north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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     George Washington, Revolutionary War hero elected as the first president of the United States in February 1789, is one of the most celebrated figures in American history. For more than two centuries, the story of his eventful life has been marked by both truth and legend. The concept of the presidency was new, and Washington was fully aware that his decisions would set precedents. He resolved to tour the United States to observe political climate and culture, to thank his supporters, and to instill a sense of unity in the new country. As such, his tour and stops along the way became important landmarks in the areas he touched. Washington’s stature in history is almost mythical, and has given rise to the popular claim—in well-known towns and obscure hamlets along the Eastern Seaboard—that “George Washington Slept Here.” The claims are not surprising, however, as Washington saw more of his country while in office than any other American president before the twentieth century. He also kept a detailed diary chronicling his travels.

     While on tour, he sought differing viewpoints and wanted to see and be seen by as many people as possible. Soon after taking office, he planned and undertook a successful 28-day tour of New England.     In early 1791, after establishing a site for the new “Federal District” along the Potomac River, Washington embarked on a tour of the Southern states—a product of his desire to visit every state during his term of office. Proceeding from Mount Vernon via Fredericksburg and Richmond (Virginia) into North Carolina, Washington crossed the Roanoke River into Halifax in mid-April 1791. From there, the President’s carriage tour took him through Tarboro, Greenville, New Bern, Trenton, and Wilmington before entering South Carolina. Washington re-entered North Carolina near Charlotte and traveled northward, visiting Salisbury, Salem, and Guilford Court House.

     President Washington’s tour took him through the state’s rural countryside before he arrived in the coastal port of Wilmington. After a breakfast at an inn along the way, Washington was met by a welcoming party of several men from Wilmington on April 24. He arrived in the city “under a federal salute,” three discharges of fifteen guns each, and stayed at the home of Mrs. John Quince. Washington’s two-day stay at the Quince home was necessary because Dorsey’s Tavern was undergoing repairs and could not accommodate his party. The Quince home has been described as the “most pretentious home in the city” at the time and stood at the corner of what is now Front and Dock Streets. While in town, the President was treated to military parades, dances, and an illumination of the town at nightfall with a variety of lighting devices and bonfires. Washington recorded in his journal that Wilmington contained “some good houses pretty compactly built,” and that the census reported about 1000 inhabitants although many locals felt the census underrepresented the city’s population. After two days of entertainments, Washington left Wilmington on the morning of the 26th on an “elegantly decorated” barge. After breakfast with a wartime friend, Washington proceeded southward through Brunswick County toward South Carolina.

William G. Clotworthy, In the Footsteps of George Washington (2002)
Archibald Henderson, Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791 (1923)
Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, online at:

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north carolina highway historical marker program

George Washington

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources