundry play tickets

3

6

By a ticket to the ball

6

By cards and racing

3

16

By servants

1

15

3

14

1

By cash paid for Mr. Custis's expenses there

3

By a pair of black silk hose

18

The races often seem to have determined the times of Washington's visits, and he even records the very bets he made and the losses he suffered. But he seems to have never allowed himself the expensive luxury of a racing stable, although he was fond of fox hunting and kept several good horses for that purpose. The races, however, were the occasion for many other social events. It was then that the theater was p200open, it was then that balls were given, and generally the provincial court was in session, and there was opportunity for business as well as pleasure.

When we remember that Washington was not, like many Marylanders, educated in England, or even the recipient of a college education in Virginia, like Jefferson, but was from early years more familiar with the wilderness and the camp than with the ball room and the senate chamber, it is not too much to infer that his visits to the elegant and cultivated society of Annapolis did much to refine and polish the exterior as well as broaden the intellectual outlook of the somewhat reticent self-made Virginia colonel, and prepare him to achieve success and maintain prestige on the larger stage of the Revolution.

In many ways it is probable that Washington had much in common with the leaders of the Maryland patriots in their rather reluctant conversion to the idea of independence. He had, of course, joined the agreement not to import any article on which a tax had been laid, for we find him in 1769 writing to his London agent directions p201not to ship any such. In 1774, when the later non‑importation agreement was under discussion, he, like one hundred and thirty-five citizens of Annapolis, protested against the provision by which debts due English firms were not to be paid.

One interest which Washington had in Annapolis before the Revolution centered in Rev. Jonathan Boucher, rector of St. Anne's from 1770 to 1772, and one of the most interesting characters of the period. Boucher had come to Virginia in 1759 as a tutor, had later studied divinity and received ordination in England. When he returned to Virginia he not only carried on the duties of a parish priest, but conducted a small boys' school, one of his pupils being John Parke Custis, son of Mrs. Washington by her first marriage. She seems, however, to have left the education of her son almost wholly in her husband's hands.

When Boucher secured a parish in Maryland, where livings paid rather better than in Virginia, he carried Custis along with him, and even brought him along with him to Annapolis when he came to St. Anne's in 1770. But Boucher, p202as a bachelor, found it difficult to secure suitable living accommodations in Annapolis at first, and the work of attending to his clerical duties, superintending the teaching of several boys and guarding them against the temptations of the provincial capital was apparently too much for Boucher's abilities. As a result Washington complains of the slight progress his ward is making, and Boucher paints Custis as lacking in all ambition. The letters were frequent and show Washington's conscientious attention to the matter as well as a feeling on his part that education is one thing which he does not entirely understand and that Mrs. Washington's fondness for her son makes remedial measures all the more difficult. Yet he shows the greatest solicitude for her feelings, especially when Boucher takes Custis to Baltimore to be inoculated against small‑pox. Washington wishes it done without his wife's knowledge as it will make her anxious and prevent her travelling to Williamsburg as she had planned. And he urges that every precaution be taken to prevent any disastrous consequences.

Washington's letter to Boucher under date of p203December 16, 1770, shows his earnest wish for Custis's welfare. It reads:

"Mount Vernon, Dec. 16th, 1770.

"According to appointment Jacky Custis now returns to Annapolis. His mind [is] a good deal released from study, and more than ever turned to dogs, horses, and guns; indeed upon dress and equipage, which till of late, he has discovered little inclination of giving in to. I must beg the favor of you, therefore, to keep him close to those useful branches of learning which he ought now to be acquainted with, and as much as possible under your own eye. Without these, I fear he will too soon think himself above control, and be not much the better for the extraordinary expense attending his living in Annapolis; which I should be exceedingly sorry for, as nothing but a hasty progress towards the completion of his education can justify my keeping him there at such an expense as his estate will now become chargeable with.

"The time of life he is now advancing into requires the most friendly aid and counsel (especially in such a place as Annapolis); otherwise, p204the warmth of his own passions, assisted by the bad example of other youth, may prompt him to actions derogatory of virtue and that innocence of manners which one could wish to preserve him in; for which reason I would beg leave to request that he may not be suffered to sleep from under your own roof unless it be at such places as you are sure he can have no bad examples set him; nor allow him to be rambling about of nights in company with those who do not care how debauched and vicious his conduct may be.

