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The True George Washington
Social Life
by Ford, Paul Leicester

There can be no doubt that Washington, like the Virginian of his time, was pre-eminently social. It is true that late in life he complained, as already quoted, that his home had become a "well resorted tavern," and that at his own table "I rarely miss seeing strange faces, come as they say out of respect for me. Pray, would not the word curiosity answer as well?" but even in writing this he added, "how different this from having a few social friends at a cheerful board!" When a surveyor he said that the greatest pleasure he could have would be to hear from or be with "my Intimate friends and acquaintances;" to one he wrote, "I hope you in particular will not Bauk me of what I so ardently wish for," and he groaned over being "amongst a parcel of barbarians." While in the Virginia regiment he complained of a system of rations which "deprived me of the pleasure of inviting an officer or friend, which to me would be more agreeable, than nick-nacks I shall meet with," and when he was once refused leave of absence by the governor, he replied bitterly, "it was not to enjoy a party of pleasure I wanted a leave of absence; I have been indulged with few of these, winter or summer!" At Mount Vernon, if a day was spent without company the fact was almost always noted in his diary, and in a visit, too, he noted that he had "a very lonesome Evening at Colo Champe's, not any Body favoring us with their Company but himself."

The plantation system which prevented town life and put long distances between neighbors developed two forms of society. One of these was house parties, and probably nowhere else in the world was that form of hospitality so unstinted as in this colony. Any one of a certain social standing was privileged, even welcomed, to ride up to the seat of a planter, dismount, and thus become a guest, ceasing to be such only when he himself chose. Sometimes one family would go en masse many miles to stay a week with friends, and when they set out to return their hosts would journey with them and in turn become guests for a week. The second form of social life was called clubs. At all the cross-roads and court-houses there sprang up taverns or ordinaries, and in these the men of a neighborhood would gather, and over a bowl of punch or a bottle of wine, the expense of which they "clubbed" to share, would spend their evenings.

Into this life Washington entered eagerly. As a mere lad his ledger records expenditures: "By a club in Arrack at Mr. Gordon's 2/6;" "Club of a bottle of Rhenish at Mitchells 1/3;" "To part of the club at Port Royal 1/;" "To Cash in part for a Bowl of fruit punch 1/7-1/2." So, too, he was a visitor at this time at some of the great Virginian houses, as elsewhere noted. When he came into possession of Mount Vernon he offered the same unstinted welcome that he had met with, and even as a bachelor he writes of his "having much company," and again of being occupied with "a good deal of Company." In two months of 1768 Washington had company to dinner, or to spend the night, on twenty-nine days, and dined or visited away from home on seven; and this is typical.

Whenever, too, trips were made to Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, or elsewhere, it was a rare occurrence when the various stages of the journey were not spent with friends, and in those cities he was dined and wined to a surfeit.

During the Revolution all of Washington's aides and his secretary lived with him at head-quarters, and constituted what he always called "my family." In addition, many others sat down at table,--those who came on business from a distance, as well as bidden guests,---which frequently included ladies from the neighborhood, who must have been belles among the sixteen to twenty men who customarily sat down to dinner. "If ... convenient and agreeable to you to take pot luck with me to-day," the General wrote John Adams in 1776, "I shall be glad of your company." Pot luck it was for commander-in-chief and staff. Mention has been made of how sometimes Washington slept on the ground, and even when under cover there was not occasionally much more comfort. Pickering relates that one night was passed in "Headquarters at Galloway's, an old log house. The General lodged in a bed, and his family on the floor about him. We had plenty of sepawn and milk, and all were contented."

Oftentimes there were difficulties in the hospitality. "I have been at my prest. quarters since the 1st day of Decr.," Washington complained to the commissary-general, "and have not a Kitchen to cook a Dinner in, altho' the Logs have been put together some considerable time by my own Guard. Nor is there a place at this moment in which a servant can lodge, with the smallest degree of comfort. Eighteen belonging to my family, and all Mrs. Ford's, are crowded together in her Kitchen, and scarce one of them able to speak for the cold they have caught." Pickering, in telling how he tried to secure lodgings away from head-quarters, gave for his reasons that "they are exceedingly pinched for room.... Had I conceived how much satisfaction, quiet and even leisure, I should have enjoyed at separate quarters, I would have taken them six months ago. For at head-quarters there is a continual throng, and my room, in particular, (when I was happy enough to get one,) was always crowded by all that came to headquarters on business, because there was no other for them, we having, for the most part, been in such small houses."

