Washington’s Dinner at Munroe Tavern Richard Kollen,
March 2011Upon becoming president George Washington resolved to visit every state in the Union during his presidency.1As a Southerner, he chose to make a unifying gesture by touring New England first. His purpose,in an age absent electronic communication networks and polls, was both to gauge public opinion, and by showing his face to the nation, solidify the authority of the national government. It was an early form of political theater.
Already smarting from criticism of his regal style,
a quality that promised to
play badly in more egalitarian New England, Washing
ton decided to travel in an
English carriage pulled by four horses accompanied
by only his three secretaries
and six servants. To preserve privacy and to escape the “hospitality” of influential
citizens, and thus avoid showing favoritism, the re
publican experiment’s symbol
dined and slept only in taverns. He followed the sa
me principle on his later Southern
tour. Given that public accommodations were largely
primitive in 1789, he
understood that adopting a more republican presence
came at the price of his
By the time Washington dined at Munroe Tavern, he
had sampled the fare
of and slept at numerous public houses, some meeting with his approval and some
On October 15 Washington embarked from the nation’s
capital in New York
City, sleeping in a tavern at Rye, New York that night.
His itinerary along the Boston
Post Road brought him through Connecticut and Western Massachusetts in roughly
the same route a present-day traveler by car would
go to Boston from New York
City, if one went by way of Springfield. Washington
’s diary records his observations
of the terrain, crops under cultivation and the quality of livestock. He took particular
interest in industrial innovations, taking time to
visit textile factories along the way
in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, Boston and
later one in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire. Naturally, Washington commented on the road conditions he endured,
which in places was very rocky.
Later, after visiting Lexington, he wrote about the
convoluted roads connecting the country towns of Massachusetts that led one to
travel extra miles between two places in order to accommodate farmers’ fields.
Washington decided not to visit Rhode Island on hi
s Northern tour because it had
not ratified the Constitution by the time he began.
Once Rhode Island ratified in
1790, Washington visited the state within the year.
A.K. Sandoval Strausz, “A Public House for a New Republic: The Architecture of
Accommodation ad the American State, 1789-1809.”
Perspectives in Vernacular
Architecture, Vol. 9, Constructing Image, Identity
(2003), p. 54-70.
See Appendix for complete itinerary.
Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds.
The Diaries of George Washington. Vol. V.
July 1786-December 1789
. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
; Eric Jaffe,
The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road,
the Route That Made America
. (New York: Scribner, 2010), 93.
Jackson and Tohig,
Upon leaving Springfield and entering Palmer, Massachusetts, an express
sent from Governor John Hancock met President Washington to invite him to lodge
at his Boston mansion. Washington conveyed to the e
xpress rider his resolve to
board in public houses throughout his journey and a
sked that such lodging in
Boston be secured for him.
This sorely disappointed the Governor whose invitation
cloaked political motives. Protocol called for the
Governor to call on the President
first, as he was superior in rank. To do this, however, would be perceived as an
acknowledgement of the federal government’s supremacy over the states at a time
when the issue remained controversial. Hancock main
tained that the President was
within “within the jurisdiction of one of the sovereign states” and should call on him.
When Washington arrived in Boston on October 24, he
attempted to put the two
executives in their proper relations by inviting Ha
ncock to dine at his lodgings.
Hancock begged off claiming disability due to gout.
Vice President John Adams dined
with Washington instead. Finally, after Washington
reiterated his resolve not to visit
Hancock first, and several of the Governor’s friend
s intervened, the Hancock arrived
at Washington’s quarters on October 25. He arrived
in the arms of servants with his
hand wrapped in red flannel, perhaps for effect.
Washington’s retinue often met town delegations sen
t to accompany him
into their towns with great pomp. The president had
little patience for this. In New
Haven he writes, “by taking the lower road we missed the Committee of the
Assembly, who had been appointed to wait upon and e
scort me into town.”
also understood the obligations inherent in his position and usually acquiesced, if he
could not gracefully avoid hurt feelings. In Worcester on October 23 he met a
committee from Boston who scheduled a time for his
review of the Middlesex Militia
when passing through Cambridge. “Finding the ceremony was not to be avoided,
though I made every effort to do it, I named the ho
ur of ten to pass the above
mentioned militia of that County at Cambridge.”