"You will be so good, I hope, as to excuse the liberty I have taken in offering my sentiments thus freely — I have his well-being much at heart and should be sorry to see him fall into any vice or evil course which there is a possibility of restraining him from."5

In a letter less than a month later Washington expresses with considerable hesitation his ideas on the most desirable studies. He writes:

"In respect to the kinds and manner of his studying, I leave it wholly to your better judgment — had he begun, or rather pursued his study p205of the Greek language, I should have thought it no bad acquisition; but whether [if] he acquire it now he may not forego some more useful branches of learning, is a matter worthy of consideration. To be acquainted with the French language is become a part of polite education; and to a man who has [the prospect] of mixing in a large circle absolutely [necessary. Without] arithmetic the common [affairs of] life are not to be managed [with success. The study of geo]metry and the mathematics (with due regard to the li]mits of it) is equally [advantageous. The principles] of philosophy, moral, natural, etc. I should think a very desirable knowledge for a gentleman; but as I said before, I leave the whole to your direction; with this earnest request that in whatever kind of study you think proper to engage him he may be kept diligently to it, for he really has no time to lose."6

Boucher's picture of the fifteen-year‑old youth is not promising for his development in Annapolis. "I must confess to you," he writes to Washington, "I never did in my life know a youth so exceedingly indolent, or so surprisingly voluptuous: p206one would suppose nature had intended him for some Asiatic prince." Later in the letter he writes a long explanation of the difficulties Custis is under. He says:

"It is, possibly, a misfortune to him that everywhere much notice is taken of him. Whether this may be owing to his family, his fortune, his manners, or his connexions, or all together, I will not now enquire. But this is certain, that tho' I am often pleased with it, yet it is the source of infinite disquietude to me. It is here as with you: he has many invitations to visits, balls, and other scenes of pleasure, to which neither you nor I can refuse his going — more especially if we go ourselves. Indeed, I do not know that it would be right to refuse, even if good manners would allow it. Yet so it is, he seldom or never goes abroad without learning something I could have wished him not to have learned. There are not, that I know of, more idle or pleasurable people in Annapolis than there are in any other town containing an equal number of inhabitants: yet somehow or other he had contrived to learn a great deal of idleness and dissipation among them. One inspires him p207with a passion for dress — another for racing, fox hunting, etc. — even the grave Col. Sharpe, you see, led him to talk of guns and rifles with much more satisfaction than I can persuade him to talk of books or literary subjects."7

When some discussion arose as to the value of a European tour for Custis, Boucher wrote much advice and proposed himself as his companion. Boucher argues that while it may be expensive — and he states that Mr. Dulany says his son spent £500 in Paris in three months — yet if he remained at home and fell into some such habit as dealing in horses, or "but in a very moderate degree, sporting, as it is called, neither of which he could well avoid from the general prevalence of example," it would cost him as much. When Governor Eden suggested that there should first be a six months' tour of the colonies, Boucher agreed and hoped that Washington would find time to spend a few months with the party.

The European trip was finally abandoned, and Boucher moved to a country parish where the emoluments promised better than at St. p208Anne's, which seems at this time to have been in very poor condition, a dilapidated church and a living of only about £250 for the rector. Custis was later sent to New York to King's College, now Columbia, but remained only three months. He then returned to Mount Vernon and at the age of nineteen married Eleanor Calvert, aged sixteen, to whom he had become engaged without the consent of either family while he was under Boucher at Annapolis. Although Washington endeavored to postpone the marriage for two or three years till Custis had completed his education and shown his affection to be lasting, they were married in about a year and seem to have lived most happily till Custis's death while serving as an aide-de‑camp of Washington in the Yorktown campaign. Through it all Washington's mastery of detail and high sense of duty appear in striking fashion.