There were other difficulties. "I cannot get as much cloth," the general wrote, "as will make cloaths for my servants, notwithstanding one of them that attends my person and table is indecently and most shamefully naked." One of his aides said to a correspondent, jocularly, "I take your Caution to me in Regard to my Health very kindly, but I assure you, you need be under no Apprehension of my losing it on the Score of Excess of living, that Vice is banished from this Army and the General's Family in particular. We never sup, but go to bed and are early up." "Only conceive," Washington complained to Congress, "the mortification they (even the general officers) must suffer, when they cannot invite a French officer, a visiting friend, or a travelling acquaintance, to a better repast, than stinking whiskey (and not always that) and a bit of Beef without vegetables."

At times, too, it was necessary to be an exemplar. "Our truly republican general," said Laurens, "has declared to his officers that he will set the example of passing the winter in a hut himself," and John Adams, in a time of famine, declared that "General Washington sets a fine example. He has banished wine from his table, and entertains his friends with rum and water."

Whenever it was possible, however, there was company at head-quarters. "Since the General left Germantown in the middle of September last," the General Orders once read, "he has been without his baggage, and on that account is unable to receive company in the manner he could wish. He nevertheless desires the Generals, Field Officers and Brigades Major of the day, to dine with him in future, at three o'clock in the afternoon." Again the same vehicle informed the army that "the hurry of business often preventing particular invitations being given to officers to dine with the General; He presents his compliments to the Brigadiers and Field Officers of the day, and requests while the Camp continues settled in the City, they will favor him with their company to dinner, without further or special invitation."

Mrs. Drinker, who went with a committee of women to camp at Valley Forge, has left a brief description of head-quarters hospitality: "Dinner was served, to which he invited us. There were 15 Officers, besides ye Gl. and his wife, Gen. Greene, and Gen. Lee. We had an elegant dinner, which was soon over, when we went out with ye Genls wife, up to her Chamber--and saw no more of him." Claude Blanchard, too, describes a dinner, at which "there was twenty-five covers used by some officers of the army and a lady to whom the house belonged in which the general lodged. We dined under the tent. I was placed along side of the general. One of his aides-de-camp did the honors. The table was served in the American style and pretty abundantly; vegetables, roast beef, lamb, chickens, salad dressed with nothing but vinegar, green peas, puddings, and some pie, a kind of tart, greatly in use in England and among the Americans, all this being put upon the table at the same time. They gave us on the same plate beef, green peas, lamb, &c."

Nor was the ménage of the General unequal to unexpected calls. Chastellux tells of his first arrival in camp and introduction to Washington: "He conducted me to his house, where I found the company still at table, although the dinner had been long over. He presented me to the Generals Knox, Waine, Howe, &c. and to his family, then composed of Colonels Hamilton and Tilgman, his Secretaries and his Aides de Camp, and of Major Gibbs, commander of his guards; for in England and America, the Aides de Camp, Adjutants and other officers attached to the General, form what is called his family. A fresh dinner was prepared for me and mine; and the present was prolonged to keep me company." "At nine," he elsewhere writes, "supper was served, and when the hour of bed-time came, I found that the chamber, to which the General conducted me was the very parlour I speak of, wherein he had made them place a camp-bed." Of his hospitality Washington himself wrote,--
"I have asked Mrs. Cochran & Mrs. Livingston to dine with me to-morrow; but am I not in honor bound to apprize them of their fate? As I hate deception, even where the imagination only is concerned; I will. It is needless to premise, that my table is large enough to hold the ladies. Of this they had ocular proof yesterday. To say how it is usually covered, is rather more essential; and this shall be the purport of my Letter.

"Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, (sometimes a shoulder) of Bacon, to grace the head of the Table; a piece of roast Beef adorns the foot; a dish of beans, or greens, (almost imperceptible,) decorates the center. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, (which, I presume will be the case to-morrow) we have two Beef-steak pyes, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the center dish, dividing the space & reducing the distance between dish & dish to about 6 feet, which without them would be near 12 feet apart. Of late he has had the surprising sagacity to discover, that apples will make pyes; and its a question, if, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples, instead of having both of Beef-steaks. If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it in plates, once Tin but now Iron--(not become so by the labor of scouring), I shall be happy to see them."
Dinners were not the only form of entertaining. In Cambridge, when Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Jack Custis were at head-quarters, a reception was held on the anniversary of Washington's marriage, and at other times when there was anything to celebrate,--the capitulation of Burgoyne, the alliance with France, the birth of a dauphin, etc.,--parades, balls, receptions, "feux-de-joie," or cold collations were given. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt was a dinner given on September 21, 1782, in a large tent, to which ninety sat down, while a "band of American music" added to the "gaiety of the company."

Whenever occasion called the General to attend on Congress there was much junketing. "My time," he wrote, "during my winter's residence in Philadelphia, was unusually (for me) divided between parties of pleasure and parties of business." When Reed pressed him to pass the period of winter quarters in visiting him in Philadelphia, he replied, "were I to give in to private conveniency and amusement, I should not be able to resist the invitation of my friends to make Philadelphia, instead of a squeezed up room or two, my quarters for the winter."

While President, a more elaborate hospitality was maintained. Both in New York and Philadelphia the best houses procurable were rented as the Presidential home,--for Washington "wholly declined living in any public building,"--and a steward and fourteen lower servants attended to all details, though a watchful supervision was kept by the President over them, and in the midst of his public duties he found time to keep a minute account of the daily use of all supplies, with their cost. His payments to his stewards for mere servants' wages and food (exclusive of wine) were over six hundred dollars a month, and there can be little doubt that Washington, who had no expense paid by the public, more than spent his salary during his term of office.

It was the President's custom to give a public dinner once a week "to as many as my table will hold," and there was also a bi-weekly levee, to which any one might come, as well as evening receptions by Mrs. Washington, which were more distinctly social and far more exclusive. Ashbel Green states that "Washington's dining parties were entertained in a very handsome style. His weekly dining day for company was Thursday, and his dining hour was always four o'clock in the afternoon. His rule was to allow five minutes for the variations of clocks and watches, and then go to the table, be present or absent, whoever might. He kept his own clock in the hall, just within the outward door, and always exactly regulated. When lagging members of Congress came in, as they often did, after the guests had sat down to dinner, the president's only apology was, 'Gentlemen (or sir) we are too punctual for you. I have a cook who never asks whether the company has come, but whether the hour has come.' The company usually assembled in the drawing-room, about fifteen or twenty minutes before dinner, and the president spoke to every guest personally on entering the room."

Maclay attended several of the dinners, and has left descriptions of them. "Dined this day with the President," he writes. "It was a great dinner-- all in the tastes of high life. I considered it as a part of my duty as a Senator to submit to it, and am glad it is over. The President is a cold, formal man; but I must declare that he treated me with great attention. I was the first person with whom he drank a glass of wine. I was often spoken to by him." Again he says,--
"At dinner, after my second plate had been taken away, the President offered to help me to part of a dish which stood before him. Was ever anything so unlucky? I had just before declined being helped to anything more, with some expression that denoted my having made up my dinner. Had, of course, for the sake of consistency, to thank him negatively, but when the dessert came, and he was distributing a pudding, he gave me a look of interrogation, and I returned the thanks positive. He soon after asked me to drink a glass of wine with him." On another occasion he "went to the President's to dinner.... The President and Mrs. Washington sat opposite each other in the middle of the table; the two secretaries, one at each end. It was a great dinner, and the best of the kind I ever was at. The room, however, was disagreeably warm. First the soup; fish roasted and boiled; meats, sammon, fowls, etc.... The middle of the table was garnished in the usual tasty way, with small images, flowers, (artificial), etc. The dessert was, apple pies, pudding, etc.; then iced creams, jellies, etc.; then water-melons, musk-melons, apples, peaches, nuts. It was the most solemn dinner I ever was at. Not a health drank; scarce a word was said until the cloth was taken away. Then the President filling a glass of wine, with great formality drank to the health of every individual by name round the table. Everybody imitated him, charged glasses, and such a buzz of 'health, sir,' and 'health, madam,' and 'thank you, sir,' and 'thank you, madam,' never had I heard before.... The ladies sat a good while, and the bottles passed about; but there was a dead silence almost. Mrs. Washington at last withdrew with the ladies. I expected the men would now begin, but the same stillness remained. The President told of a New England clergyman who had lost a hat and wig in passing a river called the Brunks. He smiled, and everybody else laughed. He now and then said a sentence or two on some common subject, and what he said was not amiss.... The President ... played with the fork, striking on the edge of the table with it. We did not sit long after the ladies retired. The President rose, went up-stairs to drink coffee; the company followed."

