George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 21 April 1791]

Thursday 21st. Dined with the Citizens at a public dinner given by them; & went to a dancing assembly in the evening—both of which was at what they call the Pallace—formerly the government House & a good brick building but now hastening to ruins. The company at both was numerous—at the latter there were abt. 70 ladies.

This town by Water is about 70 miles from the Sea but in a direct line to the entrance of the river not over 35 and to the nearest Seaboard not more than 20, or 25. Upon the River Nuse, & 80 miles above Newbern, the Convention of the State that adopted the federal Constitution made choice of a Spot, or rather district within which to fix their Seat of Government; but it being lower than the back Members (of the Assembly) who hitherto have been most numerous inclined to have it they have found means to obstruct the measure but since the Cession of their Western territory it is supposed that the matter will be revived to good effect.

GW sat down to dinner with the citizens at 4:00 P.M.; he remained at the ball until 11:00 P.M. Earlier in the day he walked around New Bern and during the afternoon received an address from a committee of local freemasons representing St. John’s Lodge No. 2. A general address from the town’s inhabitants was also given to him apparently at West’s ferry the previous day. (Dunlap’s American Daily Adv. [Philadelphia], 13 May 1791; HENDERSON description begins Archibald Henderson. Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791. Boston and New York, 1923. description ends , 84–87; both addresses and copies of GW’s replies are in DLC:GW).

The palace, built in 1767–70 at the urging of Gov. William Tryon (1729–1788), served as residence for North Carolina’s governors until 1780 and as an occasional meeting place for the General Assembly until 1794 (DILL description begins Alonzo Thomas Dill. Governor Tryon and His Palace. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1955. description ends , 110–19, 206, 258). It was “almost in ruins” in 1784 when the German traveler Johann David Schoepf saw it. “The inhabitants of the town,” he explained, “took away everything they could make use of, carpets, panels of glass, locks, iron utensils, and the like, until watchmen were finally installed to prevent the carrying-off of the house itself. The state would be glad to sell it, but there is nobody who thinks himself rich enough to live in a brick house” (SCHOEPF description begins Johann David Schoepf. Travels in the Confederation [1783–1784]. Translated and edited by Alfred J. Morrison. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1911. description ends , 2:128–29). William Attmore of Philadelphia who visited the palace in 1787 reported that “the Town’s people use one of the Halls for a Dancing Room & One of the other Rooms is used for a School Room. . . . The King of G. Britain’s Arms, are still suffered to appear in a pediment at the front of the Building; which considering the independent spirit of the people averse to every vestige of Royalty appears Something strange” (ATTMORE description begins Lida Tunstall Rodman, ed. Journal of a Tour to North Carolina by William Attmore, 1787. James Sprunt Historical Publications 17, no. 2. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1922. description ends , 16).

The question of a new capital had troubled North Carolina politics since 1777. Unable to decide the matter, the legislature referred it to the state’s Ratifying Convention of 1788, which rejected the United States Constitution. On 2 Aug. 1788 the convention voted to fix the seat of government within ten miles of Isaac Hunter’s tavern in Wake County near the falls of the Neuse, but to let the legislature determine the exact spot within that radius. In 1792 land was purchased and the city of Raleigh was laid out in Wake County; by the end of 1794 a small brick statehouse was erected there (N.C. STATE REC. description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends , 22:26–29, 33; LEFLER AND NEWSOME description begins Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome. North Carolina: The History of a Southern State. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1954. description ends , 243–45).

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