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President Washington's Southern Tour
©Louise Pettus, 2001

In order to become acquainted with the American people, to know their hopes and problems, Pres. George Washington decided to tour a section of the United States each year of his presidency. Having already visited the eastern and northern regions, in the spring of 1791 he turned to his native south.

Worshipped as a hero, Washington had been saluted, wined and dined in South Carolina's major towns - Georgetown, Charleston, Columbia, and Camden - before he swung northward up the old Camden to Salisbury road (now Highway 521).

Washington kept a diary. On Friday, May 27, he noted that he had left James Ingrams' house (near Hanging Rock below Heath Springs in lower Lancaster County) at 4 a.m. It was Washington's custom to rise very early and ride for some hours before stopping at an inn or tavern for breakfast. This day the president rode 18 miles before stopping at Nathan Barr's tavern (a historical marker telling of the incident is on the northern outskirts of the town of Lancaster).

At Barr's tavern, it is said that the president was served milk and mush. When he was leaving he placed half a Spanish dollar, which had been cut into by a sword, in the empty mush bowl and handed it to Barr's small daughter.

Washington next rode (on horseback unless it was raining and then he might ride inside a carriage described as a "white chariot") to Maj. Robert Crawford's home. Crawford, as was Barr, was a Revolutionary soldier. We can imagine that a large gathering of Waxhaws people were present to get a glimpse at the hero of the Revolution. There was probably a large picnic dinner.

Washington wrote about this stop: "At Majr. Crawford's I was met by some of the chiefs of the Catawba nation who seemed to be under apprehension that some attempts were making, or would be made to deprive them of part of the 40,000 acres [sic, 144,000 acres] wch. was secured to them by Treaty and wch. is bounded by this Road."

About the Waxhaws in general, Washington wrote, "It was not, until I had got near Barrs that I had quit the Piney and Sandy lines — nor until I had got to Crawfords before the lands took quite a different complexion — here they began to assume a very rich look."

Washington left no entry on his ride through the Catawba Indian land of upper Lancaster District. At the North Carolina line, a party of mounted Mecklenburg militiamen met him with the intention of escorting the president to Charlotte. Washington, who was uneasy with undue pomp and circumstance, wrote, "these being near their homes, I dismissed them." Also at the boundary line was a group from the Salisbury Military Company composed of thirteen young men, each representing one of the 13 colonies. This group stayed with Washington until he got to Salisbury, N. C.

Washington's entry for Saturday, 28, 1791 was short: "Sett off from Crawfords by 4 o'clock and breakfasting at one Harrison's 18 miles. From it got into Charlotte 13 miles further before 3 o'clock." Harrison United Methodist Church, 3 miles south of Pineville, is the most probable location for "Harrison's," which is thought to be named for Samuel Harrison.

Large crowds awaited Washington at the courthouse village of Charlotte. The crowd would have been disappointed to know that Washington referred in his diary to Charlotte as "a trifling place." The 1800 census though bears him out for it recorded 65 free persons and 59 slaves as the population of Charlotte.

But Gen. Thomas Polk did have a fine home in Charlotte and there Washington found, "Table prepared for the purpose." It was an open-air picnic dinner with a table reserved for Charlotte's most prominent men to eat with the president. Most of them were Revolutionary War officers.

The next morning was a Sunday and Washington did not leave Charlotte until 7 a.m. He ate breakfast at "Col. Smith's 15 miles off."