Bradbury gives the menu of a dinner at which he was, where "there was an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, &c.; puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. We took our leave at six, more than an hour after the candles were introduced. No lady but Mrs. Washington dined with us. We were waited on by four or five men servants dressed in livery." At the last official dinner the President gave, Bishop White was present, and relates that "to this dinner as many were invited as could be accommodated at the President's table.... Much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President--certainly without design. Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, saying: 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health, as a public man. I do it with sincerity, and wishing you all possible happiness.' There was an end of all pleasantry."

A glance at Mrs. Washington's receptions has been given, but the levees of the President remain to be described. William Sullivan, who attended many, wrote,--
"At three o'clock or at any time within a quarter of an hour afterward, the visitor was conducted to this dining room, from which all seats had been removed for the time. On entering, he saw" Washington, who "stood always in front of the fire-place, with his face towards the door of entrance. The visitor was conducted to him, and he required to have the name so distinctly pronounced that he could hear it. He had the very uncommon faculty of associating a man's name, and personal appearance, so durably in his memory, as to be able to call one by name, who made him a second visit. He received his visitor with a dignified bow, while his hands were so disposed of as to indicate, that the salutation was not to be accompanied with shaking hands. This ceremony never occurred in these visits, even with his most near friends, that no distinction might be made. As visitors came in, they formed a circle round the room. At a quarter past three, the door was closed, and the circle was formed for that day. He then began on the right, and spoke to each visitor, calling him by name, and exchanging a few words with him. When he had completed his circuit, he resumed his first position, and the visitors approached him in succession, bowed and retired. By four o'clock the ceremony was over."
The ceremony of the dinners and levees and the liveried servants were favorite impeachments of the President among the early Democrats before they had better material, and Washington was charged with trying to constitute a court, and with conducting himself like a king. Even his bow was a source of criticism, and Washington wrote in no little irritation in regard to this, "that I have not been able to make bows to the taste of poor Colonel Bland, (who, by the by, I believe, never saw one of them), is to be regretted, especially too, as (upon those occasions), they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of, would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the unskillfulness of my teacher, than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me? For I can truly say, I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state, and the representatives of every power in Europe."

There can be no doubt that Washington hated ceremony as much as the Democrats, and yielded to it only from his sense of fitness and the opinions of those about him. Jefferson and Madison both relate how such unnecessary form was used at the first levee by the master of ceremonies as to make it ridiculous, and Washington, appreciating this, is quoted as saying to the amateur chamberlain, "Well, you have taken me in once, but, by God, you shall never take me in a second time." His secretary, in writing to secure lodgings in Philadelphia, when the President and family were on their way to Mount Vernon, said, "I must repeat, what I observed in a former letter, that as little ceremony & parade may be made as possible, for the President wishes to command his own time, which these things always forbid in a greater or less degree, and they are to him fatiguing and oftentimes painful. He wishes not to exclude himself from the sight or conversation of his fellow citizens, but their eagerness to show their affection frequently imposes a heavy tax on him."

