Washington's Southern Tour (C-17) historical marker

Washington's Southern Tour (C-17)

President Washington, on April 20, 1791, was a guest at the home of Col. John Allen, which was 5 mi. E.

Location: NC 55 at Fort Barnwell
County: Craven
Original Date Cast: 1939

George Washington, Revolutionary War hero elected as the first president of the United States in February 1789, is one of the most celebrated figures in American history. For more than two centuries, the story of his eventful life has been marked by both truth and legend. The concept of the presidency was new, and Washington was fully aware that his decisions would set precedents. He resolved to tour the United States to observe political climate and culture, to thank his supporters, and to instill a sense of unity in the new country. As such, his tour and stops along the way became important landmarks in the areas he touched. Washington’s stature in history is almost mythical, and has given rise to the popular claim—in well-known towns and obscure hamlets along the Eastern Seaboard—that “George Washington Slept Here.” The claims are not surprising, however, as Washington saw more of his country while in office than any other American president before the twentieth century. He also kept a detailed diary chronicling his travels.

While on tour, he sought differing viewpoints and wanted to see and be seen by as many people as possible. Soon after taking office, he planned and undertook a successful 28-day tour of New England. In early 1791, after establishing a site for the new “Federal District” along the Potomac River, Washington embarked on a tour of the Southern states—a product of his desire to visit every state during his term of office. Proceeding from Mount Vernon via Fredericksburg and Richmond (Virginia) into North Carolina, Washington crossed the Roanoke River into Halifax in mid-April 1791. From there, the President’s carriage tour took him through Tarboro, Greenville, New Bern, Trenton, and Wilmington before entering South Carolina. Washington re-entered North Carolina near Charlotte and traveled northward, visiting Salisbury, Salem, and Guilford Court House.

After a night in Pitt County, Washington left the morning of April 20 headed toward the colonial capital of New Bern. Throughout his tour of the United States, Washington had made it a policy to only prevail upon inn and tavern keepers and not to spend nights and meals in private homes. However, after leaving Shadrach Allen’s inn en route to New Bern, Washington arrived at the home of Colonel John Allen for breakfast. Washington believed that Allen’s home was an inn. The mistake was not discovered until after Col. Allen’s wife, unprepared for Washington’s visit, produced a lavish meal in short order. Washington rested his horses at the Allen home briefly before continuing his travels to New Bern.

William G. Clotworthy, In the Footsteps of George Washington (2002)
Archibald Henderson, Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791 (1923)
Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington

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