IN THE FOOTPRINTS OF WASHINGTON.
FRAUNCES' TAVERN AND WASHINGTON
Looking down Broad Street to Pearl from the steps of the Sub-Treasury, stands what is regarded by many as easily the most interesting building in all New York, Fraunces' Tavern. At all events it is one of those most intimately connected with Washington. Here on December 4th, 1783, the Commander-in-Chief of the American armies met his old comrades in the field. The War was over. "Swords must now be turned into plow-shares and knives into pruning hooks." Washington, like Cincinnatus must go back to his farm.
Forty-four officers were present on this memorable occasion, including, Generals Greene, Knox, Wayne, Steuben, Carroll, Lincoln, Kosciusko, Moultrie and Hamilton, Governor Clinton, Colonel Tallmadge and others.
By rare good fortune we are able to describe this wonderful event by one who was present at the ceremony in person and who afterwards recorded it in his journal. This interesting account in its original form is still in possession of the Tavern and can be seen upon application to the Society of the Sons of the Revolution. It is by Colonel Tallmadge who was on the staff of Washington. It was a descendant of this Revolutionary officer who presented the building to the Sons, as will be told later on.
Col. Tallmadge thus describes the Farewell meeting:
"We had been assembled but a few minutes when His Excellency entered the room. His emotion, too strong to be concealed, seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After par-taking of a slight refreshment amid almost breath-less silence, the General filled his glass with wine and turning to his officers said: 'With a heart full of love and gratitude I must now take my 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.' After the officers had taken a glass of wine, the General added: 'I cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged to you if each will come and take me by the hand.' General Knox, being nearest to him, turned to the Commander-in-Chief, who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance, but grasped his hand, when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner every officer in the room marched up to, kissed and parted with his General-in-Chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed, and hope I may never be called upon to witness again. Not a word was uttered to break the solemn silence that prevailed, or to interrupt the tenderness of the occasion."
Upon the conclusion of the leave taking General Washington slowly walked down the room, descended the stairs and was soon embarked on a barge at Whitehall Ferry on his way to Annapolis to resign his commission. The "Long Room," in which this affecting scene occurred, occupies the second floor of the Tavern and has been lovingly restored to look exactly the same today as it appeared upon that memorable occasion. In addition to its own interest as an historic shrine, it contains many interesting relics pertaining to the "time that tried men's souls."
The building is owned by the Sons of the Revolution. The original structure was built in 1719 as a private dwelling house for Etienne de Lancey, a prominent merchant of old New York, early in the eighteenth century.
It finally passed through the usual experience of the old New York house after its youth is spent. Business creeps in and the respectability of the neighborhood in a social sense, departs. Col. Joseph Robinson leased the place in 1757 and in 1759 it was bought by de Lancey Robinson & Company (James Parker) and used as a general store.
Some years later, 1762, Samuel Fraunces, who after-wards became steward for Washington while President, bought the place and turned it into an "ordinary" which he named after the young consort of George III., "Queen's Head Tavern," hanging out doubtless a swinging sign with an impossible portrait, as was the custom in those days. During the war the roof was struck by a shot from the British man-of-war Asia.
In 1768 in the same room in which Washington parted from his officers was again the scene of a notable occurrence. A number of merchants met here and organized the present New York Chamber of Commerce. They elected Mr. John Cruger, President. This is the only public body now in New York which existed before the Revolution. During the troublesome days that preceded the war for Independence the old tavern was very busy. The Sons of Liberty and the Vigilance Committee met here at various times; notably when the ship London docked at the wharf with tea on board, in defiance of the Non-Importation agreement. The meeting resulted in the members boarding the vessel at the dock and throwing the tea overboard. This was New York's tea party and preceded the Boston Tea Party by quite a little while.
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