The streets of Shrewsbury were packed with people on October 30, 1789, hoping to spot President George Washington on his way from Worcester to Boston.
But a young girl was not impressed.
Washington wore a plain brown suit, surrounded by an entourage of smartly dressed soldiers. The young girl seemed disappointed.
“… .That fiery 10-year-old young woman… refused her bow and turned her back on her, exclaimed, ‘She’s nothing but a man.’ “
This is just an anecdote shared by author Nathaniel Philbrick in his latest book, “Travels with George: In Search of Washington & His Legacy”, published by Pilgrim and released last month.
The book follows the newly elected President Washington as he traveled to all states after the War of Independence in an attempt to unite the country into one, Philbrick said.
“We think of Washington as the man of marble, the man who looks at us from the dollar bill, but he was a man who loved to travel,” Philbrick said. “He was a traveler like us.
Inspired by Steinbeck, trip to Brown University
The idea for the book came from two inspirations: the John Steinbeck classic, “Travels With Charley” and a visit to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where a car Washington once used is located.
Unlike Philbrick’s previous books, such as “Bunker Hill” and “Mayflower”, “Travels With George” is partially told in the first person, as he and his wife, Melissa, and their dog Dora decide to take a trip, following the Washington path. .
The trip, said Philbrick, was meaningful, especially during this time of political, social and racial turmoil. Like today, Washington’s weather was not easy. He was trying to unify a country that had just revolted against its motherland, and many did not look favorably on the new government taxing them.
“I think a lot of people thought his understanding of the situation was a lot more solid than it really was at the start,” Philbrick said.
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The book repeatedly addresses Washington’s relationship with slavery. He owned several slaves, all of whom he freed upon his death, and seemed to want to eliminate the practice. At the same time, when one of his wife’s slaves escaped, he used his power in an attempt to capture and return her.
Slavery, said Philbrick, was a politically difficult subject to broach.
“He was so torn,” said the author. “The union meant a lot to him. The only way for the country to move forward (was) if the country regrouped. He also knew that if he had pushed the issue of slavery early in the presidency, the union would have collapsed. There would have been no nation.
Washington stops in Worcester, Shrewsbury, Milford and Weston
Washington made several stops in Massachusetts. Starting from Worcester and passing through Shrewsbury, where he heard the girl was unimpressed with him, he traveled to Weston to spend the night before heading to Boston.
Later, on his return trip to Philadelphia, Washington passed through Milford, where Philbrick wrote about a case involving Washington and a child.
“Elias – his dad was city minister – and they were shoveling dung and he saw this car go by with the entourage and he didn’t know who it was, but he bowed to him,” Philbrick said. . “Someone said, ‘It’s George Washington walking by,’ and his father ran into the house, shaved, and went to the tavern to see Washington, and his son would never forgive him for not bringing him to meet the president. “
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Washington rejected by Uxbridge Tavern
Unlike today, where a president can find accommodation when and where he wants while planning is carried out by his staff, Washington planned to stay in a tavern in Uxbridge before leaving the state. However, the first two taverns rejected him because they had no room for him.
“He was in a horse drawn carriage, staying in roadside motels of his day,” Philbrick said. “He said to people, ‘I’ll stay where you would stay.’ It’s a good thing that there was no Tripadvisor at the time because the average notes in his diary were “The food is bad, the bed is terrible”.
A real man with real problems
The book portrays Washington as a real man with real problems in difficult times. He missed his family and home as he visited many remote places, staying in uncomfortable places and meeting people who might disagree, while members of his cabinet, such as Thomas Jefferson, were apparently work to undermine it.
For Philbrick, the most interesting parts of the story are the accounts recorded in diaries, often by young children, and the stories passed down from generation to generation, like the one featuring the disappointed daughter of Shrewsbury and Elias of Milford. , who was left alone. shoveling manure while his father went to the tavern to meet the president.
“Just like the little girl who said, ‘He’s just a man,’ thinking he was going to be a god among men, it repeats itself over and over again,” Philbrick said. “It wasn’t something that was in the papers. It is something that is shared over the years.
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Visit to Holliston
One of these accounts was Washington’s visit to Holliston on the way to Uxbridge. During the trip, he came across the famous Balancing Rock of Holliston, located on what is now Washington Street. Philbrick said Washington allegedly attempted to topple the rock, like many others after him. And like them, Washington failed – just like Philbrick when he tried to knock over the boulder on his search tour.
This anecdote is shared at the end of “Travels With George”, because while Philbrick was finishing the book and looking for a kicker, Holliston Town historian Joanne Hubert contacted him about the rock overturning (a Daily News article on the overturning of the rock is cited in the notes section of the book).
“I was trying to find the best place to put this anecdote in the book because it was really good, and as I was about to finish, Joanne emailed me and said:” I hate to inform you that the Balancing Rock of Holliston has fallen, ”recalls Philbrick. “It was the perfect moment.
Norman Miller can be contacted at 508-626-3823 or [email protected] For the latest public safety news, follow Norman Miller on Twitter @Norman_MillerMW or on Facebook at facebook.com/NormanMillerCrime.