George Washington was one of the finest horsemen in an age when horsemanship really mattered. He owned his first horse at seventeen and learned that gentle methods worked best with horses from his mother, a skilled horsewoman. He bred his own horses, broke and trained them, raced them and was probably the finest huntsman in Virginia. Legend has it that he didn't fall off of a horse until he was of an advanced age and was thrown while riding around Mount Vernon on a Narragansett he had purchased from Rhode Island.
“He was so attentive as to give me the horse he rode on the day of my arrival, which I had greatly commended. I found him as good as he is handsome, but above all, perfectly well broke and well trained having a good mouth, easy in hand, and stopping short in a gallop without bearing the bit. I mention these minute particulars, because it is the General himself who breaks all his own horses, and his is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild.”
Washington went fox hunting at least once a week and most often two or three times a week. His passion for the hunt led him to engage in dog breeding and he is largely responsible for the development of the American foxhound. He was constantly surrounded by his dogs to whom he gave some peculiar names. He had dogs with him when he arrived as a delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress in early May 1775. One of his favorites was a dog called Sweet Lips.
Washington showed up at the Second Continental Congress wearing a blue and buff uniform he had designed himself. He had served as the Colonel of the Virginia Regiment, the first all professional militia force in the colonies, for about two years almost 20 years earlier during the French and Indian War, but he had never commanded a large army in the field. At its height, the Virginia Regiment never numbered more than 2,000 men. Washington had no military experience after he resigned from the militia in 1756. Indeed, Charles Lee, who the Second Continental Congress appointed third in command of the Continental Army beneath Washington, had a military resume far superior to that of Washington and he fully expected to be made Commander in Chief. However, the delegates to the Congress were put off by Lee's personal demeanor which included a lot of swearing, slovenly appearance, and a perceived desperation to be handsomely rewarded.
|Washington in the uniform of the Virginia Regiment|
Charles Wilson Peale, 1772
Note Washington's paunch
The somewhat priggish Adams cousins, Samuel and John, had a large hand in who was to be named Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and one gets the sense that they were put off by Lee. One can almost read between the lines in John Adams' letter to his wife Abigail informing her of Washington's selection as Commander-in-Chief.
"I can now inform you that the Congress have made Choice of the modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous and brave George Washington Esqr., to be the General of the American Army, and that he is to repair as soon as possible to the Camp before Boston."
Washington, on the other hand, was at his most disingenuous when he wrote to Martha informing her of his appointment.
"It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defense of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the Command of it. You may believe me my dear Patsy, when I assure you in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it."
One doesn't show up in a personally designed military uniform to the Continental Congress when it was obvious to anyone that a Commander in Chief of Continental Forces would be named once measures were passed to raise an army and then pretend that he doesn't want the appointment. I have always wondered just what Martha thought when she received that letter. Did she allow her husband his little charade or did she call him on his duplicity? Since that is one of the few letters that have survived between George and Martha, we will never know.
Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief on June 15,1775 and addressed the Congress accepting the appointment on the 16th. He requested that he not be paid a salary but that he be paid his expenses at the end of the war. Washington sent his horses and carriage back to Virginia and set about equipping himself for his trip to Massachusetts to take command of the Continental Army. On June 19, 1775 he purchased five horses, two of them on credit from James Mease, for £ 239 and a light phaeton (carriage) from a Dr. Renaudet. for £55.
James Mease emigrated to Philadelphia from Ireland and became a wealthy and prominent shipping merchant. He was an original member of the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia, founded in November 1774 with the understanding it might be needed to protect the colonists' rights. Most of the original members were also members of the Gloucester Hunting Club of Philadelphia, presumably the oldest fox hunting club in the colonies, having been formed in October 1776. It is believed that George Washington hunted with this club during his attendance at the First Continental Congress. (Fox hunting season runs between October and April.) So it is logical for him to turn to Mease to obtain horses. Mease later became Paymaster and Treasurer of the Continental Army and then Clothier General, a position from which he resigned in haste in September 1778 to escape an investigation into his alleged dishonesty and incompetence. Not much is known about Dr. Peter Renaudet except that he was a prominent physician.
