Topic: Travel

George Washington’s First Visit to Colonial Williamsburg

by Lynn Price, Assistant Editor
April 14, 2017

While Virginia was still a British colony, its capital, Williamsburg, presented a variety of amusements. Residents and visitors alike could enjoy a pint at the tavern after an evening of dancing, noise and excitement in the streets during a town fair, or the debut of a popular play at the local theatre. Modern Virginia residents and history buffs may find these pastimes familiar. While modern-day Colonial Williamsburg offers visitors a recreated past, George Washington experienced the original colonial city.

George Washington’s first recorded visit to Williamsburg came on the heels of his return from Barbados at the end of January, 1752 (according to the Julian or New Style calendar). Upon his ship’s landing at Yorktown, he traveled to Williamsburg to meet Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie.

A print of the Bodleian Plate, which depicts features of colonial Williamsburg, particularly architectural style. Courtesy of Cornell University Library.

In 1752, the capital of Virginia boasted fewer than 1,000 residents. The new capitol building was under construction after a 1747 fire, and well-known landmarks still recognizable to the twenty-first century eye were already standing: Bruton Parish church, the College of William & Mary, and the main street.

After what was likely his first theater experience in Barbados, George may have chosen to attend a performance in Williamsburg. A new theatre had been built in the Virginia capital just a few months before George’s visit. In an advertisement in the Aug. 29, 1751, Virginia Gazette, subscribers were asked to support building a playhouse for the Company of Comedians. And so the second theatre ever in Williamsburg was erected, with shows offered to the public by the middle of October 1751.

George arrived at an unusually quiet time in Williamsburg, as neither the courts nor the colonial assembly was in session. Court sessions, known as Public Times, were held in April, June, October, and December.1 During these months, the capital swarmed with visitors, doubling and possibly tripling the number of inhabitants. Virginians from all corners of the colony came together to enjoy amusements such as fairs with “a Side-play of Puppet shows, Contests in Beauty, Fiddling, and Dancing, with Foot Races from the College to the Capitol, Cudgellings, and Chases for Pigs to be caught by the Tails (which were soaped).”2 Taverns and inns were filled, merchants debuted fashions from London, and personal business was transacted. Slave auctions were also held.3

General Assembly meetings also increased the population of the capital and encouraged additional social events to entertain the visitors. A March 5, 1752, advertisement in the Virginia Gazette, for example, invited ladies and gentlemen to purchase tickets to a ball held at Henry Wetherburn’s every Tuesday while the General Assembly was in session.

While George missed these times of visitors and thus many of the associated popular amusements of Williamsburg in 1752, his meeting with Governor Dinwiddie resulted in a career gain that more than made up for the loss of recreation. In July 1752, the death of George’s brother Lawrence left several militia vacancies in Virginia. Perhaps owing to an encouraging meeting in Williamsburg, George requested a commission from Dinwiddie. He received that commission as major and adjutant of the militia, horse and foot, for the Southern District of Virginia, in December of that year. And thus George Washington’s military career began.

 

Notes

  1. James H. Soltow, “The Role of Williamsburg in the Virginia Economy, 1750-1775,” The William and Mary Quarterly 15, no. 4 (1958), 469.
  2. Rutherfoord Goodwin, A Brief and True Report for the Traveller Concerning Williamsburg in Virginia (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., 1936), 49.
  3. Ibid, 48-52.

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.

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The Heartbreaker

By Mary Wigge, Research Editor
June 21, 2016

Letters reveal a great deal about the sender and recipient—their relationship, their opinions on particular matters—as well as overall historical context. Condolence letters do that and more. George Washington’s death resulted in a deluge of condolences to Martha, from family members, friends, organizations, acquaintances, and even strangers. Sending their regrets, these letters vary from brief notes to lengthy passages. As a research editor, it’s eye-opening to see the spectrum of emotions conveyed.

I first read these condolence letters in 2014 as research on the papers of Martha Washington. Sitting in Mount Vernon’s special collections room with one of my colleagues, I found myself robotically skimming through one condolence letter to Martha after another. I was unfazed. That may sound insensitive, but most of the letters followed a formulaic pattern: regret for Martha’s loss and hope for a swift recovery. The end. A light touch of sympathy with a dash of suggested solace—there was no effusive heart-pouring nor anguished despair. It was not until Lafayette’s letter that I truly felt loss for the “beloved General” Washington.

