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, June 18, 2011

A Dinner for General Washington

On 18 June 1775, George Washington wrote in his diary:
Dined at Mullens upon Schoolkill. Spent the Evening at my lodgings.
The next day he recorded dinner at the house of Joseph Reed, soon to be his first military secretary. And then, on the day he received his formal commission as general from the Continental Congress, Washington stopped keeping his diary for a few years.

Years later, Dr. Benjamin Rush described what was probably that dinner at a tavern along the Schuylkill:
A few days after the appointment of General Washington to be commander in chief of the American armies, I was invited by a party of delegates and several citizens of Philadelphia to a dinner which was given to him at a tavern on the banks of the Skuilkill below the city. Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, James Wilson, Jno. Langdon of New Hampshire and about a dozen more constituted the whole company.

The first toast that was given after dinner was “The Commander in chief of the American Armies.” General Washington rose from his seat, and with some confusion thanked the company for the honor they did him. The whole company instantly rose, and drank the toast standing. This scene, so unexpected, was a solemn one. A silence followed it, as if every heart was penetrated with the awful, but great events which were to follow the use of the sword of liberty which had just been put into General Washington’s hands by the unanimous voice of his country.
In his autobiography Rush added another anecdote:
About this time I saw Patrick Henry at his lodgings, who told me that General Washington had been with him, and informed him that he was unequal to the station in which his country had placed him, and then added with tears in his eyes “Remember, Mr. Henry, what I now tell you: From the day I enter upon the command of the American armies, I date my fall, and the ruin of my reputation.”
That story seems out of character for Washington to me. But of course he worked hard at presenting a certain character to the world, and we’re not privy to many unguarded moments. A slight change in the words Henry remembered—“I fear that from the day I enter…,” or some such—makes it easy to imagine those words from Washington’s mouth.

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