President Washington visits Ipswich, October 30, 1789

President George Washington’s visit to Ipswich is portrayed in the Ipswich Riverwalk Mural created by Alan Pearsall for EBSCO in 2006. Washington had announced that during his presidency he would personally tour every state, and in the autumn of 1789 he spent four weeks traveling through New England.

George Washington visit to Ipswich MA
This photo is from the reenactment of President George Washington’s visit to Ipswich during the Tercentenary Celebration of the town’s founding. In the background at the corner of County and Poplar Streets is the Swasey Tavern, where George Washington addressed the crowd and enjoyed a “cold collation.”

Samuel Adams escorted Washington into Boston on the 24th, but Governor John Hancock refused to go out and meet the president, insisting that the president should come to him. The cheering crowds of Boston made up for Hancock’s absence. From there he continued north to Marblehead, Salem, and Beverly.

On October 30, 1789, Washington passed through Ipswich on his ten-day tour of Massachusetts. Adoring crowds of grateful citizens greeted the President at Swasey’s Tavern (still standing at the corner of Popular and County Streets) where he stopped for food and drink and reviewed the Essex Regiment.

President Washington described the journey in The Diary of George Washington:

“Friday, 30th: A little after 8 o’clock I set out for Newburyport; and in less than 2 miles crossed the bridge between Salem and Beverly, which makes a handsome appearance… After passing Beverley, 2 miles, we come to the Cotton Manufactury, which seems to be carrying on with spirit by the Mr. Cabots, principally.

From this place, with escorts of horse, I passed on to Ipswich, about 10 miles; at the entrance of which I was met and welcomed by the Select men, and received by a Regiment of Militia. At this place I was met by Mr. Dalton and some other Gentlemen from Newburyport; partook of a cold collation, and proceeded on to the last mentioned place, where I was received with much respect and parade, about 4 o’clock. In the evening there were rockets and some other fireworks — and every other demonstration to welcome me to the Town.”

On October 30, 1789, President George Washington addressed the people of Ipswich assembled on the South Green to meet him, from the steps of the Swasey Tavern, still standing at the corner of Popular and County Streets. In this photo taken a century later, you can see the Cogswell School on Payne Street, and in the distance, the historic Lakeman and Hodgkins houses at the intersection with Turkey Shore Road.

While in Ipswich, the President purchased some black silk pillow lace for his wife, Martha, before continuing on his way to Newburyport. On the 31st he crossed the Merrimack River on his way to New Hampshire.

The Nathaniel Wade house on County Road was built by his father Thomas Wade
Col. Nathaniel Wade’s house on County Road, built by his father Thomas Wade. Their ancestor Jonathan Wade settled in Ipswich in 1635.

Among the distinguished citizens of Ipswich waiting to meet the president at the South Green was Col. Nathaniel Wade. Wade was in the chain of command at West Point during the Revolutionary War, and on September 25, 1780 he received an urgent correspondence from General George Washington instructing him to take command:

“Sir, General Arnold is gone to the enemy. I have just now received a line from him, enclosing one to Mrs. Arnold, dated on board the Vulture. From this circumstance and Colonel Lamb’s being detached on some business the command of the garrison for the present devolves on you. I request that you will be as vigilant as possible and as the enemy may have it in contemplation to attempt some enterprise even tonight against these posts. I wish you to make immediately after the receipt of this, the best disposition you can of your force so as to have a proportion of men in each work on the west side of the river. You will see me or hear from me further tomorrow. I am dear Sir, Your most obedient humble servant, G. Washington”

Thomas Franklin Waters, in the book Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote about the death of George Washington on December 14, 1799:

“The whole country was deeply grieved. Funeral solemnities were observed at Ipswich on January 7, 1800. The Salem Gazette of Jan. 21 described the service in the style which characterized the newspapers of the day. The Rev. Mr. Frisbie at the request of the inhabitants pronounced a very elegant and pathetic eulogy on the character and virtues of the beloved Patriot and Statesman: in which he very judiciously and feelingly led the audience to a pleasing remembrance of the glorious military achievements and political wisdom of the illustrious deceased.”


Related posts:

President Washington visits Ipswich, October 30, 1789 - On October 30, 1789, Washington passed through Ipswich on his ten-day tour of Massachusetts. Adoring crowds greeted the President at Swasey’s Tavern (still standing at the corner of Popular and County Streets) where he stopped for food and drink.
George Washington at Mount Vernon for Christmas George Washington returns to Mount Vernon, Christmas Eve 1783 - The house was festooned with greens, the tables were laden with food and wine, the burning tapers reflected in the sparking silver and crystal. The War was over and the father of the family had returned safely.
Eulogy for President George Washington by Rev. Eli Frisbee of Ipswich An Eulogy on the Illustrious Character of the late General George Washington - “What words have an emphasis sufficient to express the gratitude we owe to God for the gift of a Washington, and the anguish and lamentation of our country that its illustrious Friend and Father is no more? His memory shall flow down the current of future generations, till they are lost in the ocean of eternity."

2 replies »

  1. I live in ipswich, England (the original) I love reading about the history of Ipswich in the USA and finding ties between our towns.

  2. Hi Gordon,

    What an interesting tidbit about George Washington’s swing through New England and his stop in Ipswich back in 1789. That was such a challenging expedition for the President, but one he felt was of the greatest importance to the American people. I recall reading Ron Chernow’s colorful account to the trip in his bio of the President.

    If I recall George chose to stay in public accommodations (not always the most posh), rather than favor any individual with his presence, thus causing ire among other worthies. The incident brings to mind the difficulties of travel in those days.

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