George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 12 May 1791]

Thursday 12th. By five oclock we set out from Judge Haywards and road to Purisburgh 22 Miles to breakfast.

At that place I was met by Messr. Jones, Colo. Habersham, Mr. Jno. Houston Genl. McIntosh and Mr. Clay, a Comee. from the City of Savanna to conduct me thither. Boats also were ordered there by them for my accomodation; among which a handsome 8 oared barge rowed by 8 American Captns. attended. In my way down the River I called upon Mrs. Green the Widow of the decreased [deceased] Genl. Green (at a place called Mulberry grove) & asked her how she did. At this place (12 Miles from Purisburgh) my horses and Carriages were landed, and had 12 Miles farther by Land to Savanna. The wind & tide being both agt. us, it was 6 oclock before we reached the City where we were recd. under every demonstration that could be given of joy & respect. We were Seven hours making the passage which is often performed in 4, tho the computed distance is 25 Miles. Illumns. at night.

I was conducted by the Mayor & Wardens to very good lodgings which had been provided for the occasion, and partook of a public dinner given by the Citizens at the Coffee room. At Purisbg. I parted w’ Genl. Moultree.

Purrysburg, S.C., a village first settled by Swiss colonists in 1732, is on the Savannah River about 25 miles upstream from the city of Savannah (S.C. Hist. and Geneal. Mag., 10 [1909], 187–219, 73 [1972–73], 187–88).

The five Savannah committeemen who greeted GW here had all been in the vanguard of the Revolution in Georgia. Noble Wimberley Jones (c.1724–1805), a physician, was speaker of the Commons House of the Georgia Assembly 1768–70, but because of his vigorous opposition to royal policies, his elections to that post in 1771 and 1772 were disallowed by the royal executive. Jones later played a leading role in the council of safety and the provincial congresses and served in the Continental Congress 1781–82. Joseph Habersham (1751–1815), a merchant, was appointed major in a battalion of Georgia state troops in July 1775 and by 1778 was a lieutenant colonel in the Continental service. In 1795 GW appointed him United States postmaster general, a position he held until 1801. John Houstoun (1744–1796), a lawyer, was another prominent member of the council of safety and the provincial congresses. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, he attended only a few weeks, but was more active in political affairs at home, serving as governor of Georgia 1778–79 and 1784–85. Lachlan McIntosh (1727–1806), remembered as the man who killed Georgia signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett in a duel in 1777 in which he himself was wounded, was well known to GW for his military services during the Revolution. Appointed a colonel by the state in Jan. 1776, he became a Continental brigadier general later that year. He was at Valley Forge and in May 1778 was given command of the Western Department. Conflicts with subordinates obliged GW to relieve him the next year, and McIntosh returned south where he fought at the sieges of Savannah and Charleston. Joseph Clay (1741–1804), a merchant and rice planter, was also a leader in the council of safety and the provincial congresses. He was appointed paymaster general for the Continental Army in the South in 1777 and later served as state treasurer. GW also was met at Purrysburg by Anthony Wayne (1745–1796), who, although a native Pennsylvanian, had been living since 1785 in Chatham County, Ga., on a 1,134–acre Savannah River plantation known as Richmond and Kew, which the state of Georgia had confiscated from its Loyalist owner and had presented to Wayne as a reward for his military services in the South (GRANGER description begins Mary Granger, ed. Savannah River Plantations. Savannah, 1947. description ends , 114–21).

Mulberry Grove, home of Catharine Littlefield Greene (see entry for 1 Oct. 1789), lay near Richmond and Kew and, like Wayne’s plantation, was a confiscated Loyalist estate, which Georgia had used to reward Nathanael Greene for his wartime services. Greene settled on this 2,171–acre plantation in 1785 and began to restore its deteriorated rice fields, but made little progress before his death in June 1786, leaving his wife and children in financial difficulties (GRANGER description begins Mary Granger, ed. Savannah River Plantations. Savannah, 1947. description ends , 71–74).

Savannah officials expected GW and his escort to spend the night at Mulberry Grove. “Indeed,” wrote Mayor Thomas Gibbons to Wayne on 11 May, “it seems necessary that the President should be delayed there, because from the uncertainty of his arrival, no satisfactory provision will be made on that day. To land [at Savannah] in the Evening, will be unfavorable to the wishes of the Ladies, Citizens &c who wish to see the procession.” If GW was to come on to the city today, Wayne was instructed “to effect a Landing at Mulberry Grove, if only for an hour,” and send a warning to the city from there (MiU-C: Wayne Papers).

GW’s late arrival this afternoon, however, did little if anything to dampen the festivity of Savannah’s welcome. Rowed by the eight captains with a ninth as coxswain, all “dressed in light blue silk jackets, black satin breeches, white silk stockings, and round hats with black ribbons having the words ‘Long live the President,’ in letters of gold,” GW was met “within ten miles of the city . . . by a number of gentlemen in several boats, and as the President passed by them a band of music played the celebrated song, ‘He comes, the Hero comes,’ accompanied with several voices. On his approach to the city the concourse on the Bluff, and the crowds which had pressed into the vessels’, evinced the general joy which had been inspired by the visit of this most beloved of men. . . . Upon arriving at the upper part of the harbor he was saluted from the wharves and by the shipping,” and at the public wharf where he landed, he was received by Sen. James Gunn (see entry for 29 April 1790) and Congressman James Jackson (see entry for 21 Jan. 1790), who introduced him to Mayor Thomas Gibbons (1757–1826) and the aldermen of the city (Dunlap’s American Daily Adv. [Philadelphia], 31 May 1791). Gibbons, a wealthy lawyer and plantation owner and a passive Loyalist during the Revolution, served several terms as mayor of Savannah between 1791 and 1801, when he was appointed a federal judge.

After a salute of 26 shots by the Chatham County Artillery Company, GW was escorted to his lodgings in St. James’s Square by a long procession which included, besides the city officials, the welcoming committee, the artillery company, the local light-infantry company, officers of the militia, members of the Cincinnati, and “citizens two and two.” Dinner was to have been a small private affair either at GW’s lodgings or Mayor Gibbons’s house. Instead, it turned out to be a rather formal public affair at Brown’s Coffeehouse, attended by numerous judges, clergymen, legislators, Cincinnati, militia field officers, and other distinguished citizens. After dinner there were 16 toasts punctuated as usual by artillery fire (Dunlap’s American Daily Adv. [Philadelphia], 31 May 1791; Thomas Gibbons to Anthony Wayne, 11 May 1791, MiU-C: Wayne Papers).

The general illumination of the city this evening was elaborately done. One alderman’s house displayed “no less than three hundred lights, arranged in a beautiful symmetry, with fifteen lights contained in the form of a W in front” (lee & AGNEW description begins Daniel Agnew. “A Biographical Sketch of Governor Richard Howell, of New Jersey.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 22 (1898): 221–30. description ends , 70), and in the river the ship Thomas Wilson “with a great number of lanterns . . . made a fine appearance” (Dunlap’s American Daily Adv. [Philadelphia], 31 May 1791).

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