Presidents Day: George Washington’s Southern Tour through the Carolinas

RALEIGH – On this President’s day, in the week of George Washington’s birthday (February 22), we wanted to highlight the inaugural visit to the Carolinas by our nation’s first president. There is good read from a North Carolina native and history buff on the website for Mount Vernon, from which we’ve provided excerpts below.

The imagery of the first President of the United States, a Revolutionary War hero, traveling through the hinterlands with a small coach, is compelling.

“Other than a few land surveying excursions into remote sections of North Carolina’s portion of the Dismal Swamp, the Southern Tour was Washington’s only visit ever to the states south of Virginia. Hence, Washington’s passage through the Carolinas and Georgia was singularly historic and is celebrated to this day.

[…]

…the challenge of water crossings was paramount. For example, Washington eschewed a visit to Norfolk, Virginia and Edenton, North Carolina, a place of prominence, partly because crossing the Albemarle Sound in northeastern North Carolina was a slow hazardous crossing served by unreliable ferries. Instead, Washington decided to bypass Norfolk and Edenton and took a route to the west that saved the time and effort that would have been required to cross the Albemarle Sound.

[…]

In the months before the Southern Tour, Washington and his secretaries learned of many possible inns and taverns by canvassing Southerners, mostly members of Congress. North Carolinian, James Iredell, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, often traveled Virginia and the Carolinas, and he offered the president considerable detailed insight about roads and accommodations. Iredell wrote that he didn’t know the route from Wilmington, N.C. to Georgetown, S.C. very well, “The accommodations on this road are, in general, very bad. It will be better to obtain at Wilmington fuller information than I can give.”

[…]

In North Carolina, leading Anti-Federalist Willie Jones stated that he would not receive George Washington as president of the United States, but instead would receive him only as a great man.

[…]

In North Carolina, the entourage stopped for breakfast one morning at a private home, mistaking it for an inn. Not until Washington went to pay the bill did he realize the mistake; the president was so flustered he reportedly gave the lady of the house a kiss on the cheek.

A bar tender in Wilmington, North Carolina advised Washington not to drink the water of that low coastal land and, Washington’s hat blew off so many times traveling down the northern beaches of South Carolina that the strand there became known as Windy Hill Beach (now part of North Myrtle Beach).

A widely-known story from near Salisbury, North Carolina is that Washington concealed his identity during a stop at the Brandon farmstead where only a young girl, Betsy Brandon, was present. Betsy lamented that the rest of the family had gone to town to see President Washington, while she had been left behind to do chores and tend to the house. Washington assured her that he would make sure that she, too, would see the president if she would just serve refreshments to the travelers. The story goes that Betsy served up milk and snacks and that just before taking his leave, the old Virginian revealed to Betsy that she had been in the company of the President of the United States. […]”

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