J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Did Washington Stable His Horse in Milton?

Yesterday Ben Edwards at Teach History alerted me to a “Washington slept here” statement that didn’t seem right. I dug to find confirmation, and couldn’t. So I dug a bit more to satisfy myself about how that belief might have arisen.

In a Wall Street Journal profile of Dr. Mark Vonnegut, Nancy Keates described his house in Milton as:

a 1740 beet-red former carriage house that locals believe housed George Washington’s horse; the building was once used as the stables for an inn across the street where the first president met with John Adams.
That story was even headlined “Washington’s Horse Slept Here.” But Washington’s diaries don’t mention Milton. Albert Kendall Teele’s The History of Milton, Mass., 1640-1887 doesn’t describe such a visit—and there’s nothing local historians liked more than filling out the details of George Washington’s visit to town.

George Washington did visit Massachusetts in 1789, during a progress through all thirteen states after he had been elected President. The roots of the Milton tradition may lie in his 1789 diary:
Sunday 25th [October]. Attended Divine Service at the Episcopal Church whereof Doctor [Samuel] Parker is the Incumbent in the forenoon, and the Congregational Church of Mr. [Peter] Thatcher in the Afternoon. Dined at my Lodgings with the Vice President.
That gives us Washington, Adams, and an inn, all in close proximity to the Rev. Peter Thacher. That minister was a native of Milton, where his grandfather of the same name was the town minister for a long, long time.

But Washington’s diary entry actually describes part of his visit to Boston, where the younger Thacher had become pastor of the Brattle Street Congregational Church. The “Episcopal Church” that morning was Trinity.

Maybe there’s a closer connection I’ve overlooked. If anyone knows more about this tradition and the evidence behind it, please share.

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