Since Washington was reimbursed for the horses and phaeton in 1783, eight years after he had purchased them, putting a value on them in 1775 is rather difficult. By 1783, the Continental currency had been thoroughly debased and devalued and was nowhere near in parity to what the original Continental dollar was. The first issue of a Continental currency was in May 1775 and one Continental dollar was equivalent to one Spanish silver dollar, the international currency of its day. (The Spanish dollar was legal tender in the US until 1857.) Washington used an exchange rate of one £ equals $26, a rate very favorable to the Congress. Even given that exchange rate, a price of £50 for a quality horse is not that exorbitant and £55 for a well constructed spider phaeton may be a little high but not exorbitant. Washington also purchased a double set of harness for the carriage.
On Friday, June 23, 1775, Washington departed Philadelphia on horseback accompanied by Major Generals Charles Lee and Philip Schuyler, Thomas Mifflin (Washington's aide), Maj Griffin, aide to MGen Lee, officers of the City Militia on horseback, Benjamin Hemmings, a stableman from Philadelphia who accompanied Washington all of the way to Cambridge, and Washington's slave valet, William "Billy" Lee, who was also an expert horseman and who, when fox hunting with Washington, had orders to always ride in front and stay with the hounds. Washington would be right with him or directly behind them. So Washington had two men to take care of the horses he purchased for his trip to Cambridge. We do not know what kind of horses Washington purchased, but we do know that two of them were white since observers noted that two white horses were seen drawing the phaeton outside of Philadelphia. (Washington was very partial to white horses.) We also do not know what happened to these horses since the two horses Washington was famous for and rode during the war were acquired later.
|William "Billy" Lee from a|
John Trumbull painting of Washington, 1780
It should be noted that the Philadelphia Light Horse Cavalry that escorted Washington to New York served with distinction throughout the Revolutionary War and is the oldest military unit still in active service with the United States Army. It is now a National Guard unit designated as Troop A, 1st Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard.
|1775 Map of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York|
After leaving Philadelphia and before he had gone 20 miles from Philadelphia, Washington was met by a courier bearing dispatches to the Continental Congress informing it of a battle that was fought in Massachusetts on June 17th, 1775. It is not clear what precisely the courier communicated to Washington's party but it seems that the news was only some preliminary sketchy information.This news should have put a sense of urgency into Washington's retinue. We believe that Washington spent the night of 23-24 June 1775 in Trenton some 45 miles northeast of Philadelphia but no record of it has been found. Other than the discouraging news from Boston, the 23rd was characterized by a day long rain, as was the 24th.
The next day, June 24, 1775, Washington arrived inn New Brunswick, NJ about 25 miles northeast of Trenton. At this point MGen Philip Schuyler became apprehensive that British warships in New York harbor might prevent a crossing into Manhattan across the Hudson River, or worse intercept a barge or ferry carrying three Continental Major Generals and their staff. New Brunswick was some 35 miles south of Manhattan. While traveling through New Jersey Washington had been discussing the defense of New York with Schuyler. Washington was eager to push on but he couldn't disregard
At the time there were three routes one could take to travel from New Brunswick to New York. One was via Perth Amboy and Staten Island and the ferry to New York. Another was by way of Elizabeth Point and the Kill von Kull; and the third ran from Newark to Powles Hook (Jersey City) from which ran a ferry to Courtland Street in New York. The first two were the oldest routes and brought one to the lower end of the island while the third arrived at the northern outskirts of the city and sent the traveler though the marshes at Newark.
A letter from MGen Philip Schuyler to the President of the New York Provincial Congress from New Brunswick NJ, dated June 24th, 1775.
