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Georgia Meets the Papers of George Washington

November 2, 2016

George Washington’s composure under duress and remarkable memory for facts and pertinent details provided the basic tools of successful leadership, the managing editor of The Papers of George Washington told an audience in Savannah, Ga., recently.

Dr. William Ferraro was responding to a question posed by Stan Deaton, senior historian of the Georgia Historical Society, before a crowd of more than 350 at an event titled “George Washington, Leadership and Global Revolution.”  The event, held at Savannah’s historic First Baptist Church in late September, was sponsored by the historical society and the UVA Club of Savannah.

Dr. William M. Ferraro with Stan Deaton, senior historian for the Georgia Historical Society.

Dr. William M. Ferraro with Stan Deaton, senior historian for the Georgia Historical Society.

Deaton had asked Ferraro’s opinion as to what made Washington an effective leader.  In his response, Ferraro also noted what he called Washington’s strong sense of humanity, saying that our Revolutionary War general and first president genuinely cared about people, their condition, and their concerns.

Deaton also wondered whether Washington would “be comfortable running for president in the current world of politics.”  Ferraro felt that he would not, because Washington did not easily brush aside criticism and was particularly outraged by newspaper attacks he deemed malicious and false.  Contemporary media’s penchant for constant scrutiny would have dismayed Washington.

Ferraro lauded Washington for his willingness to share credit, even when that credit was not entirely merited.  As an example, Ferraro cited the credit Washington gave Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne for all facets of planning and executing the successful assault on the British garrison holding Stony Point, N.Y., in July 1779.  Wayne led the attack, but Washington had done the planning.

After the dialogue and comment period, some 75 attendees enjoyed a 1790s-style banquet, done in authentic Mount Vernon style, at the Olde Pink House.  “George Washington’s visit to Savannah in May 1791 elicited the most gracious hospitality,” Ferraro told fellow diners.  “He enjoyed three public dinners, a general illumination, a special tour, and attention from ‘the most respectable ladies.'”  Although enormously impressed with Savannah, Washington complained that the sandy roads tired his horses, Ferraro said.  He then embellished a toast Washington had made during his visit.

“Now, building on Washington’s own words, a toast: That the city of Savannah may largely partake of every public benefit, which our free and equal government can dispense, and that the happiness of its’ people may ever increase and advance the state of Georgia, the United States, and The University of Virginia.”