This was still further shown in his diary of his tours through New England and the Southern States. Nothing would do but for Boston to receive him with troops, etc., and Washington noted, "finding this ceremony not to be avoided, though I had made every effort to do it, I named the hour." In leaving Portsmouth he went "quietly, and without any attendance, having earnestly entreated that all parade and ceremony might be avoided on my return." When travelling through North Carolina, "a small party of horse under one Simpson met us at Greenville, and in spite of every endeavor which could comport with decent civility, to excuse myself from it, they would attend me to Newburn."

During the few years that Washington was at Mount Vernon subsequent to the Revolution, the same unbounded hospitality was dispensed as in earlier times, while a far greater demand was made upon it, and one so variegated that at times the host was not a little embarrassed. Thus he notes that "a Gentleman calling himself the Count de Cheiza D'Artigan Officer of the French Guards came here to dinner; but bringing no letters of introduction, nor any authentic testimonials of his being either; I was at a loss how to receive or treat him,--he stayed to dinner and the evening," and the next day departed in Washington's carriage to Alexandria. "A farmer came here to see," he says, "my drill plow, and staid all night." In another instance he records that a woman whose "name was unknown to me dined here." Only once were visitors frowned on, and this was when a British marauding party came to Mount Vernon during the Revolution. Even they, in Washington's absence, were entertained by his overseer, but his master wrote him, on hearing of this, "I am little sorry of my own [loss]; but that which gives me most concern is, that you should go on board the enemy's vessels and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House and laid the plantation in ruins. You ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them with a view to prevent a conflagration."

The hospitality at Mount Vernon was perfectly simple. A traveller relates that he was taken there by a friend, and, as Washington was "viewing his laborers," we "were desired to tarry." "When the President returned he received us very politely. Dr. Croker introduced me to him as a gentleman from Massachusetts who wished to see the country and pay his respects. He thanked us, desired us to be seated, and to excuse him a few moments.... The President came and desired us to walk in to dinner and directed us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowles, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc., etc. We were desired to call for what drink we chose. He took a glass of wine with Mrs. Law first, which example was followed by Dr. Croker and Mrs. Washington, myself and Mrs. Peters, Mr. Fayette and the young lady whose name is Custis. When the cloth was taken away the President gave 'All our Friends,'"

Another visitor tells that he was received by Washington, and, "after ... half an hour, the General came in again, with his hair neatly powdered, a clean shirt on, a new plain drab coat, white waistcoat and white silk stockings. At three, dinner was on the table, and we were shown by the General into another room, where everything was set off with a peculiar taste and at the same time neat and plain. The General sent the bottle about pretty freely after dinner, and gave success to the navigation of the Potomac for his toasts, which he has very much at heart.... After Tea General Washington retired to his study and left us with the ... rest of the Company. If he had not been anxious to hear the news of Congress from Mr. Lee, most probably he would not have returned to supper, but gone to bed at his usual hour, nine o'clock, for he seldom makes any ceremony. We had a very elegant supper about that time. The General with a few glasses of champagne got quite merry, and being with his intimate friends laughed and talked a good deal. Before strangers he is very reserved, and seldom says a word. I was fortunate in being in his company with his particular acquaintances.... At 12 I had the honor of being lighted up to my bedroom by the General himself."

This break on the evening hours was quite unusual, Washington himself saying in one place that nine o'clock was his bedtime, and he wrote of his hours after dinner, "the usual time of setting at table, a walk, and tea, brings me within the dawn of candlelight; previous to which, if not prevented by company I resolve, that as soon as the glimmering taper supplies the place of the great luminary, I will retire to my writing table and acknowledge the letters I have received; but when the lights were brought, I feel tired and disinclined to engage in this work, conceiving that the next night will do as well. The next comes, and with it the same causes for postponement, and effect, and so on."

The foregoing allusion to Washington's conversation is undoubtedly just. All who met him formally spoke of him as taciturn, but this was not a natural quality. Jefferson states that "in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation," and Madison told Sparks that, though "Washington was not fluent nor ready in conversation, and was inclined to be taciturn in general society," yet "in the company of two or three intimate friends, he was talkative, and when a little excited was sometimes fluent and even eloquent" "The story so often repeated of his never laughing," Madison said, was "wholly untrue; no man seemed more to enjoy gay conversation, though he took little part in it himself. He was particularly pleased with the jokes, good humor, and hilarity of his companions."