Boucher has probably left us the best collection of comments on the principal characters who shone in the society of this section in the years preceding the breaking out of hostilities with the mother country. An enthusiastic pamphleteer and propagandist, he engaged in p209almost every political and religious controversy of the time, and believed himself to be the most influential and cleverest of those who used the columns of the Maryland Gazette or the Virginia Gazette to further their causes. Not all of these articles can be identified but in the "Reminiscences" which he wrote to Washington, and his correspondence with English friends we have an intensely personal account of the events of his day. Besides, after he returned to England in the early days of the Revolution he prepared and finally published his "A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution," which had a very considerable influence in forming public opinion in regard to Washington. His letters and other papers were handed to Thackeray and used by him in writing "The Virginians," where one easily recognizes the "shy, silent, stern, slow" Washington such as Boucher pictured, touched though it is with a human sympathy that was Thackeray's own contribution.

At first Boucher's impressions of Annapolis were favorable. "It was," he declares, "the p210genteelest town in North America, and many of its inhabitants were highly respectable as to station, fortune, and education. I hardly know a town in England so desirable to live in as Annapolis was then." But he soon found St. Anne's a poor living and only desirable as Gradum ad Parnassum, a path to preferment, as he calls it on account of its being close to the Governor. Of Governor Sharpe, to whom he had unsuccessfully applied for a Philadelphia, he says: "A well-meaning but weak man, and much under the influence of Mr. Ridout, his Secretary." Another time he remarks of him: "He is a hearty, rattling, wild young dog of an officer; he is too, a bit of a scholar — has Horace all by heart, of whom indeed he is a faithful disciple." Of Governor Eden he writes: "A handsome, lively, and sensible man, . . . had been in the Army and had contracted such habits of expense and dissipation as were fatal to his fortune, and at length to his life. Yet with all his follies and foibles, which were indeed abundant, he had such a warmth and affectionativeness of heart that it was impossible not to love him."

Boucher was just that sort of Tory who would p211be the victim of popular attack, and it is not strange that in the last six months of his preaching in Maryland he always had a brace of loaded pistols lying on the pulpit ready at hand. Uncompromising in his opposition to the Revolutionary movement, he was haled before the patriot committee in Annapolis, but according to his own account came off with flying colors by virtue of his eloquence. He was one of the few prominent Tories who were formally charged with treason and whose estates were actually confiscated.

A veritable Dean Swift in invective, Boucher wrote to Washington after his flight from the country a letter which is a masterpiece, though it is probable that its sentiments are actuated by political partisanship rather than personal animus. This also accounts for his milder, though uncomplimentary, characterization of Washington in his letters, from which a phrase has already been quoted. Yet the chief passage is worth quoting in full. It reads:

"I did know Mr. Washington well; and though occasion may call forth traits of character that never could have been discovered in p212the more sequestered scenes of life, I cannot conceive how he could, otherwise than through the interested representations of party, have ever been spoken of as a great man. He is shy, silent, stern, slow, and cautious; but has no quickness of parts, extraordinary penetration, nor an elevated style of thinking. In his moral character he is regular, temperate, strictly just and honest (excepting that as a Virginian he has lately found out that there is no moral turpitude in not paying what he confesses he owes to a British creditor), and, as I always have thought, religious; having heretofore been pretty constant, and even exemplary, in his attendance on public worship in the Church of England. But he seems to have nothing generous or affectionate in his nature. Just before the close of the last war he married the widow Custis, and thus came into the possession of her large jointure. He never had any children, and lived very much like a gentleman at Mount Vernon, in Fairfax County, where the most distinguished part of his character was that he was an admirable farmer."8

p213 The opinion of Eddis, who saw Washington at Governor Eden's, is more favorable. "Reserved in conversation," he writes, "but liberal in opinion, his actions have hitherto been directed to calmness and moderation; a perseverance in which conduct may restrain misguided ardor and direct every movement to that grand point, — a permanent and constitutional reconciliation."

There is no record of Washington being in Annapolis, or even passing through it, during the period of the Revolution until November 21, 1781, when on his way to the North after the defeat of Cornwallis he spent one night with Governor Lee in the same structure where he had lodged before with Sir Robert Eden. Then, as says the Maryland Gazette, "on his appearance in the streets, people of every rank and every age eagerly pressed forward to feed their eyes with gazing on the man, to whom, under Providence, and the generous aid of our great and good ally, they owed their present security and their hopes of future liberty and peace. The courteous affability with which he returned their salutes lighted up ineffable joy p214in every countenance and diffused the most animated gratitude through every breast." As usually, a public dinner, an illumination of the city, and a ball in the Assembly Rooms were the necessary honors of the occasion.