"General Washington, with his retinue, is now here [New Brunswick] and proposes to be at Newark by nine to-morrow morning. The situation of the men-at-war in New York (we are informed) is such as to make it necessary that some precaution should be taken in crossing the Hudson's river, and he would take it as a favor if some gentlemen would meet him to-morrow at Newark [approx. 25 miles from New Brunswick] , as the advice you may then give him will determine his proposed route or not.
On Sunday June 25, 1775 Washington and his retinue proceeded to Newark to which Washington expected to arrive at 9 AM. Washington had formed the habit, when traveling, of getting an early morning start without having breakfast so he could get a good part of the journey done before the heat of the day wore down his horses. At around noon, the New York Provincial Congress arrived at Newark and informed Washington, that, among other things, New York Governor William Tryon, an uncompromising Loyalist, had sent word that he would return to New York sometime later that day. Outside of the irony of Washington and Tryon arriving in New York on the same day and perhaps the same time, there was a serious risk of a clash between the two men's supporters, especially on a Sunday when the streets were teeming with Sunday strollers. Washington took the advice of the committee and some "Jersey men", that he go up the west shore of the North River beyond the usual crossing at Powles Hook and make the cross from Hoboken (Hobock/Hocken). Notice of this was sent ahead and Washington's party made its way to the ferry at Hoboken.
For his first appearance in New York as Commander-in-Chief, Washington put on a new purple sash with his uniform and changed his travel hat for one with a plume. Boarding the ferry at around two o'clock in the afternoon, with as much of his party as would fit, Washington headed for the eastern shore of the Hudson and the home of Col Leonard Lispenard, a wealthy New York merchant and prominent Whig, who had an estate and mansion about a mile north of the city.
|Lispenard Meadows - 1775|
Washington reported the contents of the letter but only told a few later of an ominous paragraph in the letter:
As soon as an estimate can be made of public and private stocks of gunpowder in this Colony, it shall be transmitted without delay, which we are well assured will be small, and by no means adequate to the exigence of our case. We apprehend that the scantiness of our stock of that article cannot fail to induce your Honors still to give your utmost attention to ways and means of procuring a full supply of it. We feel ourselves infinitely obliged to you for your past care in this respect.Washington decided that he needed to send a letter to the Continental Congress explaining why he broke the seal of a letter intended for it, dictated it, and had it sent. This occurred while the militia companies waited and the crowd of New Yorkers idled, came and went. It was now past five o'clock and a parade was reformed. The nine New York militia companies in front, next the members of the New York Provincial Congress, the generals, the Philadelphia Light Horse, and then bringing up the rear, the crowd of New Yorkers who had come to greet the arrival of their new Commander-in-Chief.
|Map of New York 1776|
Governor Tyron, on the other hand, never made his entrance into New York until sometime between eight and nine o'clock that night. Tyron had been absent from New York in Great Britain for fourteen months and was entering a city that had changed dramatically in that time. His arrival at the northern tip of the island was a rallying cry for Loyalists to greet him and show their support. Indeed, many Loyalists did greet him; however, the crowd was much smaller than that which had greeted Washington and his party. Most importantly, the nine companies of militia were nowhere to be seen at the Ferry landing greeting the Governor. Yet, there were militia guarding the battery on the lower edge of the island. Loyalists recorded in their diaries that some of the same men who had greeted Washington earlier in the day were seen in the Governor's train celebrating his return and wishing him well.
Governor Tyron had to have been immediately informed of the presence of Washington and two of the senior Generals of the Continental Army in his province; yet, he did nothing. He did have some ships of the Royal Navy and their marines that he could call on. But he had been absent for fourteen months and one could hardly expect him on such short notice to take an action that could have resulted in a bloodbath. Tyron certainly knew of Lexington and Concord, but it's not known if he knew of Bunker Hill. Still one wonders what would have happened had he given the order to arrest Washington on June 25th, 1775.