Americans faced the turn of the century 200 years ago with a degree of mourning.
Founding father George Washington died Dec. 14, 1799. Last week, the Georgia Historical Society, the Society of Cincinnati and Sons of the Revolution in Georgia unveiled a monument in St. Paul's Episcopal Church yard in honor of the bicentennial of the first president's death.
Washington visited Augusta when it was the capital of Georgia in the spring of 1791 during his tour of the South.
"He came to view the ruins of Fort Cornwallis, and that was here," said Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta, as he stood near the monument after the ceremony Dec. 15. "This seemed the obvious place to put it."
Some of the places Washington visited, such as Gov. Edward Telfair's home, no longer exist; reputed visits to other spots cannot be proved.
"We thought about putting it on the riverwalk, but the levee wasn't there," Mr. Montgomery said. "The churchyard was like this."
Washington journeyed to Augusta from Savannah and stayed May 17-21, 1791, when he left for Columbia.
He recorded highlights of his visit in his journal.
The ride into Augusta through Waynesboro, which he said "is a small place, but the Seat of the Court of Burkes County -- 6 or 8 dwelling houses is all it contains," must have been difficult for the president. He complained about the roadways.
"The Road to Savanna to Augusta is, for the most part, through Pine barrens; but more uneven than I had been accustomed since leavg.
"Petersburgh in Virginia, here & there indeed, a piece of Oak land is passed on this Road, but of small extent & by no means of the first quality."
After his trip, he met with Telfair and Judge George Walton and dined with "a large company at the Governors and drank tea there with many well dressed Ladies."
According to Archibald Henderson's Washington's Southern Tour, this reference is a huge compliment to the women of Augusta: "Coming from Washington, who usually thought he had done his full duty by the fair sex when he called them `respectable."'
Later that evening, Mrs. Telfair held a ball in the president's honor. That Thursday, May 19, he was greeted by city officials. Later in the day, he attended an assembly at the Academy (of Richmond County) where "60 or 70 well dressed ladies" attended. According to The Augusta Chronicle, it was the largest number of ladies "ever assembled at this place."
The next day, he visited the ruins of Fort Cornwallis.
He wrote of that day: "The town of Augusta is well laid out with wide & spacious Streets. -- It stands on a large area of a perfect plain but it is not yet thickly built tho' surprizingly so for the time. It bids fair to be a large Town being at the head of the present navigation & a fine County back of it for support, which is settling very fast by Tobacco planters."
Telfair held a private dinner with Washington that day. The president "gave him dispatches for the Spanish Govr. Of East Florida, respecting the Countenance given by that Governt. to the fugitive Slaves of the Union."
He departed for Columbia at about 6 a.m. Saturday and crossed the Savannah River. Town leaders and military officials sent him off with ceremonial farewells.
REACH Charmain Z. Brackett at (803) 441-6927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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