The President’s visit to Lexington
seemed to meet perhaps with less ceremony, since illness led him to cancel his
initial visit. This appeared to be a special day tr
ip from his base in Boston devoted
only to visiting Lexington. The actual visit was mu
ch briefer, as it was a stopover on
the way back to Boston from Portsmouth. Lexington w
as certainly capable of great
fanfare—as its elaborate welcome to Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 demonstrated.
Washington’s planned visit to Lexington, “where the
first blood in the dispute
with Great Britain was drawn,” was originally scheduled for October 26. Since the
gout-ridden Governor Hancock planned to visit the P
resident that night, discussions
of April 19, 1775 would have prominently figured in
conversation. But on that day
Jackson and Tohig,
William H. Sumner, “Some Recollections of Washington’s visit to Boston.”
England Historical and Genealogical Register
, April 1860, v. XIV. 161-166. It his
through Sumner’s interview of Dorothy Hancock that
we know some details of the
women’s actions on April 19, 1775.
Jackson and Tohig,Diary
Jackson and Tohig,Diary
Washington was taken ill, “by a cold and inflammation in the left eye,” and,
combined with the day’s inclement weather, cancelled.
On October 29 the
President left Boston for a tour of the Massachusetts North Shore, and eventually
spent four nights in Portsmouth, NH (October 31-Nov
ember 3). He planned to stop
in Lexington on his return trip. On the night of November 4 he stayed at a tavern in
Haverhill. He left there early the next morning, stopped at Abbots Tavern for
breakfast in Andover, and after having passed “through Bellariki [Billerica] to
Lexington where [he] dined, and viewed the spot on
which the first blood was
This was the only mention of the Lexington visit i
n his diary. His route to
the Common brought him down Hancock Street (then called Bedford Street) past
Several Boston area newspapers published a story a
few weeks later relating
some of Washington’s remarks while standing on the
Common. He said
the Britons complained to Dr. Franklin of the ill u
sage their troops met with
at the Lexington battle, by the Yankees getting beh
ind stone walls, and firing
at them: the Doctor replied, by asking them whether
there were not two
sides to the wall.
Washington then proceeded to Munroe Tavern for the
afternoon meal, which in the
century was the largest of the day. An entry in Jonas Clarke’s diary provides the
lone surviving primary documentation of the dinner
The details of the President’s visit to Lexington
undocumented. During a special 100
anniversary of the event, William Munroe’s
great-grandson, James Phinney Munroe, provided a speculative description via a
fictional letter from Sarah Munroe to her cousin Mary Mason. This November 5,
1889 special celebration included several speeches
commemorating the event.
later referenced a written copy of the letter as a
source, Munroe felt obliged to write a letter to the editor explaining the newspaper’s
error. When the
repeated the mistake, it “greatly annoyed him”, and
Munroe wrote yet another. On the one hand he complained the “fraud seemed so
patent,” he did not foresee it could be mistaken as
genuine. But he also added that
its contents were no mere flight of fancy--that in
creating this fictional letter, he
“consulted every authority available.” He submitted
that “it contains nothing--
except for the minor character sketching—for which
I did not have either
contemporary authority or the most reliable tradition.” Some of that authority is
rather indirect. For example, the fictional dinner
conversation he based on items
about the tour Washington recorded in his diary such as observations on
Jackson and Tohig,
, 477. Washington’s flu coincided with an outbreak
Boston, leading it to be called the “Washington influenza.”
Jackson and Tohig,
, 29 December 1789: 4;
, Nov. 27, 1789.
None of the cited eyewitness sources provided direct details of the afternoon
described in the letter, such as who greeted Washington on the Common, what they
ate at Munroe, etc. Thus his “most reliable tradition,” likely stories handed down in
the Munroe family, must have supplied some of these
Carrie Bacheller as recorded
Munroe Tavern: The Custodian’s Story
, a compendium of family tradition, offers
corroboration for some of the information found in
James Phinney Munroe’s letter.
