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George Washington Actually Did Sleep Here!

Founding father stayed overnight in Connecticut many times.

“Yeah. Like places that say George Washington slept here. Like that.”

(Line from 1955 musical “It’s All Fair Weather”)

As the cynical tone of the line above would suggest, it’s safe to say that the number of places that claim to have hosted the first President for an evening is far greater than those that actually did; nevertheless, it can be easily documented that Washington did spend many evenings in Connecticut houses. In fact, as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth in 1932, his route from Wallingford through Durham center was marked out by signs as part of the “Washington Trail.” (See photo of route.) While in Wallingford, Washington stopped at the Nehemiah Royce House and addressed a crowd that had gathered there, after the General had purchased gunpowder for his troops.

According to a March 12, 1932, article in the Middletown Press, Washington passed through Durham twice: Thursday June 29, 1775, and Monday, October 19, 1789 are the dates of his passage—both to the north. In 1775, while seeking provisions for his army, Washington stopped on the east side of Main Street at Mill Hill to visit briefly with General James Wadsworth. Proceeding along Main St., Washington then stopped in the north end of town at John Swathal’s tavern, probably to obtain fresh horses. Washington’s diary itself tells us that he then proceeded to Wethersfield after passing through Durham and stayed at Silas Deane’s house. His 1789 visit was part of his presidential tour of the states, conducted shortly after his first inauguration. Details of this visit to Durham are sketchy.

The “father of our country” also spent an evening in Windsor while President on October 1, 1789. He stayed at the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead that night. (See photos.) Ellsworth, the third chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, was also one of the first senators from Connecticut and an ardent Federalist. He lived near Hayden Station in Windsor in a house fronted by 13 large elms—one for each of the original 13 colonies. President Washington, who was said to be fond of children, supposedly took the nine month old daughter of the Ellsworth’s, Frances, onto his lap and sang a version of “The Darby Ram” to her. In addition to George Washington, the second President of the United States, John Adams, also once stayed at the Ellsworth Homestead.

Washington also found his way to Hartford, CT staying at the home of Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth on June 30, 1775. (See photo.) Washington was on his way to Cambridge, Mass to assume command of the Continental Army. The house is long gone, but the marker was placed on the north side of the Wadsworth Atheneum by the Connecticut chapter of the DAR in 1932 on the occasion of the 200thanniversary of Washington’s birth. The plaque also notes that the first President stopped there while on his presidential tour of the states in 1789. Additionally, French allies Lafayette and Rochambeau also met with Colonel Wadsworth there as well—quite a historically significant place!

New London County has at least two places where George Washington visited: Norwich and New London itself. The famous Leffingwell Inn at Norwich, built by Steven Backus circa 1675, claims to have hosted Washington during the Revolutionary War. At the time it was owned by Christopher Leffingwell, a deputy commissar to the Continental Army.

George Washington stayed in New London at least twice, according to historian Frances Manwaring Caulkins in her 1852 History of New London. As a colonel in the French and Indian War, Washington traveled on horseback to Boston through New London in February-March 1756. According to Caulkins, he stayed at the now defunct Red Lion Inn there both to and from Boston. While commander of the Continental Army, Washington stayed again in New London 20 years later on April 9, 1776. This time he stayed at the Shaw Mansion, which is still standing, having survived Benedict Arnold’s burning of New London in 1781. The general was traveling from Boston to New York at the time of his stay with Captain Nathaniel Shaw. (See photo.)

Washington also spent a night in Ridgebury, CT during the war. He stayed at the tavern of Ensign Samuel Keeler on September 19, 1780. The Ridgebury Congregational Church now occupies the site where Washington once stayed. A historical marker has been placed upon the spot where he stayed. Another place that claims to have provided sleeping quarters for the father of our country is Sheldon’s Tavern on North Street in Litchfield; however, no specific date is given for the stay.

Fairfield County also lays claim to George’s presence there. The town of Fairfield claims that President Washington stayed there at the Sun Tavern on the evening of October 16, 1789. Greenwich also has erected a commemorative marker for Washington. (See photo.) At the corner of Route 1 and Maple Avenue in Greenwich one can find an historical marker denoting a place where Washington did not sleep but “paused.” The marker reads as follows:       

                          George Washington

Paused here on the Post Road near this church, on October 16, 1789 and afterward wrote in his diary, "the superb landscape which is to be seen from the meeting house is a rich regalia". 
In Commemoration 
Of this historic incident, this tablet has been placed here by friends in this church, October 16, 1932, in this Washington Bicentennial Year

Finally, picturesque Washington, CT tucked away in the far northwest corner of Connecticut—surprise!—gets its name from our "Cinncinnatus of the West*." The inscription on the town’s marker reads in part: “The present town was incorporated in 1779, being named in honor of General George Washington, who traveled through this area several times during his wartime journeys and breakfasted with his staff at Squire Cogswell’s tavern in New Preston on Friday, May 25, 1781.”

Overall, there are at least twenty historical markers located in Connecticut that lay claim to having George Washington “pause” there, “sleep” there, “visit” there or “travel through” there. These markers cover a period from 1756-1789 and reflect the three most important roles that the man who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” played: colonel in the French and Indian War, general in the Revolutionary War, and the first President of the United States.

 

Notes and Sources: 

  1. Middletown Press, March 12, 1932 
  2. historicbuildingsct.com
  3. Connecticut Magazine, Vol 6, 1900
  4. Frances Manwaring Caulkins, History of New London, 1852
  5.  waymarking.com
  6. For a very funny satirical narrative of American history, see comedian Dave Barry's, Dave Barry Slept Here, 1989.
  7. hmdb.org
  8. *Cincinnatus: In times of national emergency, the Roman Senate often appointed Cincinnatus dictator, giving him unlimited power to quell rebellions. When the threat to Rome passed, Cincinnatus would lay down his arms and return to the farm peacefully--just as Washington returned to Mt. Vernon. Cincinnatus, like Washington, was perhaps most famous for what he didn't do: abuse the power given to him. Consequently, Byron wrote a poem about Washington in which he calls him "the last, the best, the Cincinnatus of the West." Following the war, many of Washington's loyal officers formed a fraternal orgainzation in his honor: the Loyal Order of Cincinnatus. As a group many of them moved to Ohio and founded the city named after Washington: Cincinnati, which is the genitive form of Cincinnatus and means the "city ofCincinnatus!"

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