George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 24 April 1791]

Sunday 24th. Breakfasted at an indifferent House about 13 miles from Sages and three Miles further met a party of Light Horse from Wilmington; and after them a Commee. & other Gentlemen of the Town; who came out to escort me into it, and at which I arrived under a federal salute at very good lodgings prepared for me, about two O’clock. At these I dined with the Commee. whose company I asked.

The whole road from Newbern to Wilmington (except in a few places of small extent) passes through the most barren country I ever beheld; especially in the parts nearest the latter; which is no other than a bed of white Sand. In places, however, before we came to these, if the ideas of poverty could be seperated from the Land, the appearances of it are agreeable, resembling a lawn well covered with evergreens and a good verdure below from a broom or course grass which having sprung since the burning of the woods had a neat & handsome look especially as there were parts entirely open and others with ponds of water which contributed not a little to the beauty of the Scene.

Wilmington is situated on Cape Fear River, about 30 Miles by water from its mouth, but much less by land. It has some good houses pretty compactly built—The whole undr. a hill; which is formed entirely of Sand. The number of Souls in it amount by the enumeration to about 1000, but it is agreed on all hands that the Census in this state has been very inaccurately & shamefully taken by the Marshall’s deputies; who, instead of going to Peoples houses, & there, on the spot, ascertaining the Nos.; have advertised a meeting of them at certain places, by which means those who did not attend (and it seems many purposely avoided doing it, some from an apprehension of its being introductory of a tax, & others from religious scruples) have gone, with their families, unnumbered. In other instances, it is said these deputies have taken their information from the Captains of militia companies; not only as to the men on their Muster Rolls, but of the souls in their respective families; which at best, must in a variety of cases, be mere conjecture whilst all those who are not on their lists—Widows and their families &ca. pass unnoticed.

Wilmington, unfortunately for it, has a mud bank [ ] miles below, ovr. which not more than 10 feet water can be brought at common tides; yet it is said vessels of 250 Tonns have come up. The qty. of shipping, which load here annually, amounts to about 12,000 Tonns. The exports consist chiefly of Naval Stores and lumber—Some Tobacco, Corn, Rice & flax seed with Porke. It is at the head of the tide navigation: but inland navigation may be extended 115 miles farther to and above Fayettesville which is from Wilmington 90 miles by land, & 115 by Water as above. Fayettesville is a thriving place containing near [ ] Souls. 6,000 Hhds. of Tobacco, & 3000 Hhds. of Flax Seed have been recd. at it in the course of the year.

The New Hanover County tavern at which GW breakfasted was probably Jennett’s. Its proprietor may have been Jesse Jennett (Jinnett) who appears in Currituck County in the 1790 census, but in New Hanover in that of 1800 (“memorandum of distances,” 1791, 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 , 15:380; HEADS OF FAMILIES, N.C. description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: North Carolina. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1966. description ends , 20; N.C. 1800 CENSUS description begins Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples, and David Schaefermeyer, eds. North Carolina 1800 Census Index. Bountiful, Utah, 1974. description ends , 118).

The Wilmington Troop of Horse, commanded by Capt. Henry Toomer, met GW about 12 miles from town, and the gentlemen of the town, all on horseback, greeted him about six miles farther down the road. Stepping out of his chariot, GW mounted one of his horses and rode the remaining distance to Wilmington, preceded by four dragoons with a trumpet and followed by the rest of his escort. His servants and baggage brought up the rear of the procession.

The federal salute which GW received on reaching the town was a “tripple” one—three rounds of fifteen shots each—fired by a battery of four guns under the command of Capt. John Huske. GW then, according to a newspaper account, was escorted to his lodgings “through an astonishing concorse of people of the town and country, whom, as well as the ladies that filled the windows and balconies of the houses, he saluted with his usual affability and condencension. Upon his alighting, the acclamations were loud and universal. The Ships in the harbour, all ornamented with their colours, added much to the beauty of the scene.” GW’s lodgings were at Mrs. Ann Quince’s house on the east side of Front Street near the river. “Authenick information” of GW’s approach had arrived at Wilmington only the previous day, and “the House which was at first intended by the inhabitants for his reception and accommodation not being ready,” Mrs. Quince, widow of John Quince (died c.1776), “cheerfully made an offer to the town of her elegant House and furniture for that purpose, which was gratefully accepted.” Mrs. Quince lodged elsewhere during GW’s stay. The dinner with the seven members of the town’s welcoming committee, said to have been at Dorsey’s tavern also on Front Street, was short. Afterwards GW “took a walk round the town, attended by them and many other gentlemen” (Columbian Centinel [Boston], 11 June 1791; HENDERSON description begins Archibald Henderson. Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791. Boston and New York, 1923. description ends , 104–7, 115).

Wilmington, seat of New Hanover County, and Fayetteville, seat of Cumberland County, were both settled in the early 1730s. Wilmington was incorporated in 1739/40, and Fayetteville, first called Campbelltown, in 1762. The name was changed in 1786 to honor the marquis de Lafayette. Fayetteville’s population in 1790 was 1,536 (HEADS OF FAMILIES, N.C. description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: North Carolina. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1966. description ends , 9). Wilmington’s exact population is not given in the 1790 census. Robert Hunter, Jr., a Scottish traveler who visited the town in 1786, reported: “The inhabitants, white and black, are estimated at 1,200—the proportion four blacks to a white” (WRIGHT description begins Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds. Quebec to Carolina in 1785–1786: Being the Travel Diary and Observations of Robert Hunter, Jr., a Young Merchant of London. San Marino, Calif., 1943. description ends , 286–87).

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