Anna (19 years) brought up the food and Sally (16 y
ears) stood between the
windows to help with serving. The two girls joined
the younger Lucinda (13 years)
to wash the dishes. The story of Jonas (11 years)
and Lucinda trying to climb a tree
to get a look at the President, described in the fi
ctional letter, is supported by
Bacheller’s family history. When Jonas gets stuck i
n the tree, one of Washington’s
slaves saves him.
Other information is not corroborated in
The Custodian’s Story
consideration both because Munroe also had direct access to these oral family
traditions and because it squares with logic. For example, Rev. Clarke was said to
have traveled to Boston on Friday, October 23 to ask about Hancock’s health and
introduce himself to Washington. This may have been
how Lexington was informed
of the date of Washington’s arrival in the town. The fictional letter also submits that
Rev. Clarke, on Sunday October 25, dedicated several sermons to prepare his
parishioners “hearts” for Washington’s Monday, October 26 visit—one that
ultimately was canceled. Both of these events seem
likely and a visit to Boston can
be corroborated in Clarke’s diary, albeit on October 24.
Also the fictional letter has
the President meeting Rev. Clarke at the Common along with the town selectmen on
November 5, the town representative to the General
Court and a full complement of
veterans of the battle.
Many towns, small and large, greeted Washington in
similar manner and Lexington followed this pattern
for Lafayette’s visit in 1824,
although it was much more elaborate, with a delegation greeting Lafayette as he
entered the town on Mass. Ave.
James Phinney Munroe,
A Sketch of the Munro Clan . . . Together with a Letter from
Sarah Munroe to Mary Mason Descriptive of the visit
of President Washington to
Lexington in 1789
. (Boston: George H. Ellis, 1900), 58.
Carrie E. Bacheller,
Munroe Tavern: The Custodian’s Story. (
Lexington Historical Society, 1924), 27.
Munroe 64. The letter, however, contradicts itself
by having Washington later
greeting Clarke in November 5 as if they had never
met, even though it noted that
Clarke visited Washington on Friday, October 23. Perhaps Clarke only saw one of
the secretaries on the Boston trip; JC Diary: 3, October 24 notes records Clarke’s
visit to Boston and mentions Washington’s presence
in the town. Actually, he could
not have met Washington in Boston on the 23
as the fictional letter submits simply
because the President did not arrive until the 24th
Munroe writes of Colonel Munroe being dressed in his regimentals when he
This makes sense since Washington himself, first citizen, wore
his military uniform when he first entered Boston.
In fact it is Munroe’s military
service that may have led Munroe Tavern to be chose
n over Buckman Tavern for the
afternoon meal. These are not pieces of information
that do not carry qualification,
however. That is, they came from a fictional letter
, but were at least partly sourced
by Munroe family stories. Unfortunately, like historical fiction, it is difficult to know
which parts are based on research and which have been added for dramatic effect.
When Washington ate at the Munroe’s, Col. William
Munroe had six children:
William, twenty-one; Anna, nineteen; Sarah, sixteen
; Lucinda, thirteen; Jonas eleven;
and Edmund, nine. Their adult lives can be traced with more or less detail.
--William (1768-1814) married Sarah Grinnell of New
Bedford. He died as part of a
stagecoach accident in Richmond, Virginia in 1814.
--Anna (1771-1850) married William Muzzey of Sullivan, New Hampshire. Muzzey
was the son of Amos Muzzey of Lexington. He attended Harvard and studied under
Jonas Clarke to acquire the requisite skills to enter. I was at this time that he met
Anna. On February 17, 1798 Rev. Clarke gave the ordination sermon for Muzzey as
he began his pastorate in Sullivan. He and Anna were married later that year. After a
happy and successful twenty-nine years, he retired
to Lexington where both he and
Anna are buried.
