Washington's Southern Tour historical marker

Washington's Southern Tour (J-97)

Pres. George Washington visited Moravian town of Salem and spent the night of May 31, 1791, at tavern ½ mile north.

Location: In roundabout by Old Salem Rd. in Winston-Salem
County: Forsyth
Original Date Cast: 1991

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, Washington 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 left Salisbury early on the morning of May 31, 1791 and arrived in the Moravian settlement of Salem that afternoon. He was met on the outskirts of the Moravian settlement by three ministers and, as he approached the square, the President was entertained by trumpets, French horns, and trombones. Stepping from his carriage, he “greeted those who stood around in a friendly manner, showing his good will especially to the children who were there,” according to the official town diary. Washington noted in his own journal the number of artisans in the village and took time to visit the shops of the tradesmen. At the tavern, where at his request the musicians again played for him as he dined, the President awaited Governor Alexander Martin who arrived the next afternoon. From Salem, Washington continued northward toward Rockingham County and Virginia.

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
George Washington Papers, Library of Congress:

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