Washington's Southern Tour (C-18) historical marker

Washington's Southern Tour (C-18)

President Washington spent the night Apr. 23, 1791 at Sage's Inn, which stood 200 yds. E.

Location: US 17 south of Holly Ridge
County: Onslow
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.

President Washington’s tour took him from the relatively urban New Bern into the rural countryside of eastern North Carolina before he arrived in Wilmington. His biographers have noted that he made simple remarks in his travel diary for Saturday, April 23, implying less of the pomp associated with visits in New Bern and Halifax and more time for him to read and write correspondence and contemplate his visits: “Breakfasted at one Everets 12 miles bated at a Mr. Foy’s 12 miles farther and lodged at one Sage’s 20 miles beyond it.” One of the spots identified by Washington was Sage’s Inn, operated in Onslow County by Robert Sage Sr. A well known stop in the region, the inn was marked on several early maps of the state and was mentioned as post stop during Governor William Tryon’s administration. The buildings associated with Sage’s stop along the King’s Highway are gone.

Washington wrote in his journal that the road from New Bern to Wilmington passed through “the most barren country I ever beheld, especially in the parts nearest the latter (Wilmington), which is no other than a bed of white sand.”

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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