Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Washington Travels From Philadelphia to Cambridge III

   On Friday, June 30, 1775, Washington and his party departed Wethersfield bound for Springfield. It is approximately 35 miles from Wethersfield to Springfield, so, given Washington's travel habits, one might assume that he entered Springfield sometime after noon.

   In June 1775, Springfield, Mass was the most important town in Western Massachusetts, but still only had approximately 1200 residents and about 150 houses, very few of which were painted,  a newly built brick school house, and a Courthouse with a whipping post in front of it. The town had been burned down to the ground 110 years earlier during King Philip's War when Metacomet (King Philip) had incited the native Pocumtuc Indians (Deerfield) to rebel and burn nearby Springfield to the ground. Serious thought was given to abandoning Springfield but ultimately the decision to rebuild was taken. It occupied an important position and served as a gateway to Albany and to Hartford.

   The town rose on the east bank of the Connecticut River with pasture land descending to the river bank from the ridge. It was situated in some of the richest farm land in the colonies and the Connecticut River teemed with shad and salmon. Shad had been a staple of the American Indian diet and made runs of hundreds of thousands of fish up the Connecticut River to find fresh water spawning grounds and then back down again.  The salmon were so numerous that, in seining for shad, salmon also had to be caught. So many salmon were caught that shad came to be considered "poor man's food" and salmon came to be known as "Agawam Pork." It became so bad that a condition of hiring a laborer was that he had to eat shad a certain number of times per week; and a condition of buying shad that a certain amount of "Agawam Pork" had to be taken with it.

   There were three taverns in the town with the most prominent being that of Zenas Parsons whose tavern rose to a height unusual for a town the size of Springfield. Parsons' tavern was considered the best in town and was famous for miles around.

Parsons Tavern
   It was in Parsons Tavern that Washington and his party met up with the committee consisting of Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr and Moses Gill that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had sent to escort him to Cambridge. One presumes that Washington and Church had met earlier in Philadelphia when Church visited the Continental Congress, of which Washington was a member, and delivered some important documents from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Church and Gill informed Washington that the Massachusetts provincial Congress had appointed them a Committee to receive Washington "with every mark of respect" and had directed that gentlemen of each of the larger towns on the road to Cambridge would serve as an escort to General Washington and to General Lee all the way to Cambridge. Washington must have been really anxious by this time to get to Cambridge but he could not avoid this honor and courtesy. This was much the same thing he had experienced all of the way from Philadelphia.

   Washington, however, could take advantage of Church and Gill to be briefed on the situation around Boston and the disposition and condition of the Continental Army. There were few, if any, more prominent Whigs than Church in Boston. He had been one of its core members for years, had given an oration on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and was well known for his political tracts as well as his poetry. More importantly for Washington, Church had been a member of the Committee of Safety and had served as its Chairman for a brief period. No one knew more than Church. Moses Gill, on the other hand, was a member of the Committee of Supply and could give Washington a detailed account of the supply situation for the army currently besieging Boston.

   Washington, Lee, Church, Gill and the rest of the party departed Springfield on the morning of Saturday, July 1st 1775 bound for Brookfield, some 35 miles east on the road to Boston; and, again escorted by some prominent citizens. Tradition has it that Washington stopped  about a mile west of
Washington Elm, Palmer
 Palmer, Massachusetts, about 20 miles east of Springfield, and had lunch under a huge elm next to the tavern owned by Daniel Graves and his son Aaron. Washington's party allegedly sat under this elm tree and lunched on "milk and other necessaries" ordered from the Graves' tavern. The only problem with this legend is that it is said to occur on the day previous, June 30th. That could just be faulty memory, or not. But it does seem plausible that Washington would stop some 20 miles into the day's journey given his preference for starting early in the morning without eating breakfast. One last thing, I just can't get my arms around the mental image of George Washington drinking a glass of milk.

    Washington and his party proceeded to Brookfield, about 15 miles east of  Palmer, where his escort was changed, and then on to Worcester, where again the escort changed. At Worcester, the party stopped at the King's Arms Tavern, run by the widow Mary Sternes. Interestingly enough, this tavern, in a town of about 2000 residents, was known as a Tory meeting place and where Tories plotted against the town's Whigs. Upon hearing of the Declaration of Independence, patriots tore down the sign bearing "King's Arms" and burned it in the street. The widow Sternes kept the tavern, renamed Sternes Tavern, until her death in 1784. (The tavern is no longer standing.)

      The next stage of the journey was to the prescribed resting place of Marlborough where the party spent the night. Marlborough is about 25 miles from Watertown and it is where the Provincial Congress was meeting. Washington's party managed to travel 65 miles that day.
Boston Post Road Mile Marker
On Sunday, July 2nd, 1776, Washington, escorted by a company of light cavalry and some citizens traveled the 25 miles to Watertown where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was in session. It is not clear just how long Washington spent with the Congress, most likely just enough time for each to present a short speech to each other. Washington then listened as another address was given to General Lee, who replied in only six sentences.          

Washington, at last, was able to start to reach the end of his long journey from Philadelphia, Escorted by cavalry, Washington rode the final three miles to Cambridge. Troops had been paraded the previous morning when a false report was received that Washington and Lee were to arrive that day, July 1st. Again on the morning of the 2nd, the troop were marched out to present honors to the generals. But rain started to fall and no one had positive notice of just when Washington would arrive. Once again the men were dismissed. So when Washington, Lee, and their party went down that wet road to take command of the Continental Army, they found only Sunday idlers in the Harvard College Yard, no committee to greet them, and no troops in formation to salute them. Washington was conducted to the house of Samuel Langdon,  President of Harvard, ( Benjamin Wadsworth House)  where the Provincial Congress had ordered that Washington and Lee were to have all of the rooms except for one assigned to President Langdon. One wonders just how that went over with Washington. Washington, at the time, said nothing and proceeded to meet the officers who had been summoned to meet him as soon as word of his arrival was received. Among them were Generals Artemus Ward and Israel Putnam.
Wadsworth House

   At 9 AM,  Monday, July 3, 1775,  Washington took formal command of the Continental Army.

   On July 4th, 1775, Church and Gill submitted a bill to the Provincial Congress for £28, 5 shillings, and ten pence for "the expense of escorting and entertaining Generals Washington and Lee from Springfield to the camp at Cambridge."


1 comment:

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