Where would the founders celebrate Presidents’ Day?

Where would the founders celebrate President’s Day?

If Presidents’ Day had been a holiday in the 18th Century there is no doubt that the founders would have celebrated it at one of their favorite taverns. Indeed, if the early Presidents happened to be in New York or Philadelphia, there is a good chance they would be visiting/drinking/dining at Fraunces’ Tavern, Simmons’ Tavern, City Tavern or Miss Dally’s boarding house. 

New York was the nation’s capital from 1785 to 1790. Philadelphia was the capital from 1790-1800. Of course Philadelhia was also the site of the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention. This post will highlight a handful of celebrations which occurred at the indispensable taverns operated by “America’s Founding Hosts”, the extended Fraunces, Simmons and Dally family. Click here for the first of several post about the “First Family of Hospitality” who catered to the founding generation for decades.

George Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732 on Popes Creek Plantation in Virginia. According to the Julian calendar Washington was born Feb. 11. The Gregorian calendar was subsequently adopted in 1752 when Washington was 20. Washington’s first visit to City Tavern in Philadelphia may have been on 5 September 1774. According to his diary, he spent the evening of September 5 at City Tavern meeting with delegates of the Continental Congress, which convened that day at Carpenters’ Hall.

On 9 May 1775 Washington returned to City Tavern, the day before the Second Continental Congress convened. Washington’s expense account confirms that he also visited City Tavern in 1776. Washington would repeatedly dine at City Tavern during the Constitutional Convention beginning in May of 1787. Washington attended a concert at City Tavern on 12 June 1787 which began at exactly 7:45 p.m. and opened with an overture by Bach. On the final day of the Constitutional Convention the delegates “dined together and took a cordial leave of each other” before returning to their respective states with printed copies of the Constitution.

Gifford Dally operated City Tavern in the late 1770s after the British departed Philadelphia. Likely the most famous party he hosted was the Independence Day celebration on July 4, 1778:

The entertainment was elegant and well conducted. There were four tables spread, two of them extended the whole length of the room, the other two crossed them at right angles. At the end of the room opposite the upper table was erected an orchestra…As soon as the dinner began, the music consisting of clarinets, haut-boys, French horns, violins and bass violins…Then the toasts followed each by a discharge of fieldpieces, were drank and so the afternoon ended. In the evening there was a cold collation and a brilliant exhibition of fireworks.

The thirteen toasts given on July 4, 1778 at City Tavern are listed below, as widely reported in newspapers around the nation. Attendees included the Honorable Congress and the principal civil and military officers. The toasts were led by Henry Laurens, the President of Congress in 1778.

Dating back to the late 1770s, many delegates to Congress boarded with Miss Dally in Philadelphia. Among her famous boarders were Samuel Adams and Gouverneur Morris. It is unlikely that George Washington ever spent the night at Miss Dally’s boarding house. During the Constitutional Convention Robert Morris insisted that Washington stay with the Morris family in their mansion. Nevertheless, it is clear that Washington knew about Miss Dally’s boarding house.

As indicated by Massachusetts delegate Samuel Holten in his diary on 29 December 1778, “Genl. Washington, the Prest. of Congress, the Minister of France, the Prest. of this State” and other gentlemen “dined with us.” Because Holten and his co-delegates from Massachusetts boarded with Miss Dally in late 1778 it is likely that this meal occurred at Miss Dally’s boarding house. A few days earlier, on Christmas Day, Holten and the Massachusetts delegation dined at the home of the President of Pennsylvania, Joseph Reed, with George and Martha Washington, the President of Congress, Henry Laurens, and Don Juane, the Spanish minister. Thus, the dinner invitation to Miss Dally’s on December 29 would likely have been in reciprocation for the Christmas dinner earlier in the week.

Brother-in-laws Samuel Fraunces and John Simmons operated two of the most important taverns in New York. After the Revolutionary War, the most famous meal served would certainly have been Washington’s farewell to his officers on 4 December 1783 at Fraunces Tavern. According to the account by Colonel Benjamin Talmadge:

We had been assembled but a few moments when his excellency entered the room. After partaking of a slight refreshment in an almost breathless silence the General filled his glass with wine and turning to the officers said, ‘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.

Washington would also have been very familiar with Simmons’ Tavern, which was located directly across from Federal Hall in Manhattan. From this vantage point, John Simmons and his patrons would have enjoyed front row seats to witness George Washington’s inauguration on the second-floor balcony of Federal Hall in April of 1789. A pending book will make the argument that Simmons’ Tavern was Alexander Hamilton’s favorite tavern. Wait for it…. An important announcement will be coming soon.

Raise a glass to freedom! And Happy pending birthday President Washington!


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