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Photo taken by Caitlin Conley.

Impressions of Martha Washington: A Visit to New Kent County

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
May 12, 2016

Photo taken by Caitlin Conley.

Historical marker for New Kent County, Virginia.

Sometimes I’ll go stand in front of our shelves of Martha Washington documents and give them a calculating look-over. Each decade has its own shelf, from the 1750s to the 1800s. The 1790s and 1800s bulge with the most envelopes, and get a contented nod. The 1750s get a narrow look because we don’t yet have anything earlier than 1757. That’s 27 years of Martha’s life that have escaped, for the most part, from the documentary record.

I yearn to know more about her younger life, about her relationship with her first husband, about her family, about her home, about what her favorite dresses were, even.1 Who was this girl, Patsy Dandridge, before she became the wealthy Martha Custis, before she was thrown into the spotlight as Martha Washington? Alas, I’m forced to settle for getting only glimpses of her, when I can get them.

So I was excited to visit New Kent County, Virginia, with our Martha team. I wanted to walk the land she grew up on, to see her Pamunkey River, and to wander about the foundations of her family homes.

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Re-Engaged: Participating in the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day

By Katie Lebert, Communications Assistant
March 25, 2016

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
– George Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 1

Last week, Research Assistant Kathryn Gehred and I attended the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The annual two-day event teaches humanities projects across the United States how to advocate among policymakers for equal or increased funding of institutions, such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

The first day included panels and discussions about how the humanities benefit individuals. Since I am somewhat new to the Washington Papers, I was initially nervous about how I could contribute to Advocacy Day. However, the first day’s activities instantly appealed to the humanities major in me, and aligned with the curiosity and commitment to history that I experience working at the Papers.

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Benjamin Franklin and the Adams Family: Editing the Founders

George Washington Statue in Boston Public Garden

George Washington Statue in Boston Public Garden

By Neal Millikan, Assistant Editor
January 5, 2016

“To edit a book well, especially if in any way historical, is far more of a labor than a [wo]man commonly gets credit for. It requires varied knowledge and extensive resources–far more than I could have imagined. I find it engrosses my attention very completely.”

–Diary of Charles Francis Adams, May 9, 1850

Reading this quote in the editor in chief’s office at the Adams Papers made me smile. With these three brief sentences Charles Francis Adams perfectly described what we strive to do as documentary editors.

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Performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

By Sarah Tran, Undergraduate Worker
December 9, 2015

Sarah Tran, one of the Washington Papers’ undergraduate workers for the 2015-2016 academic year, was fortunate enough to be a part of the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a color guard performer in the University of Virginia Cavalier Marching Band. According to Sarah, the opportunity was the highlight of her year. She shares her experience in her own words below. Continue reading

Three-Dimensional Insights at George Washington’s Boyhood Home

HistMarker

The historical marker for Ferry’s Farm

By William M. Ferraro, Associate Editor
November 20, 2015

Having shepherded “George Washington, Day-By-Day, 22 February 1732-14 December 1799” into existence as a website featuring information on Washington’s daily whereabouts and activities, and eager to learn more about his early life when documentary evidence is scant at best, I very much looked forward to visiting Washington’s childhood home bordering the Rappahannock River directly across from Fredericksburg, Virginia. This visit finally occurred on Monday, November 9, as a prelude to my attendance at a lecture on James Monroe as a military commander that evening (the immediate reason for my trip from Charlottesville). Continue reading

George – and Martha – Washington’s Mount Vernon: Journal of a Recent Visit to Mount Vernon, November 3 – 5, 2015

 

The cover of The Washingtons, courtesy of the author.

The cover of The Washingtons, courtesy of the author.

By Flora Fraser, Author of The Washingtons:  George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love”, a new portrait of the first presidential family as informed by the Papers of George Washington

 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On board BA 217, London to DC. I’m looking forward to speaking tomorrow night in the Gay Hart Gaines Distinguished Visiting Lecturer of American History programme. It’s wonderful to speak for the first time about my book, The Washingtons, at Mount Vernon, where I first conceived the idea of writing about America’s first couple, as well as where Mary Thompson, research historian, was so very generous about my many visits to her office, with her time and thoughts about George and Martha.

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