the joyful traveller

The Gentler Side of George Washington

Among all the places that George Washington visited, lived in, or slept over, there are two that stand as the most historically significant, and for the ones which showed the softer side of our founding father.  If you haven’t visited either his Newburgh headquarters up in Orange County or Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, consider doing so as we celebrate his 285th birthday. You’ll hear some remarkable stories.

A lot has been said these days about the office of the presidency, but we owe a great debt to the man who opted for a shared government rather than accept the title of King after the war. His response?  Something like, “we just fought a war so we wouldn’t be under a king’s command.”  No, it should be a “people’s” government.  It was at his rented stone headquarters on the banks of the Hudson River where many important decisions were made, suggestions on how to govern were handwritten and sent to state officials, plus he was running a war.  That refusal to be king was big, but a little-known incident called the Newburgh Conspiracy could have led to a very different outcome for the emerging nation.

George Washington’s Headquarters sits at the intersection of Washington and Liberty Streets in the city of Newburgh.  Its view of the Hudson is the best in town, and the grounds are peaceful, and have remained very much like it was in the late 1700’s.  A recent tour of the interior was a startling reminder of the sparseness of the times, with the simple cots, little or no decoration (as it was wartime), and no luxuries to speak of, except for the two fireplaces instead of the more common place single heating and cooking source.

Here, says Karen Monti, tour guide and professed GW fan, where the Purple Heart medal made its appearance, where spies came and went, and the soldiers rested during the harsh winter.  The Newburgh Conspiracy is a story she loves to tell. In March, 1782, Washington heard that his officers were threatening to rebel because of long overdue pay from Congress, this at a time when the British threat was at its gravest. Washington went to his men to squash the mutiny and ease their fears, and before he completed his plea, he asked for their patience while he read a letter of support from a Virginia Congressman.  He took out a pair of “spectacles,” and “off-handedly” explained that they must forgive him as the duties of General had not only turned his hair gray, but he’d become almost blind.  At this example of their leader’s own personal sacrifice, his men fell silent and “openly wept.”  Washington gave his word that he would not rest until every soldier got his pay; the officers vowed their allegiance to their leader, and created a bond that would last, and be evident years later at Fraunces Tavern’s for Washington’s farewell address.

Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street, is part restaurant, museum, and site of Washington’s last gathering as General.  On the self-guided tour, visitors can see one of the largest collections of Revolutionary War paintings, and the Clinton Room where the nation’s first American Governor George Clinton celebrated with Washington on the occasion of Evacuation Day when the defeated British Army left New York City.

It’s in the Long Room where Washington invited his men to join him as he said his goodbyes.  It was an “emotional leave-taking” says Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge who was a participant and later wrote of Washington’s final salute to his men:

“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.’

After the officers had taken a glass of wine General Washington said ‘I cannot come to each of you but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.’ General Knox being nearest to him turned to the Commander-in-chief who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance but grasped his hand when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner every officer in the room marched up and parted with his general in chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed and fondly hope I may never be called to witness again.”


Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site

Washington and Liberty Streets, Newburgh, NY

(845) 562-1195

Celebrate Washington’s birthday with a family friendly weekend, February 18,19, and 20.  Kids activities, appearances by George and Martha.

(visit the website for other events throughout the year)

Fraunces Tavern

54 Pearl Street

New York City

(212) 425-1778

Fraunces Tavern Museum offers FREE guided tours with admission every
Friday @ 2pm
Saturday & Sunday @ 1pm & 2pm

There are no guided tours on the following dates: 
Friday, February 3
Friday, February 10
Saturday, February 11
Sunday, February 19

No reservation required.

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