Washington certainly did enjoy a joke. Nelly Custis said, "I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits," and many other instances of his laughing are recorded. He himself wrote in 1775 concerning the running away of some British soldiers, "we laugh at his idea of chasing the Royal Fusileers with the stores. Does he consider them as inanimate, or as treasure?" When the British in Boston sent out a bundle of the king's speech, "farcical enough, we gave great joy to them, (the red coats I mean), without knowing or intending it; for on that day, the day which gave being to the new army, (but before the proclamation came to hand,) we had hoisted the union flag in compliment to the United Colonies. But, behold, it was received in Boston as a token of the deep impression the speech had made upon us, and as a signal of submission."

At times Washington would joke himself, though it was always somewhat labored, as in the case of the Jack already cited. "Without a coinage," he wrote, "or unless a stop can be put to the cutting and clipping of money, our dollars, pistareens, &c., will be converted, as Teague says, into five quarters." When the Democrats were charging the Federalists with having stolen from the treasury, he wrote to a Cabinet official, "and pray, my good sir, what part of the $800.000 have come to your share? As you are high in Office, I hope you did not disgrace yourself in the acceptance of a paltry bribe--a $100.000 perhaps." He once even attempted a pun, by writing, "our enterprise will be ruined, and we shall be stopped at the Laurel Hill this winter; but not to gather laurels, (except of the kind that covers the mountains)."

Probably the neatest turn was his course on one occasion with General Tryon, who sent him some British proclamations with the request, "that through your means, the officers and men under your command may be acquainted with their contents." Washington promptly replied that he had given them "free currency among the officers and men under my command," and enclosed to Tryon a lot of the counter-proclamation, asking him to "be instrumental in communicating its contents, so far as it may be in your power, to the persons who are the objects of its operation. The benevolent purpose it is intended to answer will I persuade myself, sufficiently recommend it to your candor."

To a poetess who had sent him some laudatory verses about himself he expressed his thanks, and added, "Fiction is to be sure the very life and Soul of Poetry--all Poets and Poetesses have been indulged in the free and indisputable use of it, time out of mind. And to oblige you to make such an excellent Poem on such a subject without any materials but those of simple reality, would be as cruel as the Edict of Pharoah which compelled the children of Israel to manufacture Bricks without the necessary Ingredients."

Twice he joked about his own death. "As I have heard," he said after Braddock's defeat, "since my arrival at this place, a circumstancial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you, that I have not as yet composed the latter." Many years later, in draughting a letter for his wife, he wrote,--
"I am now by desire of the General to add a few words on his behalf; which he desires may be expressed in the terms following, that is to say,--that despairing of hearing what may be said of him, if he should really go off in an apoplectic, or any other fit (for he thinks all fits that issue in death are worse than a love fit, a fit of laughter, and many other kinds which he could name)--he is glad to hear beforehand what will be said of him on that occasion; conceiving that nothing extra will happen between this and then to make a change in his character for better, or for worse. And besides, as he has entered into an engagement ... not to quit this world before the year 1800, it may be relied upon that no breach of contract shall be laid to him on that account, unless dire necessity should bring it about, maugre all his exertions to the contrary. In that same, he shall hope they would do by him as he would do by them--excuse it. At present there seems to be no danger of his thus giving them the slip, as neither his health nor spirits, were ever in greater flow, notwithstanding, he adds, he is descending, and has almost reached the bottom of the hill; or in other words, the shades below. For your particular good wishes on this occasion he charges me to say that he feels highly obliged, and that he reciprocates them with great cordiality."
Other social qualities of the man cannot be passed over. A marked trait was his extreme fondness of afternoon tea. "Dined at Mr. Langdon's, and drank Tea there, with a large circle of Ladies;" "in the afternoon drank Tea ... with about 20 ladies, who had been assembled for the occasion;" "exercised between 5 & 7 o'clock in the morning & drank Tea with Mrs. Clinton (the Governor's Lady) in the afternoon;" "Drank tea at the Chief Justice's of the U. States;" "Dined with the Citizens in public; and in the afternoon, was introduced to upwards of 50 ladies who had assembled (at a Tea party) on the occasion;" "Dined and drank tea at Mr. Bingham's in great splendor." Such are the entries in his diary whenever the was "kettle-a-boiling-be" was within reach. Pickering's journal shows that tea served regularly at head-quarters, and at Mount Vernon it was drunk in summer on the veranda. In writing to Knox of his visit to Boston, Washington mentioned his recollection of the chats over tea-drinking, and of how "social and gay" they were.

