The three-month Southern Tour, contemplated by President George Washington in May of 1789, began on 9 April 1791. Inaugurated president in late April 1789, he had already visited the northeastern States by September 1790, but delayed his visit southward as North Carolina did not ratify the new Constitution until November 1789 -- and this was not certified until May of 1790. While 11 States had already seceded from the Articles of Confederation with their ratification of the new Constitution of 1789, North Carolina and Rhode Island both remained under the Articles of Confederation union. After The Old North State’s ratification, Washington journeyed to the Carolinas and Georgia to State’s he had never visited.
His entourage consisted of his senior secretary, Major William Jackson, and some servants in a carriage and a wagon. The President arrived at Halifax, North Carolina on April 16, then journeyed to Tarboro, Greenville on April 19, thence to Col. John Allen’s home at Fort Barnwell on April 20, and the following day as the guest of John G. Stanly in New Bern.
Leaving New Bern in the morning of April 22, Washington quartered at Shine’s Inn near Trenton in Jones County; the night of April 23 he stayed the night at Sage’s Inn just south of today’s Holly Ridge in Onslow County.
President Washington arrived in Wilmington on April 24, 1791 after being escorted from today’s Hampstead area by the Light Horse Guards, Wilmington’s military company. They met him at the Rouse House, an inn about fifteen miles north of town on the New Bern Road, today’s Highway 17.
After an artillery salute of his arrival, many residents turned out to see the General. The next day saw a procession through the town and a great dinner in his honor, and in the evening Wilmington was illuminated by bonfires and a grand ball at Assembly Hall on Front Street between Orange and Ann Streets. This hall was also known as “Old ‘76” as it was built in 1776 – and was described as a large two-story brick building, stuccoed white, and operated as a sailor’s boarding house and political hall with wide piazzas all around. It sat upon the run of Tan Yard Branch with its first floor several feet below Front Street. It was demolished in the 1840s.
While in Wilmington, Washington resided at the residence of Mrs. John Quince at the southeast corner of Front and Dock Streets, which she had vacated during his stay. A stone monument now marks the location of the residence.
Leaving Wilmington early on April 27 after a two day visit, a vessel carried him and Wilmington town leaders across the Cape Fear River to Col. Benjamin Smith’s “Belvidere” plantation in Brunswick County. Col. Smith had been a young aide-de-camp to Gen. Washington during the war and a firm supporter of North Carolina’s ratification of the new Constitution. At the Belvidere landing, according to tradition, Washington was met by thirteen young ladies representing the thirteen former colonies.
The President left Belvidere with the Light Horse Guards after breakfast, heading south on the Georgetown Road (Highway 17 South). He stopped for midday dinner at home of William Gause, Jr., near today’s Ocean Isle Beach (Gause Landing Road), then continued to the indigo plantation of Jerimiah Vereen on King’s Road in today’s Atlantic Beach, just below North Myrtle Beach. There he enjoyed supper and spent the evening.
On April 28 Washington arrived at Brookgreen Plantation, below today’s Murrell’s Inlet, the home of Revolutionary War surgeon Henry Collins Flagg and his wife, Rachel Moore Allston Flagg. Leaving early the next morning, the President breakfasted in Georgetown at Capt. William Allston’s Clifton Plantation.
After stops in Charleston, Savannah, Augusta, Columbia and Camden, he returned to NC on May 27 when the Salisbury Military Company escorted him to Charlotte. He met with Gov. Alexander Martin at Salem on May 31, then toured the Guilford Courthouse battle site the next day. This ended his Southern Tour and he arrived back at Mount Vernon on June 12.
Compiled by Bernhard Thuersam, Director, Cape Fear Historical Institute. www.cfhi.net
Sources: NCPedia; Chronicles of the Cape Fear, Sprunt.