George Washington's 1791 Southern Tour - Part 2: The Way Home.
Updated: Feb 26, 2021
In our previous post, “George Washington’s Southern Tour – Part 1”, we wrote about the reasons Washington had for undertaking tours of the new United States, the effort and considerations that went into planning the Southern Tour, and the southbound leg of the trip through the southern states in 1791. Taking an “eastern route” that followed closely the route of the “post road” from Philadelphia to Savannah, Washington was visiting the “oldest,” and generally more-developed portions of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Today’s post will pick up as he began to head north on the second leg of his journey. On this leg, he swung further west, passing through what had, until recently, been referred to as the “backcountry” of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina before passing back into Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, finally ending at Philadelphia. We will then consider the results of the tour and ask the question “was it worth it”?
The Return North
Leaving Savannah on Sunday, May 15th, Washington’s party moved west along the Savannah River, stopping once again to pay respects to the widow of Gen. Nathanial Greene. Arriving in Augusta, GA on May 18, a large party, including Governor James Jackson, the Attorney General, and many of the principal gentlemen of Augusta, escorted them into town. After being honored by a discharge of artillery, he dined with a large group at the Governor’s home and then drank tea there with many well-dressed ladies. The next day he dined with a large company of citizens at the Court House and in the evening went to an Assembly at the Academy where there were between 60 & 70 well-dressed ladies. On the 20th, President Washington toured the ruins of Fort Cornwallis (the British Fortification taken by the Americans during the Revolutionary War, as well as the falls of the Savannah and the town itself, followed by a private dinner with Governor Telfair.
On Saturday, May 21st, Washington’s party left Augusta, crossing the bridge over the River into South Carolina, and rode northward to Columbia, arriving on the 22nd. On the 23rd, he dined at a public dinner at the State House with several Gentlemen and Ladies of Columbia and the surrounding area. Due to a problem with one of his horses, Washington remained in Columbia an added day, finally setting out for Camden on the 25th. That evening, after arriving in Camden, he had a late public dinner. The next day, after reviewing the British military works around Camden, the party set out for Charlotte, pausing along the way to view the site of the battle of Hobkirk’s Hill and the site of the engagement, on the north side of Sander’s Creek, between Lord Cornwallis and General Gates.
On Friday, the 27th, as he crossed the line from South Carolina to North Carolina, the party was met by Chiefs of the Catawba Indian nation who expressed concerns that attempts were afoot to deprive them of part of the 144,000 acres, embracing the sites of present-day Fort Mill and Rock Hill, SC, which was promised to them by Treaty in 1763. Following the Revolutionary War, in which the Tribe fought on the side of the Colonies, the Catawbas appealed to the Continental Congress and, on at least two occasions, directly to President Washington to ask that the 1763 Treaty be enforced, and their lands protected. In 1790 the First Congress enacted the Indian Nonintercourse Act, continuing the policy of the English Crown by prohibiting purchases or leases of Indian lands without the consent and participation of the government. Nonetheless, neither Congress nor the President took any steps to protect the Tribe's lands.
Proceeding on, the party arrived at Charlotte on Saturday the 28th of May where Washington dined with General Thomas Polk and a small party at Polk’s home where Washington spent the night. Washington left Charlotte on the 29th, arriving at Salisbury around 8:00 AM on the 30th for breakfast.
It was at this point Washington had another horse founder. At lunch he dined at a public dinner given by the citizens of Salisbury and drank tea at the same location with about 20 ladies that afternoon. On the 31st of May he left Salisbury, crossed the Yadkin by ferry, and around 3 in the afternoon, arrived at Salem North Carolina, one of the Moravian settlements in that area. The account of Washington’s visit, documented in the records of the Moravian Society of North Carolina, include the following address to Washington from the Moravians:
“Happy in sharing the honor of a visit from the illustrious President of the Union to the Southern States, the Brethren of Wachovia humbly beg leave, upon this joyful occasion, to express their highest esteem, duty, and affection, for the great patriot of this country.
Deeply impressed as we are with gratitude to the great Author of our being for his unbounded mercies, we cannot but particularly acknowledge his gracious providence over the temporal and political prosperity of this country, in peace whereof we do find peace, and wherein none can take a warmer interest than ourselves; in particular, when we consider that the same Lord who preserved your precious person in so many imminent dangers has made you, in a conspicuous manner, an instrument in his hands to forward that happy constitution, together with those improvements, whereby the United States begin to flourish, over which you preside with the applause of a thankful nation.
Whenever, therefore, we solicit the protection of the Father of mercies over this favored country, we cannot but fervently implore his kindness for your preservation, which is so intimately connected therewith.
