It was on this day in 1783 that General George Washington said goodbye to many of the officers who served under him in the Continental Army.
Not only was Washington biding adieu to those around him in New York City, but he was also completing his last official act as the leader of the Continental Army. At noon on that day, many of Washington’s officers met him in the Long Room of the Fraunces Tavern. The owner, Samuel Fraunces, would eventually retire to become Washington’s steward.
Washington’s words to his principal officers on that day were simple but poignant: “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. I cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged to you if each of you will come and take me by the hand.” With that, Washington was embraced by each of the officers in the tavern. The first was General Henry Knox who would continue to be Washington’s friend and play an active role in his inauguration some years later. Washington openly wept as he exchanged embraces with officers of both senior and junior rank. Knox later described the situation as so sorrowful that he hoped he would never see another meeting like it.
When Washington finished his goodbyes at close to 2:00 p.m., the group followed him to a barge which awaited him at Whitehall Warf. It was there that New York’s Governor Clinton bid farewell to Washington. Washington then boarded the vessel which took him to Paulus Hook, New Jersey. Although Washington had paid for the meal at the tavern in advance, Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, who was also present on that day, reported that the officers were too mournful to return and enjoy the meal. The soon-to-be retired General’s journey continued to be filled with eventful farewells until his return home to Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve. Although Washington believed he would not return to New York City, he did so in 1789 to be inaugurated as our first President.
We shall continue to learn about Washington’s journey home in the coming weeks. Learning about the fascinating twists and turns of our history reminds us of What IS Right With America.
Visit the website of the Fraunces Tavern at http://frauncestavernmuseum.org The Tavern remains open to this day on Pearl Street in New York.
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.
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