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From George Washington to the Clergy of Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790

To the Clergy of Newport, Rhode Island

[Newport, R.I., 18 August 1790]

Gentlemen,

The salutations1 of the Clergy of the Town of Newport on my arrival2 in the State of Rhode Island are rendered the more acceptable on account of the liberal sentiments and just ideas which they are known to entertain respecting civil and religious liberty.

I am inexpressibly happy that by the smiles of divine Providence, my weak but honest endeavors to serve my country have hitherto been crowned with so much success, and apparently given such satisfaction to those in whose cause they were exerted. The same benignant influence, together with the concurrent support of all real friends to their country will still be necessary to enable me to be in any degree useful to this numerous and free People over whom I am called to preside.

Wherefore I return you, Gentlemen, my hearty thanks for your solemn invocation of Almighty God that every temporal and spiritual blessing may be dispensed to me, and that, under my administration, the families of these States may enjoy peace and prosperity, with all the blessings attendant on civil and religious liberty—In the participation of which blessings may you have an ample Share.

G. Washington.

LB, DLC:GW.

When the president visited the New England states the previous fall “to acquire knowledge of the face of the Country the growth and Agriculture there of and the temper and disposition of the Inhabitants towards the new government,” his party deliberately bypassed Rhode Island, which had refused to call a state convention to ratify the federal Constitution. Federalist sentiment in the state had so increased by 1790, however, that a ratification convention had not only been called on 16 Jan. 1790 but had even passed on 29 May 1790 a ratification resolution by a two-vote majority. GW received the good news of the completion of the union on 1 June 1790 but decided only on 13 Aug. 1790 to make a public trip to the state. Such a special visit would not only focus the goodwill that Rhode Islanders felt toward him as the hero of the Revolution upon a reconciliation with the federal government, but it would also lend his personal prestige to the state’s Federalist leaders. Politics was not the only consideration for undertaking his fourth and final trip to Rhode Island, however. GW felt that the sedentary lifestyle forced upon him by the routine of daily office work had contributed to his recent illness and that the exercise of a long trip as well as the sea air of a voyage down Long Island Sound and into Narragansett Bay would do his desk-bound body much good and prepare him for the active two months he looked forward to spending as master of Mount Vernon (William Jackson to Clement Biddle, 12 May 1790, editorial note, Daniel Owen to GW, 29 May 1790, GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 1 June 1790, n.1, and Betty Washington Lewis to GW, 16 Sept. 1790; 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 35; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:453; 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 17–28).

1The address of the Newport clergy was dated Newport, 17 Aug. 1790, and signed by: Samuel Hopkins, pastor of Newport’s First Congregational Church; Gardner Thurston, pastor of the Second Baptist Church; Frederick Smith, pastor of the United Brethren; William Bliss, pastor of the Sabbatarian Baptist Church; William Smith, rector of Trinity Church; Michael Eddy, pastor of the First Baptist Church; and William Patten, pastor of the Second Congregational Church. It was presented to GW the next morning, when he probably made his reply (Newport Herald, 19 Aug. 1790; 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).

The address reads: “With salutations of the most cordial esteem and regard permit us the Clergy of the Town of Newport to approach your person, entreating your acceptance of our voice in conjunction with that of our fellow-citizens, to hail you welcome to Rhode Island.

“Shielded by Omnipotence during a tedious and unnatural war—wise, as a messenger sent from Heaven, in conducting the counsels of the Cabinet—and under many embarrassments directing the operations of the field; divine Providence crown’d your temples with unfading laurels, and put into your hand the peacefully-waving olive-branch. Long may you live, Sir, highly favored of God and beloved of men, to preside in the grand Council of our Nation, which we trust will not cease to supplicate Heaven that its select and divine influences may descend and rest upon you, endowing you with grace, wisdom, and understanding to go out and in before this numerous and free people, to preside over whom divine Providence has raised you up.

“And therefore before God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all the families both in Heaven and Earth are named—according to the law of our office, and in bounden duty—we bow our knee, beseeching him to grant you every temporal and spiritual blessing—and that, of the plentitude of his grace, all the families of these wide extended realms may enjoy under an equal and judicious administration of Government, peace and prosperity with all the blessings attendant on civil and religious liberty” (DLC:GW).

2GW left New York for Rhode Island on the morning of 15 Aug. 1790 accompanied by his secretaries William Jackson, Thomas Nelson, Jr., and David Humphreys. The presidential party, which also consisted of Secretary of State Jefferson, Gov. George Clinton of New York, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Blair of Virginia, and U.S. congressman William Loughton Smith of South Carolina, sailed on board Captain Brown’s Rhode Island packet, Hancock, and arrived at Newport “after an agreeable passage” at eight or ten in the morning of 17 Aug. 1790. When the packet came in sight, the state standard was hoisted on Fort Washington, the bells of the town began ringing, and the ships in the harbor displayed their colors. Smith recorded in his journal of the trip: “As we entered the harbour, a salute was fired from the fort and some pieces on the wharves; at our landing we were received by the principal inhabitants of the town, and the clergy, who, forming a procession, escorted us through a considerable concourse of citizens to the lodgings which had been prepared for us; the most respectable inhabitants were then severally presented to the President by Mr. Merchant, Judge of the District Court” (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 36; Newport Herald, 19 Aug. 1790; Pennsylvania Packet [Philadelphia], 28 Aug. 1790).

Smith continued: “The President then took a walk around the town and the heights above it, accompanied by the gentlemen of the party and a large number of gentlemen of Newport. We returned to our lodgings, and at four o’clock the gentlemen waited again on the President, and we all marched in procession to the Town Hall or State House, where, while dinner was serving up, a number of gentlemen were presented. The dinner was well dished, and conducted with great regularity and decency; the company consisted of about eighty persons; after dinner some good toasts were drank; among others, following: ‘May the last be first,’ in allusion to Rhode Island being the last State which ratified the Constitution. The President gave the ‘Town of Newport,’ and as soon as he withdrew, Judge Merchant gave ‘The man we love,’ which the company drank standing. The company then followed the President in another walk which he took around the Town: He passed by Judge Merchant’s and drank a glass of wine, and then went to his lodgings, which closed the business of the day.” The local newspaper reported that the president’s toast was “The State we are in, and Prosperity to it.” As the Representatives’ Chamber in the State House, where the public dinner was held, was not large enough to accommodate all who wished to join in the festivity, an overflow of young gentlemen entertained themselves at Mrs. Hamilton’s with dinner and drinks (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 36; Newport Herald, 19 Aug. 1790).

The next morning, 18 Aug. 1790, the clergy and the town of Newport presented addresses to GW immediately after breakfast. The president’s party, augmented by U.S. senator Theodore Foster of Rhode Island and U.S. congressman Nicholas Gilman of New Hampshire, then joined another procession that formed along the route to the wharf and left Newport a little after nine o’clock. As GW passed the fort on his outbound voyage, he was again saluted with thirteen cannon (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; Newport Herald, 19 Aug. 1790; Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 149).

Smith recorded an amusing incident that took place as the parade proceeded to the point of embarkation. On his way down Newport’s main street, GW requested Nelson “to step into a store and buy a pair of gloves for him. Mr. Nelson in vain applied to the mistress of the store who would not stir from the window where she stood with her eyes rivetted on the President, after having first hastily thrown a bundle of gloves on the counter; the delay occasioned by the lady’s refusal to assist in finding a proper pair of gloves, induced the President to enter the shop, where he provided himself with gloves to the great gratification of the above lady, who had little idea that the gloves were wanted for him” (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).

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