May the gracious Lord vouchsafe to prolong your valuable life as a further blessing, and an ornament of the constitution, that by your worthy example the regard for religion be increased, and improvements of civil society encouraged.
The settlements of the United Brethren, though small, will always make it their study to contribute as much as in them lies to the peace and improvement of the United States, and all the particular parts they live in, joining their ardent prayers to the best wishes of this whole continent, that your personal as well as domestic happiness may abound, and a series of successes may crown your labors for the prosperity of our times and an example to future ages, until the glorious reward of a faithful servant shall be your portion.”
To which President Washington was pleased to answer:
“Gentlemen: I am greatly indebted to your respectful and affectionate expression of regard, and I am not less obliged by the patriotic sentiment contained in your address.
From a society whose governing principles are industry and the love of order, much may be expected towards the improvement and prosperity of the country in which their settlements are formed, and experience authorizes the belief that much will be obtained.
Thanking you with grateful sincerity for your prayers in my behalf, I desire to assure you of my best wishes for your social and individual happiness”.
Along with the Governor Martin, Washington and his party set out at 4 AM on June 2 for Guilford Courthouse. On the way to the town, Washington viewed the ground on which the action between General Greene and Lord Cornwallis took place and after lunch, rode over the ground where the lines were formed and the route of retreat. As an interesting sidelight, Thomas Jefferson records the following conversation that took place with Washington after his return to Philadelphia:
“In conversation with the President to-day, and speaking about General Greene, he said that he and General Greene had always differed in opinion about the manner of using Militia. Greene always placed them in his front: himself (Washington) was of the opinion, they should be used as reserve to improve any advantage, for which purpose they were the ‘finest fellows’ in the world. He said he was on the ground of the battle of Guilford, with a person who was in the action, and who explained the whole of it to him. That General Greene’s front was behind a fence at the edge of a large field, through which the enemy were obliged to pass to get at them; and that in their passage through this they must have been torn all to pieces, if troops had been posted there who would have stood their ground; and that the retreat from that position was through a thicket perfectly secure. Instead of this, he posted the North Carolina militia there, who only gave one fire and fell back, so that the benefit of their position was lost. He thinks that the regulars, with their field pieces, would have hardly let a single man get through that field”.
On Friday, June 3rd Washington and his party took their leave of Governor and headed north toward the Virginia state line, crossing into Virginia on the 4th, and spending the night at Halifax, VA. From this point forward, Washington’s Southern Tour was over, and the rest of the trip was just “going home”. Departing Halifax on June 5th, the party passed through Charlotte Courthouse and Prince Edward Courthouse on the 7th and crossed the James at Carter’s Ferry (present day Cartersville VA) on the 9th. On the 10th, the party reached Fredericksburg. The next day they were on the road again and passed through Dumfries arriving at Mount Vernon for lunch on June 11th.
After staying at Mount Vernon for 8 days, Washington resumed the trek northward. The Presidential party passed through Frederick and Taneytown MD, and then on to York and Lancaster PA before finally arriving in Philadelphia on the 6th of July 1791, greeted by the ringing of bells, the firing of artillery, and general celebration.
Did Washington Find the Trip of Value?
The president was pleased with what he saw, heard, and learned. Washington wrote in his diary:
“The manners of the people, as far as my observations, and means of information extended, were orderly and civil. And they appeared to be happy, contented, and satisfied with the general government under which they were placed. Where the case was otherwise, it was not difficult to trace the cause to some demagogue or speculating character”.
A few weeks after his July 6 return to Philadelphia, Washington wrote his old friend David Humphreys and offered some thoughts on his recently completed journey, “Each days experience of the Government of the United States seems to confirm its establishment, and to render it more popular—A ready acquiescence in the laws made under it shews in a strong light the confidence the people have in their representatives, and in the upright views in those who administer the government.”
We hope you found this article on the northward leg of President George Washington’s Southern Tour, as well as the entire series, both interesting and educational. One thing I found particularly interesting is just how far Washington and his party were able to cover in a single day.
Join us again in two weeks as we once again delve into the history and social customs of Colonial America and the Early Republic. If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to join our blog community (Look for the button in the upper right-hand corner of this post). This will allow you to post comments to let us know your thoughts on our articles, suggest new subjects for future articles, and allow us to inform you when we post new articles. Please be assured that the Norfolk Towne Assembly never shares our community member's information with outside entities except when required by law. We also invite you to return to our blog home page and sample some of our earlier articles which cover a wide variety of subjects regarding the history and social customs of Colonial America and the Early Republic.
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Henderson, Archibald. Washington's Southern Tour 1791. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923.
Washington, George. The Diary of George Washington, from 1789 to 1791. Ed. Lossing, Benson J. New York: Charles B. Richardson & Co., 1860.