The pre‑eminent occasion which associates Washington with Annapolis is, however, the resignation of his position as commander-in‑chief of the Revolutionary armies. This took place in the Old Senate Chamber of the State House on December 23, 1783. During that year the Congress began meeting alternately in Annapolis and Trenton, and on the 4th of November assembled in the Annapolis State House. As soon as news of the signing of the treaty of peace was received in America General Clinton evacuated New York and Washington occupied the city with his troops. Then, his work done, he hastened to return his commission to Congress and secure relief from his military responsibilities.

When Washington arrived in Annapolis on December 20th, and took up his quarters at Mann's Tavern, he was at once the object of addresses of welcome and appreciation from the p215Legislature, the City Council, the Governor and his Council, and the citizens of Baltimore. Before he left on the 24th he had been given the usual honors, a public dinner, an illumination, and a ball. As the bill Mr. Mann sent the State for the refreshments served at the ball indicates, — it has somehow survived in the State archives, — the hospitality was unstinted. In all it cost the State £71 6s. 6d. For this was furnished 98 bottles of wine, 2½ gallons of spirits, 9 pounds of sugar, 12 packs of cards, 8 pounds of candles, music, etc.

The actual ceremony of resignation was made very formal, for Congress had decided upon the order of precedence in the procession, the order of speeches, and even prescribed that "when the General rises to make his address, he is to bow to Congress, which they are to return by uncovering without bowing."

The historic ceremony, so appealingly portrayed by the artist Trumbull in the well-known painting, took place in the south-east room in the State House, a room now happily restored to almost its original condition and decoration at this time. At the further end of the room p216on a semi-circular dais stood the chair of the President of Congress, slightly withdrawn into the oval recess of the wall. In a humbler position sat the Clerk before a broad, low desk, the traditional chair and the desk both standing in the identical places to‑day. On one side wall stands a huge fireplace, and on the other broad and lofty windows set in a recess with beautifully carved shutters admit a plentiful stream of light. Overhead a huge chandelier for innumerable candles, now reproduced with more modern appliances, was provided for evening sessions.

[image ALT: zzz.]

The Old Senate Chamber,
State House

The bronze tablet in the floor marks the spot where Washington stood when he resigned his commission in 1783

The members of Congress, about twenty in number, sat in armchairs about the room, with a large table in the space in front of the dais for their convenience when writing. In the gallery over the entrance door sat the wives of the members and other ladies who had been invited to attend, all clustered around the figure of Mrs. Washington, who had come over from Mount Vernon to welcome her husband home and to attend the ceremony. On the floor, crowded around the members of Congress, who were seated with their hats on as indications of the p217proud sovereignty of the States they represented, were the Governor and his Council, the members of the Legislature, the consul-general of France, the judges of the State courts, and gentlemen from the town and vicinity. At a spot slightly to the right of the presiding officer, and on the floor of the chamber, sat Washington, attended on either side by officers of his staff standing.

The place and the presence were such as stir the imagination and quicken the pulse. The room and building were simple but beautiful, and above the roof was already rising a graceful dome that was to make it the most beautiful colonial building in the country. The town had been the very center of culture and wealth and had shown its patriotic spirit by its vigorous resistance to the earlier measures of oppression and later had carried on a firm but courteous expulsion of British authority. The city and State had done its share with the utmost loyalty to carry on the struggle for liberty, even during the darkest hours of Valley Forge and Trenton. Its first regiments had, on their very arrival, plunged into the Battle of Long Island and p218left more than half of their numbers in the swamps and on the hillsides of Brooklyn. Its Maryland Line had borne the brunt of British attack in all the battles of the Southern campaign, at Camden, Cowpens, Guilford, and Eutaw Springs, and it had drained its resources to furnish flour and beef to the French and American armies as they enveloped and strangled Cornwallis.

The Assembly itself bore on its rolls the names of men whose deeds are a part of American patriotic tradition. Abiel Foster sat for New Hampshire; Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Osgood, and George Partridge for Massachusetts; William Ellery and David Howell for Rhode Island; Thomas Mifflin and Cadwalader Morris for Pennsylvania; James Tilton and Eleazer McComb for Delaware; James McHenry and Edward Lloyd for Maryland; Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Hardy, Arthur Lee, and James Monroe for Virginia; Benjamin Hawkins, Hugh Williamson, and Richard Dobbs Spaight for North Carolina, and South Carolina was represented by Jacob Read.

