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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Monday, February 18, 2013

Washington’s Birthday Observed in Milton

Over a century ago, Albert Matthews of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts was keeping his eye open for newsaper reports of Americans celebrating George Washington’s birthday. His earliest find appears to be in John Gill’s Continental Journal dated 18 Feb 1779:
Thursday the 11th instant [i.e., of this month], the glorious anniversary birthday of his Excellency General WASHINGTON, was celebrated at Milton, by a large number of gentlemen, with an elegant festival. After dinner the following Toasts were drank:
1. The glorious and auspicious 11th of February, 1732.*
2. May this anniversary be celebrated to the honor of our illustrious Chief, till time shall be no more.
3. May the wisdom and integrity of Congress frustrate all the arts and stratagems devised to darken and divide their counsels.
4. Perpetual union and freedom to the American States.
5. His Most Christian Majesty [i.e., the King of France].
6. American Ministers at foreign Courts.
7. The honorable Sieur Gerard [the French minister to the U.S. of A.].
8. The American Army and Navy.
9. The Army and Navy of our great Ally.
10. May the names of Warren, Montgomery, and all the heroes who have fell in our glorious cause, be immortalized in the annals of America.
11. May the United American States ever prove a happy asylum to the oppressed of all nations.
12. May the genial rays of true religion and science dispell the mist of ignorance and error from all quarters of the globe.
* General Washington was born in Virginia, in the county of Westmoreland, the 11th February, 1732.
On 18 Feb 1780, Gill printed the description of another birthday celebration, most likely at the same tavern:
FRIDAY last a large number of Gentlemen met at Mr. Robinson’s, by Milton Bridge, to celebrate the anniversary Birth Day of his Excellency General Washington—Every breast was filled with pious joy to Heaven for preserving the invaluable Life of our illustrious General.—After an elegant Dinner, the following Toasts were given out:
1. The illustrious Hero of the day.
2. Wisdom and Integrity to the Congress.
3. The American Army and Navy.
4. The combined Fleets of France and Spain.
5. Poverty to Extortioners, and Bread to the Poor.
6. Condign punishment to all Peculators.
7. The advocates for civil and religious Liberty.
8. May America flourish, ’till time shall be no more.
9. Agriculture and Navigation.
10. Our Friends in captivity.
11. Our Friends at Foreign Courts.
12. May the dictates of Reason and Conscience govern mankind.
13. Peace and good Government to all Nations. Huzza!
The 18 Feb 1782 Independent Ledger carried a shorter report for that year:
Last Tuesday a large number of Gentlemen met at Mr. Robinson’s Tavern on Milton Hill, to celebrate the anniversary Birth Day of His Excellency General WASHINGTON.—The Company were honored with the presence of General [Benjamin] LINCOLN, and many other American officers of distinction.
You’ve no doubt noticed that all those celebrations were held on the 11th of February while we now observe Washington’s birthday on the 22nd.

TOMORROW: When did that shift happen?

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