Breakfast with Mrs. Rutledge

“Breakfasted with Mrs. Rutledge (the Lady of the Chief justice of the State who was on the Circuits)….”

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The John Rutledge House Inn, on Broad Street in Charleston, is a hotel that I only wish I could afford. It’s in the 1763 home of John Rutledge, a delegate to the Continental Congress and a governor of South Carolina. He was also, in 1776, elected President of South Carolina, an office he held until 1778.

GW must have thought highly of John, since he made time in his busy Charleston schedule to have lunch with Mrs. Rutledge.  Mrs. Rutledge was Elizabeth Grimke, second cousin to the abolitionist Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina. John built what’s now the John Rutledge House Inn for his bride when they married in 1763.

GW also appointed John to be an associate justice of the US Supreme Court, then, in 1795, Chief Justice. Things did not go well in that regard for John, however. The Chief Justice appointment was made was during a Senate recess and he was rejected by the Senate once they returned — the only Supreme Court recess appointment to ever be voted out. Hamilton floated rumors that he was mentally ill and with that and the Supreme Court vote weighing on him, he tried to commit suicide by jumping into Charleston Harbor. He was rescued by two slaves.


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The Charleston State House

“Viewed the town on horse back by riding through most of the principal Streets.”

George Washington’s Diary 6 May 1791


Sometime during his ride, GW stopped to observe construction work on the state house, on the northwest corner of Broad and Meeting, and speak with its architect.

Charleston was home to South Carolina’s first state house, started in 1753. In 1786, the South Carolina assembly decided to move the capitol to Columbia, which had a more mid-state location. In 1788, before the Columbia state house could be built, the Charleston state house was badly damaged in by fire. Even though the state house was moving, the decision was made to rebuilt the Charleston structure, which is what was happening when GW rode. Once the state house moved to Columbia, the building became the county courthouse.

Sometime on May 6, GW stopped to observe construction work the state house, on the northwest corner of Broad and King. Built in 1753, it was extensively damaged by a fire in 1788 and was being rehabbed in 1791, when GW happened by.

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Dining with the Governor

“…I dined at the Governors (in what I called a private way) with 15 or 18 Gentlemen.”

George Washington’s Diary 2 May 1791

Calhoun Mansion

The governor was Charles Pinkney, who had been a delegate to the Continental Congress, had served during the Revolution, and had signed of the Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, he introduced the Fugitive Slave Law, which set out harsh penalties to those who did not assist in returning a runaway slave.  He was also a FOGW (friend of George Washington), who hosted GW at his country home before GW arrived in Charles and three times during the Charleston visit.

Pinkney’s town home, where GW dined, was Lowndes House, on Meeting Street.  Lowndes was destroyed by fire in 1861 and the property is now the site of the c1876 Calhoun Mansion.


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Prioleau’s Wharf

“As we approached the town a salute with Artillery commenced, and at the wharf I was met by the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the Intendt. of the City; The two Senators of the State, Wardens of the City – Cincinnati &ca. &ca….”

George Washington’s Diary 2 May 1791


GW came to Charleston, for his 1791 Southern Tour, by barge. He was escorted by dozens of other barges and boats filled with dignitaries, towns people and musicians “most elegantly dressed” and “all of whom attended me across….” He landed at Prioleau’s Whar, near the Exchange.

We went looking for the site of Prioleau’s Wharf and found Prioleau Street, where the wharf was once located. Since 1791, the area has been filled (with trash and other waste, said our Exchange tour guide) about a tenth of a mile into the river and is now home to buildings and Waterside Park.

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Pathetically Pronounced His Benediction

“Before break I visited the Orphan House at which there were one hund. & Seven boys & girls. This appears to be a charitable institution and under good management.”


We came out of dinner at Henry’s Seafood to find ourselves next to the parking lot that was once the location of the Charleston Orphan Home. GW visited the children and had breakfast with its commissioners. Said one newspaper, “On taking leave of the children, he very pathetically pronounced his benediction on them.”

The Charleston Orphan House, the first municipal orphanage in the US, was established in 1790 “for the purpose of supporting and educating poor orphan children….” At the time of GW’s visit, the orphanage was in temporary quarters at the corner of French Alley and Ellery Street (now Church and North Market).

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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.


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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