George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 4 May 1791]

Wednesday 4th. Dined with the Members of the Cincinnati, and in the evening went to a very elegant dancing Assembly at the Exchange—At which were 256 elegantly dressed & handsome ladies.

In the forenoon (indeed before breakfast to day) I visited and examined the lines of Attack & defence of the City and was satisfied that the defence was noble & honorable altho the measure was undertaken upon wrong principles and impolitic.

At the Cincinnati dinner, held in the “long-room” of Edward McCrady’s tavern on East Bay Street, “a choir of singers entertained the company with several pieces of vocal music,” and there were again patriotic toasts punctuated by the guns of the Charleston battalion of artillery. The evening ball, given by the city corporation, was attended by “a great number of gentlemen,” but the “brilliant assemblage of ladies” was clearly the center of attention. “The ladies,” said a newspaper account, “were all superbly dressed; and most of them wore ribbons with different inscriptions, expressive of their respect for the President, such as, ‘long live the President,’ &c. Joy, satisfaction and gratitude illumined every countenance, and revelled in every heart; whilst the demonstrations of grateful respect shewn him seemed to give him the most heartfelt satisfaction, which visibly displayed itself in his countenance. The beautiful arch of lamps in front of the Exchange was illuminated; and over the entrance there was a superb transparency, in the centre Deliciis Patriae, and at the top G.W. The fusileer company was drawn up before the Exchange to maintain order, and exhibited a very pleasing appearance. In short, every circumstance of the evening’s entertainment was truly picturesque of the most splendid elegance” (Md. Journal [Baltimore], 24 May 1791). A supper at 10:30 P.M. finished the evening’s festivities (HENDERSON description begins Archibald Henderson. Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791. Boston and New York, 1923. description ends , 178).

Earlier in the day a delegation from the Grand Lodge of the State of South Carolina Ancient York Masons, headed by Mordecai Gist, called on GW and presented him with their address of welcome. The address dated 2 May 1791 is printed in Md. Journal (Baltimore), 24 May 1791, and Dunlap’s American Daily Adv. (Philadelphia), 25 May 1791. GW’s reply, which also appears in those newspapers, is in DLC:GW.

The lines of attack and defense that GW toured this morning were constructed across Charleston neck, north of the city, in the spring of 1780 when British forces commanded by Sir Henry Clinton laid siege to American forces in Charleston commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln (BOATNER [1] description begins Mark Mayo Boatner III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York, 1966. description ends , 205–14; BOATNER [2] description begins Mark M. Boatner III. Landmarks of the American Revolution. New York, 1975. description ends , 462). At the time of the siege GW was much concerned about Lincoln’s decision to commit all of his men to the defense of the city, leaving the rest of the South with little protection. “It is putting much to the hazard,” GW wrote Baron von Steuben 2 April 1780; “I have the greatest reliance on General Lincoln’s prudence; but I cannot forbear dreading the event” (DLC:GW). The key to the defense of Charleston, GW believed, was control of the harbor (GW to Benjamin Lincoln, 15 April 1780, DLC:GW; GW to John Laurens, 26 April 1780, PHi: Gratz Collection). Unfortunately, the deteriorating forts guarding the harbor were ineffective against Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot’s ships, which crossed the bar in force 8 April 1780. On 12 May the American garrison surrendered. GW, nevertheless, supported Lincoln to the end. “This consolation . . . offers itself,” GW wrote him 28 April 1780 when the fate of Charleston was sealed, “that the honour of our Arms is safe in your hands, & that if you must fall, you will not fall without a vigorous struggle” (MH). Lincoln later played a prominent role at Yorktown.

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