Goodbye to General Washington
On Thursday, December 4, 1783, General George Washington received the officers of the victorious Continental Army to say farewell in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern, located on the corner of Pearl and Broad streets in lower Manhattan. Fraunces Tavern opened in 1762 as the “Queen’s Head Tavern” and also was known as the “Sign of Queen Charlotte” for its portrait of the queen. Under the proprietorship of Samuel Fraunces, a patriot of African and French extraction born in the French West Indies, the tavern was located across the Bowling Green from the Whitehall Ferry landing. There, a barge waited to carry Washington across the Hudson River to New Jersey and then to Annapolis to resign his commission.
With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable. I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.
General George Washington’s Farewell to his Officers. In Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge–Prepared by Himself, at the Request of His Children. New York: T. Holman, 1858. p. 63
After British troops evacuated the city on November 25, 1783, Governor George Clinton threw a huge party at Fraunces Tavern in honor of General Washington. On December 1, a display of “fire-works and illuminations” was viewed from the Battery.
All the festivities were reported in the newspaper published by James Rivington, formerly “Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.” With the departure of the British, The Royal Gazette became Rivington’s New-York Gazette, and Universal Advertiser. The December 6, 1783, issue of the newspaper described Washington’s farewell to his officers:
Last Thursday noon (December 4), the principal officers of the army in town assembled at Fraunces Tavern, to take a final leave of their illustrious, gracious, and much loved Comrade, General Washington. The passions of human nature were never more tenderly agitated, than in this interesting and distressful scene…[His] words produced extreme sensibility on both sides…
Rivington’s New-York Gazette, and Universal Advertiser, December 6, 1783.
According to Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge’s account, General Henry Knox stood closest to General Washington. As the general concluded his address, the two turned to each other and “suffused in tears…embraced each other in silence.” Then, each of the officers followed suit, afterwards following Washington to the ferry landing where he departed, waving to them from his barge.
General Washington had already issued his Farewell Orders to the Continental Army. The outpouring of emotion and affection for Washington upon his retirement to Mount Vernon for Christmas imposed a heavy burden of reciprocal correspondence. The general authored many letters of recommendation for former soldiers and patriots including a testimonial for Samuel Fraunces, who likely assisted the Continental Army by obtaining intelligence from British army officers frequenting his tavern while New York was under royal government. Fraunces later was employed by Washington as a steward in his presidential households in New York and Philadelphia.
- Read Washington’s correspondence. Search the George Washington Papers using the terms Fraunces, Tallmadge, or Knox to find a wealth of material, including documentation of Washington’s expenditures at the tavern. Search the collection using the term Washington farewell to locate more words from Washington at the time of his retirement. View the Timeline and the Essays in the collection for additional biographical information about Washington.
- Search Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789 using the term army for material related to the Continental Army, including a document repealing “rations, subsistence, or allowances to officers over and above their pay.”
- Search Today in History with the term George Washington to learn more about the first president. Features highlight the president’s birthday, his resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and his death.