--Sarah (1773-1850) married a tavern owner, Jonathan Wheelock of Concord,
Massachusetts. Wheelock kept a public house on Main
Street and was known for his
good food and flip. The house was always full of boarders, especially when the
Middlesex County court sat, as Wheelock’s tavern was a favorite among lawyers and
judges. Sarah would have found familiarity in her role as mistress of a tavern. It is
likely her husband and her brother Jonas Munroe com
pared notes on tavern
keeping. Sarah died in 1850 at the age of eighty. Jonathan had died five years
--Jonas (1778-1860) succeeded his father as Munroe
Tavern proprietor. A genial
host, he was known to attract clientele through his
pleasant disposition. Under
Jonas’s stewardship Munroe Tavern enjoyed its most
lucrative business. This could
partly be owed to the increase in drovers in the early 19
century who stopped and
board themselves at the Tavern and their horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs at the
, Nov. 4, 1789; William H. Sumner, “Some Recollections,”
William Richard Cutter,
New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial
York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1913), 5
Memoirs of the members of the Social Circle in Concord, from 1795 to 1840
(Riverside Press, Cambridge: 1888), 82.
Munroe farm. Munroe Tavern was the last stop before
reaching the Brighton
stockyards which was a day’s walk away. Jonas also
hosted many town dances.
--Lucinda (1776-1863) died unmarried.
--Edmund (1780-?) became an entrepreneur and broker
in Boston. He was one of
four men who founded the New England Glass Company
in East Cambridge in 1818.
This company stayed in operation for seventy years
manufacturing blown, molded,
pressed, colored and cut glass.
Edward Bliss, “ Old Taverns of Lexington,”
Proceedings of the Lexington Historical
. V1 (Lexington, Mass.: Published by the Historical
Society, 1890), 76.
History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County,
, V. II. (Lexington: Lexington Historical Society,
Appendix One—Washington’s Itinerary
Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds.
The Diaries of George
Washington. Vol. V. July 1786-December 1789
(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 197
October 15, 1789 Washington begins tour from New York, sleeps at
tavern in Rye.
October 16 Breakfasted at Stratford. Arrived at Fairfield.
October 17 Left Fairfield, Connecticut. Arrives at
inspects a linen factory
Octber 19 Left New Haven in the morning and breakfasted in
Wallingford. Arrived in Hartford at night.
October 20 Viewed woolen factory in Hartford.
October 21 Arrived in Springfield, Mass. Late after
October 22 Left Springfield breakfasted in Palmer.
from Gov. Hancock with invitation to lodge at his hours
in Boston when they arrive. Slept in Spencer.
October 23 Met escort from Worcester, breakfasted there. After
leaving Worcester, met a committee from Boston and
troop of light horse who escorted him. Dined in
Malborough, slept in Weston.
October 24 Arrived in Cambridge, reviewed the militia and moved
on to Boston where a large procession greeted him.
October 25 Attended church service Episcopal church
Dined with V.P. Adams at Washington’s lodgings.
October 26 The flu and en eye inflammation prevented him from
journeying on a planned visit to Lexington. Had tea with Hancock.
October 27 At Boston received local clergy, Boston
October 28 Visited another linen factory, Boston harbor, Castle
October 29 Left Boston via Charlestown bridge. Went
College. Goes through Malden, Lynn, Marblehead,
spending night in Salem.
October 30 Left Salem, inspected cotton factory in
Beverly and slept
October 31 Arrived in Portsmouth to much fanfare.
November 1 Attended a Congregational church service
November 2 Viewed Portsmouth Harbor.
November 3 Reluctantly sat for painting and receive
November 4 Left Portsmouth, reached Haverhill where
he stayed the
November 5 Left Haverhill, breakfasted at Abbots Tavern in
Andover, passed through Billerica on way to Lexington,
stayed in Watertown.
November 6 Left Watertown, passed through Needham and
breakfasted at Sherburn. then Holliston, Menden,
Uxbridge. Slept at Uxbridge.
November 7 Left Uxbridge, Mass went through Douglas
Pomfret, Conn. and lodged at Ashford, Conn.
November 8 Stayed at Perkins Tavern in Ashford, Con
n. one more
day b/c traveling on Sunday was “contrary and
disagreeable to the people of this State.”
November 9 Traveled thirty-four miles to Hartford.
November 10 Left Hartford at 7 AM and reached New Haven by dusk
where he met Elbridge Gerry who informed the
President as to the First Lady’s health.
November 11 Lodged at Fairfield, Conn.
Nobember 12 Breakfasted in Stamford. Stayed at Rye,
NY where he
slept in the front leg of the journey.
November 13 Returned to NY at 3:00.
Never went to Brisbane Locksmiths to get his door unlocked :)