Washington’s Farewell Tour
Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace
The Fraunces Tavern opened in 1762 as the “Queen’s Head Tavern” and also was known as the “Sign of Queen Charlotte” for its portrait of the queen. Under the proprietorship of Samuel Fraunces, a patriot of African and French extraction born in the French West Indies, the tavern was located across the Bowling Green from the Whitehall Ferry landing. There, a barge waited to carry Washington across the Hudson River to New Jersey and then to Annapolis to resign his commission.
Samuel Fraunces was a known Patriot in the years leading to the outbreak of the war. He opened the tavern to patriot groups, like the Sons of Liberty, who used the tavern as one of their headquarters, where they possibly plotted the New York Tea Party on April 22, 1774. By the British occupation on September 15, 1776, Fraunces had left for Elizabethtown, New Jersey, leaving his son-in-law, loyalist Charles Campbell, responsible for the Queen's Head. During the war, the tavern was irregularly opened for food and drink due to the scarcity of foods and other goods. In June 1778, Fraunces was captured as a prisoner of war and brought to work as the family cook for General James Robertson, the acting Governor of New York. Recognizing the opportunity, Fraunces acted as a spy, listening to conversations during dinner parties hosted by Robertson. He also used his position as a chef to sneak table scraps to American prisoners, gave them clothing and money when possible, and even assisted some with escape.
After British troops evacuated the city on November 25, 1783, Governor George Clinton threw a huge party at Fraunces Tavern in honor of General Washington. On December 1, a display of “fire-works and illuminations” was viewed from the Battery.
All the festivities were reported in the newspaper published by James Rivington, formerly “Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.” With the departure of the British, The Royal Gazette became Rivington’s New-York Gazette, and Universal Advertiser. The December 6, 1783, issue of the newspaper described Washington’s farewell to his officers:
“Last Thursday noon (December 4), the principal officers of the army in town assembled at Fraunces Tavern, to take a final leave of their illustrious, gracious, and much loved Comrade, General Washington. The passions of human nature were never more tenderly agitated, than in this interesting and distressful scene…[His] words produced extreme sensibility on both sides…”
On December 4, 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summoned his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he would be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.
“In Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge–Prepared by Himself, at the Request of His Children”, Col. Tallmadge recites part of Washington’s farewell speech: “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable. I cannot come to each of you but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.”
According to Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge’s account, General Henry Knox stood closest to General Washington. As the general concluded his address, the two turned to each other and “suffused in tears…embraced each other in silence.” Then, each of the officers followed suit, afterwards following Washington to the ferry landing where he departed, waving to them from his barge.
General Washington had already issued his Farewell Orders to the Continental Army. The outpouring of emotion and affection for Washington upon his retirement to Mount Vernon for Christmas imposed a heavy burden of reciprocal correspondence. The general authored many letters of recommendation for former soldiers and patriots including a testimonial for Samuel Fraunces, who likely assisted the Continental Army by obtaining intelligence from British army officers frequenting his tavern while New York was under royal government. Fraunces later was employed by Washington as a steward in his presidential households in New York and Philadelphia.
Washington had led the army through six long years of war against the British before the American forces finally prevailed at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. There, Washington received the formal surrender of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, effectively ending the Revolutionary War, although it took almost two more years to conclude a peace treaty and slightly longer for all British troops to leave New York.
Although Washington had often during the war privately lamented the sorry state of his largely undisciplined and unhealthy troops and the ineffectiveness of most of his officer corps, he expressed genuine appreciation for his brotherhood of soldiers on this day in 1783. Observers of the intimate scene at Fraunces Tavern described Washington as “suffused in tears,” embracing his officers one by one after issuing his farewell. Washington left the tavern for Annapolis, Maryland, where he officially resigned his commission on December 23. He then returned to his beloved estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he planned to live out his days as a gentleman farmer.
Washington was not out of the public spotlight for long, however. In 1789, he was coaxed out of retirement and elected as the first President of the United States, a position he held until 1797.