To the Ladies of Trenton
Trenton April 21st 1789
General Washington cannot leave this place without expressing his acknowledgments, to the Matrons and Young Ladies who received him in so novel & grateful a manner at the Triumphal Arch in Trenton, for the exquisite sensation he experienced in that affecting moment. The astonishing contrast between his former and actual situation at the same spot—The elegant taste with which it was adorned for the present occasion—and the innocent appearance of the white-robed Choir who met him with the gratulatory song, have made such impressions on his remembrance, as, he assures them, will never be effaced.
ALS, NjT; LB, in GW’s writing, DLC:GW. A broadside of this document is in NN. The ALS has been widely reproduced in facsimile.
As GW’s party approached Trenton it was evident that the bridge across Assunpink Creek had been elaborately decorated for his passage with garlands of greenery and a device printed on the arch giving the 1776 date for the liberation of Trenton and the words “The Defender of the Mothers will also Defend the Daughters.” On the bridge waiting to greet him were a group of young girls and matrons of Trenton with a song of praise (LB, in GW’s writing, DLC:GW):
“Welcome, mighty Chief once more!
Welcome to this grateful shore;
Now no mercenary foe
Aims again the fatal blow;
Aims at thee, the fatal blow.
“Virgins fair & Matrons grave,
These thy conquering arm did save,
Build for thee, triumphal bowers,
Strew ye fair his way with flowers
Strew your hero’s way with flowers.”
The author of the ode was reputed to have been Richard Howell (1754–1802), a New Jersey lawyer and a federalist, who was governor of the state from 1793 to 1801. For a contemporary description of GW’s reception at Trenton, see the Columbian Magazine, 3 (1789), 288–90. See also Bowen, Inauguration, description begins Clarence Winthrop Bowen. The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington as First President of the United States. New York, 1892. description ends 24–26, and Monaghan, “Inaugural Journey description begins Frank Monaghan. “Notes on the Inaugural Journey and the Inaugural Ceremonies of George Washington as First President of the United States.” Typescript. Privately distributed, 1939. description ends ,” 30–34. A sketch of the arch was included in a letter from Jane Ewing to her brother James Hunter, Jr., 23 April 1789. According to Mrs. Ewing, “the Ladies was rang’d in a line from the arch along the Bridge and thirteen Girls dress’t in white with Baskets of flowers” scattered the flowers “round his horses feet[.] he Sat on his horse while they sung and then made them a low Bow say’d the Ladies had done them [him] a very great honour requested them to except his most greatful thanks, the most respectable Conect[i]ons met him at the ferry, the Infantry and Dragoons they made a grand apearance[.] he stayd all night at Vandigrifts Mr Ewing and a few others spent the Evening with him and next morning at Sun rise accompany’d him 8 mils out of town” (DLC: Miscellaneous Manuscripts). While at Trenton GW was given a dinner and a public reception in the evening at Samuel Henry’s City Tavern. He probably stayed the night in Trenton (Mrs. Ewing says at “Vandigrifts”) rather than going on to Princeton, a suggestion reinforced by the newspaper accounts. Tradition, however, has it that he moved on to Princeton after the reception at the City Tavern and spent the night with the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, the former president of Princeton College (Bowen, Inauguration, description begins Clarence Winthrop Bowen. The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington as First President of the United States. New York, 1892. description ends 26–27). It is uncertain whether he received the address from the president and faculty of Princeton on the evening of 21 April or on the morning of 22 April.