As the nation celebrates President’s Day, focusing particular attention upon the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, those within the Hartford area can recall a particular incident during the Revolutionary War in which the storied general and first President enjoyed the hospitality of one of the area’s historic homes.
‘George Washington slept here’
Over the years, attempts to channel the popularity of Washington have manifested themselves in claims of varying historical validity that place the ‘Father of his Country’ as a famous guest at residences and inns across the breadth and width of the young nation.
In light of the fact that such claims often lacked historical evidence, the denotation ‘George Washington slept here’ is often viewed with a degree of humor and skepticism. However, for the small town of Wethersfield, their tale of a visit from the famous figure is quite true, and rooted within the rich historical context of the revolution.
Rendezvous with Rochambeau
By the spring of 1781, American morale for the war effort had begun to wane. A redirected British military focus on the American South, the region they believed Loyalist support to be strongest, had shifted the war’s activity away from the northeast. While battles and small scale engagements raged across the terrain of Virginia and the Carolinas, Washington’s army lie stagnant in New York’s Hudson Valley, awaiting direction. It was within this context that on May 19, at the arrangement of his private secretary Samuel Webb, General Washington arrived in Wethersfield for a five-day conference with Count de Rochambeau, the commander of French forces in America.
According to the National Register of Historic Places report of the site, the town of Wethersfield presented the ideal meeting point for the two leaders, due to its locality ‘about halfway between New Windsor on the Hudson, where Washington was quartered, and Newport where Rochambeau was posted.’
The report goes on to note that while it might be presumptuous to assert that the specific plans for the victorious Yorktown Campaign were drawn up at the brief conference, the diary of Washington relays that the potential Franco-American military plan of action had been ‘fixed’ during his stay.
The home today
Today, visitors can retrace the footsteps of Washington’s visit to the Webb house, as part of the Webb Deane Stevens Museum, which in August was named ‘Best Historic House Museum in CT 2013’ by Connecticut Magazine. In the fall of 2009, a project was undertaken to restore the Washington bedchamber. Amongst the innovations carried out by historic paint expert Marylou Davis were replications of the chamber’s original wood paneling, the stripping of the floorboards to their mid-18th century appearance, and a reproduction of the wallpaper in its period colors.
Additionally, murals depicting both the famous council of war between Washington and Rochambeau and later British surrender at Yorktown remain in the southeast parlor as remnants of a brief period when colonial revivalist Wallace Nutting owned the home in the early twentieth century.
Executive Director of the museum, Charles T. Lyle notes, ‘through our collections and exhibits, we strive to convey the individual stories of the homes and the people who once inhabited them. The Washington visit is the most important chapter of the history presented to visitors at the Webb Deane Stevens Museum.’
For more information on upcoming events at the Museum, click here