George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 2 June 1791]

Thursday 2d. In company with the Govr. I set out by 4 Oclock for Guilford. Breakfasted at one Dobsons at the distance of eleven Miles from Salem1 and dined at Guilford 16 Miles farther, where there was a considerable gathering of people who had receivd notice of my intention to be2 there to day & came to satisfy their curiosity.

On my way I examined the ground on which the Action between Generals Green and Lord Cornwallis commenced and after dinner rode over that where their lines were formed3 and the scene closed in the retreat of the American forces4—The first line of which5 was advantageously drawn up, and had the Troops done their duty properly, the British must have been sorely galded in their advance, if not defeated.

The Lands between Salem and Guilford are, in places, very fine; but upon the whole can6 not be called7 more than midling—some being very8 bad.

On my approach to this place (Guilford) I was met by a party of light horse which I prevailed on the Governor to dismiss, and to countermand his orders for others to attend me through the State.

William Dobson of Stokes County ran a popular tavern at the site of present-day Kernersville, N.C., where he had settled about 1770. William Loughton Smith, who stopped at Dobson’s tavern on the morning of 5 May 1791, reported that he “got a very good breakfast” there. Dobson, he added, “has a very decent house; his wife, who sat down to breakfast with me, is a huge fat woman of about eighty, whom he calls ‘Honey’” (SMITH [6] 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 , 72).

Guilford Court House, established in 1774 as the seat of Guilford County, was designated 11 years later as site of the town of Martinville, but the small community that developed around the courthouse disappeared after 1809 when the county court moved to nearby Greensboro (ARNETT description begins Ethel Stephens Arnett. Greensboro, North Carolina: The County Seat of Guilford. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1955. description ends , 18).

The battle at Guilford Court House occurred 15 Mar. 1781. Having evaded Cornwallis’s regulars for three weeks, Nathanael Greene took a stand with his army on the road south of the courthouse and invited attack on the favorable terrain there. When the British advanced, the North Carolina militia in the center of the American front line fired one volley and fled in disorder, but the Continentals on the flanks and in the second line fought well, inflicting heavy casualties on the British until Greene ordered a withdrawal later in the day. Two days after the battle, Cornwallis, having won the field but at the cost of 532 dead and wounded out of a force of about 1,900 men, was obliged to begin retreating toward the coast (BOATNER [1] description begins Mark Mayo Boatner III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York, 1966. description ends , 460–71; BOATNER [2] description begins Mark M. Boatner III. Landmarks of the American Revolution. New York, 1975. description ends , 350–54).

“Although the honors of the field did not fall to your lot,” GW wrote Greene 18 April 1781, “I am convinced you deserved them. The chances of War are various and the best concerted measures, and the most flattering prospects may, & often do deceive us, especially while we are in the power of Militia” (owned by Mr. Sol Feinstone, Washington Crossing, Pa.).

In the manuscript of the diary for 2 June–4 July GW made many changes and corrections, inserting words between lines and crossing out parts of the text, apparently intending to recopy the diary. The changes consist primarily of corrections in grammar and syntax. Although a few of the changes were obviously made as GW was writing the entry, the majority of the revisions appear to have been made at a later time, probably after his return from his southern tour. GW’s changes have been incorporated into the present text and the original wording of the corrected passages is indicated in numbered notes.

1“from Salem” inserted above line.

2“to be” substituted for “of being.”

3“up” deleted.

4“in the retreat of the American forces” inserted above line.

5“which” substituted for “the American Troops.”

6“can” inserted above line.

7“be called” added above line.

8“being very” inserted above line.

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