To the Inhabitants of Providence, Rhode Island
[Providence, R.I., 19 August 1790]
The Congratulations1 which you offer me, upon my arrival in this place,2 are received with no small degree of pleasure. For your attentions, and endeavours to render the town agreeable to me, and for your expressions of satisfaction at my election to the Presidency of the United States, I return you my warmest thanks.
My sensibility is highly excited by your ardent declarations of attachment to my person, and the Constitution.
As, under the smiles of Heaven, America is indebted for Freedom and Independence, rather to the joint exertions of the Citizens of the several States; in which it may be your boast to have borne no inconsiderable share; than to the Conduct of her Commander in Chief, so is she indebted for their support, rather to a continuation of those exertions than to the Prudence and Ability manifested in the exercise of the powers delegated to the President of the United States.
Your hopes of the extension of Commerce, the encouragement of Agriculture and Manufactures, and the establishment of public faith, as reared upon our Constitution, are well founded; and it is my earnest wish that you may extensively enjoy the benefits arising from them.
I thank you, Gentlemen, for your prayer for my future welfare, and offer up my best wishes for your individual and collective happiness.
LS, RHi: Providence Town Papers; LB, DLC:GW.
1. The address congratulating the president on his election and welcoming him to Providence was presented to GW on 19 Aug. 1790. It is dated 17 Aug. 1790, when a committee consisting of Welcome Arnold, Benjamin Bourne, Dr. Enos Hitchcock, David Howell, and Henry Ward presented it to the town meeting for approval, and is signed by moderator Jabez Bowen and town clerk Daniel Cooke (Matthews, Journal of William L. Smith, description begins Albert Matthews, ed. Journal of William Loughton Smith, 1790–1791. Cambridge, Mass., 1917. Reprint from Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 51 (1917-18):20-88. description ends 38; Preston, Washington’s Visits to Rhode Island, description begins Howard W. Preston. Washington’s Visits to Rhode Island, Gathered from Contemporary Accounts. Providence, 1932. description ends 20).
The address reads: “The Inhabitants of Providence beg Leave to Offer you our Congratulations on your safe Arrival in this Place.
“We are sensibly affected by the Honor conferred on the State, and on us in particular, in the present Visit: And to be assured, Sir, we shall think ourselves peculiarly happy if, by our utmost Attentions, it can be made agreeable to you.
“We gladly seize this First Opportunity to express the most sincere Satisfaction in your Election to the Presidency of the United States. The unbiassed Voice of a great Nation, which unanimously called you to that important Trust, is an Event, of which the Annals of History afford no Example; nor will future Time see it followed, unless the most transcendent Merit and the Clearest Fame should be United in the same Person.
“As General of the Armies of the United States, and as their President, we are attached to you by every Motive of Gratitude and Affection.
“To the conduct and Magnanimity of her Commander in Chief, uniformly displayed in the Course of a long and Arduous War, America is indebted, under the Smiles of Heaven, for her Freedom and Independence: And the Consummate Prudence, and Ability, manifested in the Exercise of the Powers delegated to the President of the United States, exhibit to the World a Character of no less Celebrity in the Cabinet than in the Field.
“From our most excellent Constitution, and the benign Influence of those Virtues which characterize your Administration, we entertain the most pleasing Hopes of the Extension of Commerce, the Encouragement of Agriculture and Manufactures, and of the Establishment of public Faith, and private Credit; and that the Liberties of America will be transmitted to very late Posterity.
“We ardently pray that a Life so conducive to the Welfare of Millions may be long protracted, and that, when the Fatal Shaft shall be Sped which will deprive America of her great Benefactor, you may ascend those Regions where only exalted Virtue will be fully rewarded” (DLC:GW).
2. After “a tedious passage” of seven hours up Narragansett Bay, the presidential packet arrived at Providence around four o’clock in the afternoon of 18 August. William Loughton Smith wrote in his journal of GW’s reception at Providence: “The same salute took place as at Newport, but the procession up to the Tavern was more solemn and conducted with much greater formality, having troops and music.” A local newspaper described the scene: “The Arrival of Capt. Brown at the Entrance of the Harbour was announced by the Discharge of a Cannon from Federal-Hill, when the Procession was formed at the South End of the Town. On the President’s landing, he was welcomed by a federal Discharge of Cannon, and the Ringing of Bells. The Concourse of People was prodigious. The Procession, . . . formed agreeabl[y] to a previous Arrangement, . . . was conducted with great Decorum, and exceeded any thing of the Kind before exhibited in this Town.
“All Ages, Classes and Sexes, were full of Sensibility on this Joyful Occasion. The brilliant Appearance of the Ladies from the Windows was politely noticed by the President, and gave Animation to the Scene. On the President’s arrival at Mr. Daggett’s, another federal Salute took Place, and after three Cheers the People retired” (Matthews, Journal of William L. Smith, description begins Albert Matthews, ed. Journal of William Loughton Smith, 1790–1791. Cambridge, Mass., 1917. Reprint from Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 51 (1917-18):20-88. description ends 37; Providence Gazette and Country Journal, 21 Aug. 1790; see also Pennsylvania Packet [Philadelphia], 30 Aug. 1790).
Providence well prepared itself for the president’s visit. A town meeting was held on 16 Aug. 1790 “to consider of the most proper Measures to shew the Veneration the Town hath of his Character . . . and the Sentiments of Gratitude the Inhabitants entertain for his rescuing America from the Prospect of Slavery and establishing her Liberty upon the broad Basis of Justice and Equity under a Constitution the Admiration and Envy of the civilized World.” The meeting voted to mend the windows in the Market House, recommended that homeowners clean the streets in front of their dwellings before noon on 18 Aug., appointed one committee to make arrangements for GW’s reception “in a Manner Suitable to his high dignity” and “to procure the necessary Powder for the Occasion” and another committee to draft a welcome address, and then adjourned to the next day, when it ordered the State House “to be handsomely illuminated on Occasion of the Arrival of the President” (Preston, Washington’s Visits to Rhode Island, description begins Howard W. Preston. Washington’s Visits to Rhode Island, Gathered from Contemporary Accounts. Providence, 1932. description ends 18, 20).
The town also authorized John Carter to print up 250 copies of the order of procession “To be observed on the Arrival of the PRESIDENT of the United States” (ibid., 25). This broadside, dated Providence, 17 Aug. 1790, probably provided the basis of the description that is printed in the 19 Aug. 1790 issue of the United States Chronicle: Political, Commercial, and Historical (Providence; see also Providence Gazette and Country Journal, 21 Aug. 1790).
Smith recorded that Gov. Arthur Fenner of Rhode Island “was so zealous in his respects that he jumped aboard the packet as soon as she got to the wharf to welcome the President to Providence.” Smith also commented that in the procession the president’s party was followed by “the principal inhabitants of Providence and some from Newport, and other citizens making a long file, preceded by some troops and music; the doors and windows for the length of a mile, were all crowded with ladies and spectators. When we arrived at the tavern . . . the President stood at the door, and the troops and the procession passed and saluted. In the procession were three negro scrapers making a horrible noise” (Matthews, Journal of William L. Smith, description begins Albert Matthews, ed. Journal of William Loughton Smith, 1790–1791. Cambridge, Mass., 1917. Reprint from Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 51 (1917-18):20-88. description ends 37).