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George Washington Slept Here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

In Washington’s footsteps

Washington spent a seriously significant amount of time in Portsmouth in 1789,” says historian Elizabeth Farish, “indicating that he valued the port, the thriving nature of the city, and the inhabitants.”

George_Washington_by_Gilbert_StuartFarish gets it. As former regional site manager for Historic New England, Farish created a walking tour of Washington’s four-day visit to Portsmouth. The guided tour began and ended at the Gov. John Langdon Mansion on Pleasant Street where Washington visited and dined. The experimental tour was offered monthly in the summer of 2010. Farrish has since become curator of Strawbery Banke Museum.

But Craig Tuminaro gets it too. As incoming site manager for Historic New England, he increased the “Walk with Washington” tour to twice monthly last year. This summer he expanded the number of tours each week. They are now offered twice every Friday at 11am and 2 pm.

“From early on through the Revolutionary period Portsmouth was a very significant place,” Tuminaro says. “and Washington knew that.”

Washington also knew that John Langdon was a very important person, and from the entries the President wrote in his journal, it appears he was having a good time hanging out here. He attended the obligatory functions and church services, but Washington also got some alone-time for letter writing and relaxing. He visited with the mother of his secretary Tobias Lear, a Portsmouth native, in the South End of town. The president even got in a little fishing in the Piscataqua River where he caught two cod. He admired the “handsome” women at a local dance and chatted with Rev. Samuel haven about his favorite topic -- farming.

The tight connection between Washington and Langdon and Lear is “historically appropriate” Tuminaro says. In other words, why not “brand” Washington’s visit and his famous name into the heritage tourism of the city? The first President certainly has the highest name recognition of anyone who ever visited the Port City and he is as much a part of the Portsmouth story as John Paul Jones or the Treaty of Portsmouth for which walking tours have also been created.

“It’s a bit of a gamble,” Tuminaro says of his decision to quadruple the number of tours this summer. He has also increased the number of trained guides from one to four. “I was pleased with the reaction we got last year and we’ll learn a lot from what happens this year,” he says.

All Hail Washington!

In 1789 the Presidential parade arrived in Portsmouth at 3 pm. along what is today Middle Street. Newspaper accounts describe narrow streets packed with cheering onlookers and ringing church bells. Explosive 13-gun salutes honored the original colonies. The procession turned from Middle onto Congress Street (formerly King Street) and into Market Square where citizens sang: “Hail Nature's boast -- Columbia's Son, Welcome! Welcome WASHINGTON.”

The President was received at the State House that once stood in the center of Market Square. With only two-days notice, Portsmouth had prepared an elaborate ceremony. The front row was crowded with children who wore hats with colored quills to designate their schools. After the initial festivities, Washington took lodging in the Brewster Tavern on the corner of modern day Court and Pleasant streets before taking tea at the Langdon mansion.

The following day was Sunday, November 1. Hoping to please everyone and offend no one, Washington attended morning church services with his entourage at St. John’s Episcopal and afternoon services at the North Church in Market Square. Today both wooden buildings have been replaced by brick structures, but the winding streetscape along the river remains very much the same.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018 
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