November 7: Washington Slept Here — But Not Very Well (& Not Because the Clocks Changed)

 

Throughout the eastern United States, claims that “George Washington slept here” at some local home or landmark are so exceedingly plentiful — and not infrequently fabricated to boost business — that the term has almost become a tourism cliché. Connecticut, however, can point to many locations where George Washington did pass by or spend the night that are backed up by historical documentation — sometimes, even in the personal papers of Washington himself. This was the case on November 7, 1789.

Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington, painted during his second presidential term in 1795.

Washington was in his first year as the first President of the United States, and on a grand tour of the newly established Republic that would take him from Maine to Georgia. Acutely aware that he was setting a precedent with every official action, the new President avoided staying in the homes of private citizens or local officials to prevent seeming to show political favor to any person or party. Unfortunately for Washington — a member of the Virginia landed gentry — this often meant staying in places that didn’t quite live up to his expectations of decent hospitality. Such was certainly the case when Washington traveled through the “Quiet Corner” of northeastern Connecticut.

His brief sojourn in and to the rural town of Ashford was not destined to be one of the favorite parts of his trip. According to Washington’s diary, on this day in 1789, he ate an apparently mediocre breakfast in Thompson, Connecticut at a tavern owned by a Mr. Jacobs, which the president described as “not a good house.” He then spent most of the day riding 33 miles on “intolerable roads” southwest to Ashford, where he lodged overnight. The next day, he wrote that on account of the Connecticut custom that discourages travel on the Sabbath, he “stayed at Perkins’ tavern (which, by the bye, is not a good one) all day,” and, upon attending church services at a nearby meetinghouse, was subjected to “very lame discourses from a Mr. [Enoch] Pond,” the local minister. Proof positive that the famously candid Washington did indeed sleep in Ashford — or at least he stayed in Ashford — on this day in Connecticut history.  (And by the way, just in case you forgot – change your clocks backwards an hour.)

Further Reading

George Washington Slept Here (Just Perhaps Not Well),” connecticuthistory.org

Tedd Levy, “Looking Back: Washington Slept Here in Connecticut,” Shoreline Times

Connecticut State Library tour: ‘Washington Slept Here’,” historypin.org