George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Washington, 8 January 1791

To William Washington

Philadelphia January 8th 1791.

Dear Sir,

I have had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 7th of November, and I beg you will be assured that I have a proper sense of your polite invitation to reside with you while in Charleston, if I should pay a visit to the southern States in the ensuing year.

It is my intention to visit the southern States next spring; provided the new Congress should not meet immediately on the rising of the present which will be on the 3rd of March—If it should not be in my power to leave this place by the middle of that month I must give up my tour for this season as setting out at a later period would bring me into the southern States in the warm and sickly months, a circumstance which I would wish by all means to avoid—But Sir, you will permit me to decline the acceptance of your polite invitation; for I cannot comply with it without involving myself in an inconsistency as I have determined to pursue the same plan in my southern that I did in my eastern visit; which was not to incommode any private family by taking up my quarters with them during my journey—I am persuaded you will readily see the necessity of this resolution both as it respects myself and others—It leaves me unembarrassed by engagements, and by a uniform adherence to it I shall avoid giving umbrage to any by declining all such invitations of residence.

The journey in the manner I shall make it would be too much for Mrs Washington, She will not therefore accompany me, but joins in compliments to Mrs Washington and yourself. With very great esteem and regard, I am dear Sir, Your most obedient Servant

G. Washington


William Washington wrote to GW on 7 Nov. 1790, noting that “Your Excellency’s favor of March 25th accompanied with a Medal struck by order of the late Congress I have receiv’d. This flattering mark of respect confer’d on me by the Representatives of my Country will make an indelible impression of Gratitude on my Mind.

“The People of this State indulge themselves with the hope that your Excellency will pay them a visit the ensuing year, it will give me much pleasure if your Excellency & Family will abide with me whilst in Charleston. Mrs Washington flatters herself with the pleasure of your Lady’s company” (DLC:GW).

William Washington’s invitation is the first reference in GW’s correspondence of the tour of the southern states he was planning to undertake after Congress recessed in the spring. GW had been considering a tour of the South since early in his administration. In October 1789 he discussed the propriety of his intended New England Tour with Chief Justice John Jay. Jay responded approvingly but “observed, a similar visit wd. be expected by those of the Southern [states]” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:454). The ratification of the federal Constitution by North Carolina in November 1789 removed the most serious obstacle to a presidential tour of the southern states. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina wrote to GW a few weeks after that event, suggesting a tour of the region (see Pinckney to GW, 14 Dec. 1789). GW replied on 11 Jan. 1790 “that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have it in my power to visit all the Southern States,” but that he could not make any such “personal engagements,” since he was not “master of my own time.” There was some expectation in the South that GW would undertake a Southern Tour after Congress recessed for the fall of 1790. Rumors to this effect circulated there, but no evidence has been found that GW ever planned to make the trip at that time. He devoted himself during the fall of 1790 to the care of Mount Vernon, to managing, at a distance, the transfer of his official household from New York to Philadelphia, and to selecting a site on the Potomac River for the federal district.

When William Blount of North Carolina called on GW at Mount Vernon in September 1790, he learned that GW was planning to undertake a tour of the South in the spring of 1791. “At the Request of Govr. Martin,” Blount wrote to his brother, “I asked him if it was true as we had heard to the Southward that he intended this Autumn to visit the Southern States he answered that he wished to do so but had not Time as his Presence at Philadelphia would be necessary—some days previous to the Meeting of Congress here the Subject was droped and after he renewed it by saying that he supposed the approaching Session of Congress would not be a long one and that the new Congress would not hold a Spring Session and in that Case he should make a Tour to the South as far as Savannah and Augusta in the Months of March April and May—that he should proceed by the lower Road, and return by the uper or the Reverse and from what fell in the Course of Conversation on the Subject I think he will proceed Via Norfolk, Edenton, Washington, New Bern, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah then up to Augusta and return by Way of Columbia, Campden, Charlotte, Salisbury thence the most direct Road to Richmond leaving Petersburg to the Right—I have given this Information to Governor Martin so that you may shortly expect to hear of pompous Orders for equiping and training the Cavalry—and perhaps it may induce the Overseers of Roads and Ferry-Keepers to mend their Ways and repair or build new Boats If the very greatest Attention and Respect is not paid him he will be greatly disappointed and Mortified for to the North the Contention has been who should pay him the most—Major Jackson says from Boston to the Line of New Hampshire he was attended by 400 Cavalry and was there met by Governor Sullavan at the Head of 700.—Give Sam. Simpson notice that he may have his Company in complete Order—I want that Molsy and my Children should see him for certainly such another Man will not again appear in their day.—I would not like the Contents of this Letter to get into the Press yet I would wish it generally known to such as would be induced to prepare for his Reception in any way whatever—His Object in coming I suppose is more to be seen and to gratify the Southern People in seeing him than to see himself tho his ostensible Object is to see the Southern States” (William Blount to John Gray Blount, 20 Sept. 1790, Blount Papers, description begins Alice Barnwell Keith et al., eds. The John Gray Blount Papers. 4 vols. Raleigh, N.C., 1952–82. description ends 2:117–20).

GW’s intentions became commonly known in the South during the late fall of 1790, prompting William Washington and others to offer their hospitality to GW on his trip. GW’s polite refusal of William Washington’s offer was consistent with the course he had pursued on his New England Tour, when he lodged only in public houses and refused all offers to stay in private homes. GW declined a similar offer extended by Edward Rutledge (see GW to Rutledge, 16 Jan. 1791). As GW planned the itinerary for the tour during the first months of 1791, he realized that the lack of suitable ordinaries along much of his route would force him to make exceptions to this rule (see Itinerary for the Southern Tour, February 1791).

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