The Birthnight Ball

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, Virginia encompasses two adjoining buildings: the 1785 City Tavern and the 1792 City Hotel. The complex is named after John Gadsby, who ran the hotel and tavern from 1796 to 1808, at the height of their popularity. It has hosted Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Lafayette and Andrew Jackson.

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GW also attended two Birthnight Balls, held in honor of his birthday, in the ballroom of the hotel. Gadsby’s Tavern continues the tradition of Washington’s Birthnight Ball by holding an 18th century dinner and dance each February. It even holds a series of 18th century dance lessons leading up to the ball, for attendees.

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Morris Jumel Mansion

The 1765 Morris Jumel Mansion is in an area of Manhattan now called Washington Heights. From September to October of 1776, it was GW’s headquarters (his office, below) and it was there that he planned what would become his first victory as commander of the continental forces: the Battle of Harlem Heights. Later, it becames a tavern and on July 10, 1790, President Washington dines there with his cabinet (which includes Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton).

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Today, it’s a house museum and the oldest house in Manhattan.

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The Indulgence of Retiring

George Washington was commissioned by Congress as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on June 19, 1775. On December 23, 1783, he resigned that commission before Congress, which was meeting at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland at the time.

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“The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place,” he said, “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.”

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Fighting the French and Indians from Winchester

George Washington first went to Winchester, Virginia as a teenage surveying apprentice. Almost a decade later, as a commander in the militia that protected British Virginia, he was sent to the western front during the French and Indian Wars (a job he got because he had surveyed the area and knew it intimately), and made his headquarters in Winchester.

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Washington’s office is a small log and stone cabin that he used between September 1755 and December 1756, while he was a militia colonel and supervising the building of Fort Loudoun, a few blocks away.   He hated Winchester, calling it a “vile town.”  His one-room office is now part of a museum administered by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

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Charleston’s St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

Went to Crouded Churches in the Morning & afternoon–to  —-  in the morning &  —-       in the Afternoon.  GW’s Diary, 8 May 1791

The General was in Charleston that day and went to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in the morning, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in the afternoon.  St. Philip’s was the oldest church congregation in Charleston.

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St. Michael’s is housed in the oldest church building in Charleston, its cornerstone laid in 1752 and opened for services in 1761.  The General sat in pew #43, in the center of the church, known as “the Governor’s Pew.”

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Salem Tavern

Salem is a small but neat Village; & like all the rest of the Moravian settlements, is governed by an excellent police-having within itself all kinds of artizans. GW’s diary, 31 May 1791

Salem, North Carolina, in 1791, was a small village that had been settled about 40 years earlier by members of the Moravian Church, a German protestant sect.  “The number of Souls does not exceed 200,” wrote the General in his diaries. But he liked the people and the town enough to spent two nights there during his 1791 southern tour.

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He stayed at the Salem Tavern, built in 1784 and owned by the Moravian church, who assigned a couple to it to run. It is now part of Old Salem Museum and Gardens in Winston-Salem, a living history museum that encompasses many of the buildings and much of the lands that were once part of the Moravian village of Salem.

There was one large bedroom on the first floor.  “It was the only room in the tavern meant to be occupied by a single guest,” said the guide.

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“So does that mean that was where George Washington would have stayed?” I asked.

His response: they don’t know. “That would seem to be the logical guess, but his writings are, unfortunately, silent about his room.”

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Worrells in Chester

…[D]ined and lodged at the House of one Worrells in Chester… GW’s diary, 23 March 1791

Chestertown is a beautiful little colonial town on the Chester River, on the eastern shore of Maryland.   We were wandering the few blocks between the river and their tiny downtown when we came across a sign, identifying Worrells Tavern.  It is now a private residence.

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Tobias Lear House

After this setting I called upon President Sullivan, and the Mother of Mr. Lear…. GW’s Diary, 3 November 1789

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Tobias Lear, personal secretary to George Washington, was born and raised in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  When GW visited Portsmouth during his New England tour in 1789, he visited with Lear’s mother in the front parlor of Lear’s family home.

Today, the Lear House is a museum.  It wasn’t open when I was there at the end of May — it opens for the summer season in June — but I got this shot through the window.

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Folsom Tavern

Before ten I reached Exeter 14 Miles distance….A jealousy subsists between this Town (where the Legislature alternately sits) and Portsmouth, which, had I known it in time, would have made it necessary to have accepted an Invitation to a Public dinner, but my arrangements having been otherwise made I could not.  GW’s diary, 4 November 1789

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So instead of dinner, GW had breakfast in Exeter, at Folsom Tavern.  Folsom had been built in 1775 and had been the place where the New Hampshire chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati had been formed.  Which is probably why GW, the national president of the Cincinnati, made the effort to stop there.

The tavern has been moved twice since GW’s visit and  now is on the grounds of (and belongs to) the American Independence Museum.  The tavern’s original site now is occupied by a bakery/cafe called Me and Ollie’s.

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Washington’s DNA

Encampment for the Continental army in the winter of 1777-1778 was in Schuylkill Township, Pennsylvania, in an area that would become known as Valley Forge.  As his headquarters, GW leased a circa 1773 stone house that belonged to grist mill and forge owner Isaac Potts.  Potts was renting it to his aunt and it was she who, in turn, rented it to the General.

The house is furnished in period pieces.  “Original to the house?” I asked.

“No,” the volunteer docent responded, “but there is nothing here that could not have been here when George Washington was in residence.  We have staff in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia who make sure that everything is authentic.”

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We started up the stairs.  “Hold on to the railing,” the docent said.  “Not just to be safe, but because it’s original.  You might get some Washington DNA on you.”

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