Though Alexander Hamilton had been elected p219from New York, as well as John Hall, Thomas Stone, and Samuel Chase from Maryland, none of them had presented themselves and become qualified to take part in the deliberations. The last two named, though not members of Congress, are generally credited with having been present, as well as the other two Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll and William Paca. The last was Governor and had a prominent place in the reception given Washington, even the chairs from his home being taken to the State House for use on the occasion.

In addition to Washington himself, there were present his military aides, probably David Humphries, William S. Smith, Henry Baylis, and certainly Tench Tilghman, who in a ride that has gone down in history carried the news of Yorktown through Annapolis to the Congress in Philadelphia. Furthermore, three days earlier Generals Horatio Gates and William Smallwood had welcomed their commander-in‑chief to the Maryland capital and were presumably present at his resignation.

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Washington, Lafayette,
and Tench Tilghman

painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1785.
Now in Old Senate Chamber

But the central figure was Washington himself. p220With a fortune almost providential, he had commanded the armies of the colonists from the very beginning through more than eight years of struggle. He had won few spectacular victories, few dramatic successes. But with slender forces and pitifully inadequate supplies he had held the British to the chief seaports, directed the operations of armies as far separated as those of Gates at Saratoga and Greene in South Carolina, had never allowed himself to be decisively defeated, and had persisted till France saw fit to link her fortunes with the revolted colonies and with the troops of Rochambeau and the fleet of De Grasse help to achieve a victory sufficiently discouraging to British pride to produce a cessation of hostilities and a recognition of independence.

At noon of the 23rd of December, in such a presence as has been described, General Mifflin, the President of Congress, rose and informed Washington that "the United States in Congress assembled are prepared to receive your communication." With equal formality but with such feeling that he could with difficulty enunciate, Washington rose, and, standing on p221the spot marked to‑day by a bronze plate, read the following address:

"Mr. President:

"The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.

"Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union and the patronage of Heaven.

"The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence p222and the assistance I have received from my countrymen increases with every review of the momentous contest.

"While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, Sir, to recommend in particular those who have continued in the service to the present moment as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

"I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last 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.

"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body under whose orders I have so long acted, p223I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life."

As Washington concluded his speech, he handed his commission and a copy of the address to the President, who responded in well chosen words of gratitude and affection, beginning: "The United States in Congress assembled receive, with emotions too affecting for utterance, the solemn resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with success through a perilous and doubtful war," — words penned, it is said, by Jefferson for the occasion.

The next morning Washington, now a private citizen, left for Mount Vernon, where he arrived on Christmas Eve. As he wrote to George Clinton, he doubtless revealed his real feelings when he said, "The scene is at last closed. I feel myself eased of a load of public care. I hope to spend the remainder of my days in cultivating the affections of good men and in the practice of the domestic virtues."

A simple but touching picture of the scene and of the feelings which it inspired is found p224in a letter written by an Annapolitan lady, Mrs. John Ridout, to her mother, Mrs. Samuel Ogle, about a month after the event. She says:

"I went with others to see General Washington resign his commission. The Congress was assembled in the State House, both Houses of Assembly were present as spectators, the gallery full of ladies.

"The General seemed so much affected himself that everybody felt for him. He addressed Congress in a short speech, but very affecting. Many tears were shed. He has retired from all public business and designs to spend the rest of his days at his own seat. I think the world never produced a greater man and very few so good."9


The Author's Notes:

1 Washington's Ledgers, 1750‑1784, Ledger "A", Library of Congress, folio 345.

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2 Ibid., Ledger "B," folio 60.

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3 Ibid., folio 88.

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4 Ibid., folio 94.

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5 Ford, "Writings of Washington," vol. II, p316.

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6 Ibid., vol. II, p319.

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7 Hamilton, "Letters to Washington," vol. IV, p42.

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8 "Notes and Queries," Series V, vol. V, p503.

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9 Lady Edgar, "A Colonial Governor in Maryland," p276. The name of Jeremiah Townley Chase should be added to the list of members of Congress from Maryland, and he was presumably present at Washington's resignation.


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