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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Friday, January 16, 2015

President Washington in Sickness and in Lexington

Having spent many autumn days outdoors meeting lots of American citizens, on 26 Oct 1789 President George Washington…got sick.

He wrote in his diary:
The day being Rainy & Stormy—myself much disordered by a Cold and inflamation in the left eye, I was prevented from visiting Lexington (where the first blood in the dispute with G. Britn.) was drawn. . . . in the Evening I drank Tea with Govr. [John] Hancock & called upon Mr. [James] Bowdoin on my return to my lodgings.
(The President’s encounters with Gov. Hancock will be the focus of T. H. Breen’s talk at the Cambridge Forum next Wednesday evening.)

According to the editors of the Washington Papers, the President might have been suffering from the “widespread epidemic of respiratory ailments” spreading in the central and southern states. In fact, Washington and his retinue may have carried the virus north. Certainly a lot of the people who had crowded onto the Boston streets to see him came down with a big, and local newspapers began to refer to the “Washington influenza.”

Washington eventually made it to Lexington, visiting the town on his swing south after seeing New Hampshire.
Thursday 5th. About Sun rise I set out, crossing the Merimack River at the Town over to the Township of Bradford and in nine Miles came to Abbots Tavern in Andover where we breakfasted, and met with much attention from Mr. [William] Philips President of the Senate of Massachusetts, who accompanied us thro’ Bellarika to Lexington, where I dined, and viewed the Spot on which the first blood was spilt in the dispute with great Britain on the 19th. of April 1775.
The President dined at William Munroe’s tavern, now a museum of the Lexington Historical Society (shown above).

In 1917, the Journal of American History published “A Young Woman’s Sprightly Account of Washington’s Visit to Lexington in 1789,” said to be written by Munroe’s daughter Sarah. It looks like a total fake. But sprightly.


PKienle said...

Yes, indeed, the letter is a fake. The forger, caught up in a "viral" whirlwind before the days of instantaneous online dissemination, comments on the unexpected popularity of his little joke here: https://archive.org/stream/sketchofmunroecl00munr#page/56/mode/2up

J. L. Bell said...

Ooh, thanks, Polly! I see that the letter's author published that detailed self-exposé in 1900, years before the letter was reprinted in the Journal of American History. But obviously the truth could not catch up to the lie.