A fondness for picnics was another social liking. "Rid with Fanny Bassett, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Shaw to meet a Party from Alexandria at Johnsons Spring ... where we dined on a cold dinner brought from Town by water and spent the Afternoon agreeably--Returning home by Sun down or a little after it," is noted in his diary on one occasion, and on another he wrote, "Having formed a Party, consisting of the Vice-President, his lady, Son & Miss Smith; the Secretaries of State, Treasury & War, and the ladies of the two latter; with all the Gentlemen of my family, Mrs. Lear & the two Children, we visited the old position of Fort Washington and afterwards dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Mariner." Launchings, barbecues, clambakes, and turtle dinners were other forms of social dissipations.

A distinct weakness was dancing. When on the frontier he sighed, "the hours at present are melancholy dull. Neither the rugged toils of war, nor the gentler conflict of A[ssembly] B[alls,] is in my choice." His diary shows him at balls and "Routs" frequently; when he was President he was a constant attendant at the regular "Dancing Assemblies" in New York and Philadelphia, and when at Mount Vernon he frequently went ten miles to Alexandria to attend dances. Of one of these Alexandria balls he has left an amusing description: "Went to a ball at Alexandria, where Musick and dancing was the chief Entertainment, however in a convenient room detached for the purpose abounded great plenty of bread and butter, some biscuits, with tea and coffee, which the drinkers of could not distinguish from hot water sweet'ned--Be it remembered that pocket handkerchiefs servd the purposes of Table cloths & Napkins and that no apologies were made for either. I shall therefore distinguish this ball by the stile and title of the Bread & Butter Ball."

During the Revolution, too, he killed many a weary hour of winter quarters by dancing. When the camp spent a day rejoicing over the French alliance, "the celebration," according to Thacher, "was concluded by a splendid ball opened by his Excellency General Washington, having for his partner the lady of General Knox." Greene describes how "we had a little dance at my quarters a few evenings past. His Excellency and Mrs. Greene danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down." Knox, too, tells of "a most genteel entertainment given by self and officers" at which Washington danced. "Everybody allows it to be the first of the kind ever exhibited in this State at least. We had above seventy ladies, all of the first ton in the State, and between three and four hundred gentlemen. We danced all night--an elegant room, the illuminating, fireworks, &c., were more than pretty." And at Newport, when Rochambeau gave a ball, by request it was opened by Washington. The dance selected by his partner was "A Successful Campaign," then in high favor, and the French officers took the instruments from the musicians and played while he danced the first figure.


While in winter quarters he subscribed four hundred dollars (paper money, equal to eleven dollars in gold) to get up a series of balls, of which Greene wrote, "We have opened an assembly in Camp. From this apparent ease, I suppose it is thought we must be in happy circumstances. I wish it was so, but, alas, it is not. Our provisions are in a manner, gone. We have not a ton of hay at command, nor magazine to draw from. Money is extremely scarce and worth little when we get it. We have been so poor in camp for a fortnight, that we could not forward the public dispatches, for want of cash to support the expresses." At the farewell ball given at Annapolis, when the commander-in-chief resigned his command, Tilton relates that "the General danced in every set, that all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him; or as it has since been handsomely expressed, 'get a touch of him.'" He still danced in 1796, when sixty-four years of age, but when invited to the Alexandria Assembly in 1799, he wrote to the managers, "Mrs. Washington and myself have been honored with your polite invitation to the assemblies of Alexandria this winter, and thank you for this mark of your attention. But, alas! our dancing days are no more. We wish, however all those who have a relish for so agreeable and innocent an amusement all the pleasure the season will afford them; and I am, gentlemen,

"Your most obedient and obliged humble servant,



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