Motoring in the Dust of George Washington
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Written by J T Sullivan


Portsmouth, NH still reminds its tourists that the first president made a healing journey from the nation’s capital at New York in 1798 to New Hampshire. Apparently tourists have been retracing this historic journey for decades as we discovered in this 1916 article from MOTOR AGE magazine. (See text and pictures below)




READ ALL ABOUT: Washington’s Four Days in Portsmouth  

Washington's 1789 Tour from New York to New Hampshire

Editor’s Note: We have included the introductory text complete with its flowery writing and original spelling. By 1916 Portsmouth had already been a destination for tourists for half a century. The faded "colonial capital" already had two house museums and would soon add many more, including the Wentworth-Gardner House on Wallace Nutting’s "colonial chain" for early motorists. We’ve included the pictures from the final leg of the journey here at the conclusion of the text below.

Taking Ye Dust of G. Washington 
Motor Age magazine
February 17, 1916

Beat back on the trail to yesterday 127 years and when you come to market 1789, stop. It is a glorious autumn day, the fifteenth of October, and New York, then the national capital of 60,000 inhabitants and not the national metropolis of millions as now, is en fete even on an hour so early that the rising sun has not started as yet to ben day the waters of the East river with its rays.

gw02b.jpgIn front of a colonial mansions, registered in the directory as No. 3 Cherry street, and located at what is now the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn bridge, stands a coach and four, the horses prancing with nervousness and pride and the driver sitting very erect, a posture that becomes a servitor of a distinguished personage.

The street is choked with people. The first president of the United States, George Washington, is about to start on a tour of New England and all New York is out to wish the father of the republic, who has led the colonies to victory in the war of independence, Godspeed on his journey.

Accompanied by his secretaries Colonel Jackson and Tobias Lear, Washington steps onto the porch of the presidential mansion, bows to the cheering crowd before descending the steps, handshakes his way down the walk to the curbstone and enters the coach. The driver’s back stiffesn and he tightens his hold on the reins. The horses are given the word and break into a canter. The wheels of the state carriage kick of a great cloud of dust. From the battery comes the boom of twenty-one guns, the president’s salute.

The first presidential tour had started, a tour from New York to Portsmouth, N.H., that the motorist of 1815 can duplicate, and in so doing, stop and study historic places associated with Washington’s journey of 127 years ago. Moreover, the trip can be made in 3 days at the most with the modern motor car, compared to the 11 days spent by the father of his country in a rumbling stage coach. The distance is approximately 310 miles and the ride is over excellent state roads of macadam and concrete.


There are other New England tours – the trip through the Berkshire Hills and the White and Green mountains and an exploration along the shores of Lake Champlain – that are probably more popular today than that of the first president, but it is doubtful whether they have the historic attractions that make the taking of Washington’s dust a delightful adventure. It is dust that takes fanciful shapes, that with imagination’s eyes, looks like wraiths of the long ago.

Had the Blue Books been in existence in Washington’s day, the first president’s journey would have been routed in the New England volume as follows:

 gw03b.jpg-- New York to New Haven via new Rochelle, Rye and Port Chester N.Y., and Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, Fairfield, Bridgeport, and Milford, Conn.

 -- New Haven to Hartford via Wallingford, Meriden and Berlin.

 -- Hartford to Springfield, Mass. Via Windsor, Windsor Locks and Suffield.

 -- Springfield to Boston via Palmer, Warren, West Brookfield, Worcestor, Shrewsbury, Narlboro, South Sudbury and Weston.

 -- Boston to Portsmouth, N.H., via Cambridge, Somerville, Lynn, Salem Beverly, Newburyport and Salisbury, Mass., and Smithtown, Hampton and Rye Beach, N.H.

When Washington left New York on the morning of October 15, 1789, he was not unfamiliar with the route of his New England tour as far as Boston, having traveled over the same roads on horseback 14 years before to take command of an armed mob that he whipped into an army capable of defeating the trained redcoats of Howe, Gates and Cornwallis. His first day’s journey took him to Rye, a distance of 31 miles, where he spent the night at an inn, kept by Mrs. Haviland. In Connectictu, he followed the shore route to New Haven and then rode north up the rich valley of the Connecticut river to Springfield. Mass.

The route taken by Washington across the old Bay state and up into New Hampshire is so studded with landmarks associated with the first president’s new England, that we will silence the click of our typewriter’s keys and surrender the task of completing this story to the illustrations of these places and their explanatory captions.


The 1916 MOTOR AGE tour ends in Portsmouth, NH and highlights the Gov. John Langdon mansion (top left) where Washington dined, the Tobias Lear House (top right) where the president visited his secretary's moth. These two sites are still historic museums in Portsmouth today. However, the (3) Assembly House where Washington attended a public event is no longer standing.

Trasncribed and reprtined courtesy of