July 1 – 7, 2022Vol. 24, No. 4

Travels with George, by Nathaniel Philbrick

by Martha F. Barkley

Yep, George Washington visited, but did not sleep, in Kittery, Maine when Massachusetts was our state and Maine a province. Mainers were always constantly working on independence from Mass.

Nathaniel Philbrick describes the great roaring Piscataqua River, which separates Portsmouth, NH from Kittery. I can’t help but think that this tremendous phenomena of nature is one big reason Mainers were always quite separate from our southern neighbors, NH and Mass.

Because the Piscataqua is one of the fastest-flowing rivers in North America (second only to the Columbus in the Pacific Northwest), with currents recorded as high as ten knots, the organizers must have coordinated the tour with the changing tides.

My husband Frank and I once had lunch at an outside porch cafe in Portsmouth overlooking the roaring Piscataqua. I kept going to the edge, attracted by the sound of the water. Watching the movement was a surprise and it sounded like a waterfall.

Washington and Senator Langdon were in one barge, manned by oarsmen in white suits, while Lear and Jackson followed in another barge with oarsmen in blue suits.

A third barge, can you believe, had musicians playing music. The elaborate numbers of groups accompanying Washington everywhere makes it all seem like a stage show in every town, whether he slept there or not. Politics from the beginning.

Washington attended Sunday church in Kittery and briefly met with the clergy before returning to Portsmouth while the tide was still relatively calm. Philbrick and his wife met locals and delved into history as he did at every spot Washington ventured to. Most villages enjoyed seeing the President mounted on his white horse in a grand parade.

The carriage carrying our tall first president between towns had a cab as small as a Volkswagen, so Washington had to bend and fold into a small space for his large frame, rocking and bouncing along uneven roadways. A carriage photo in the book shows a similar one of the day, the best transportation at that time, the chariot at the John Brown House in Providence, RI. Wealthy Brown, founder of Brown University.

The huge boulder that tipped in balance, defying gravity, is shown in a photo with Nathaniel pushing with all his might. Washington stopped there and apparently did the same comical pose. Lo and behold, in 2020, the dreaded year of COVID, the boulder disintegrated and is no longer in balance for tourists to visit Washington’s stop. People must still look at the remains anyways…the Balancing Rock of Holliston, Mass. if you care to check it out.

We actually still look for the Old Man on the Mountain in NH, because he was always there until gravity pulled down those boulders years ago. Apparently similar conditions of decay.

How the 57-year-old Washington weathered this long journey as far south as Savannah, Ga. is a wonder. All to help unify a very divided young nation. Makes me think of Lafayette’s celebratory journey on horseback as well with his son George Washington Lafayette.

They returned to our country’s 50th year celebration and made the laborious rounds to every state. Lafayette was no longer a young man when he accomplished these travels. He stopped in exhaustion at The Elms Plantation to visit Ralph Izard during a horrendous thunderstorm. Our winter home is located at The Elms, just a half hour drive from downtown Charleston where Washington spent several days. Worshipping at St. Michael’s Church and dancing hours at The Exchange ballroom and many dinners throughout the city. Lafayette was also welcomed with much acclaim years later after the President’s visit.

The personal commentary in this history makes it light and easy compared to Philbrick’s other histories, which I have enjoyed. In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, is perhaps my favorite. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, or Why Read Moby-Dick? may catch your interest. Looking at demolished old tavern sites where Washington stopped, many not very pleasant, Nathaniel joked about the possible location of the outhouse out back. The noted historian even remarked about a golf course tee where George may have stopped “and teed.” One library in a New England town has the magazine section dedicated to Washington slept here, in this room. The library used to be the town tavern.

By touring New England, Washington wasn’t just learning from the American citizenry about what was happening in their towns and states; he was also instructing them in the reality of the new federal government. Washington greeted the people with a smile and a bow, but he was also asserting the authority of his office.

Philbrick and his wife marveled at the rural beauty still remaining within an hour of Boston, Worcester and Providence in southern New England…“surrounded by a forest so dense that it was worthy of the northern reaches of Maine.”

©2022 by Summertime in the Belgrades. All rights reserved.