Washington's Southern Tour (E-25) historical marker

Washington's Southern Tour (E-25)

President Washington was a visitor in the town of Halifax, on April 16-17, 1791.

Location: US 301 Business (Main Street) northeast of US 301 in Halifax
County: Halifax
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.

Washington’s arrival in North Carolina was greeted by a miserable rain just prior to his arrival in Halifax on April 16. The President recorded in his diary that the town “seems to be in decline and does not it is said contain a thousand Souls.” The first town he visited on his tour of the state, Halifax was home to several men prominent in North Carolina’s contributions to the Revolution and the political debates leading up to the Declaration of Independence—Willie Jones, Colonel John B. Ashe, and William R. Davie. A banquet was prepared for Washington at the Eagle Hotel the day after his arrival. After spending two nights of entertainment and conversation in Halifax, Washington left on the morning of Monday, April 18 for Tarboro.

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

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