Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Reminiscences of Washington

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Reminiscences of Washington

By William White (1748–1836)

[Written to Hugh Mercer, November, 1832.—Memoir of the Life of Bishop White. 1839.]

THE FATHER of our country, whenever in this city, as well during the revolutionary war as in his Presidency, attended divine service in Christ Church of this city; except during one winter; when, being here for the taking of measures with Congress toward the opening of the next campaign, he rented a house near to St. Peter’s Church, then in parochial union with Christ Church. During that season, he attended regularly at St. Peter’s. His behavior was always serious and attentive; but as your letter seems to intend an inquiry on the point of kneeling during the service, I owe it to truth to declare, that I never saw him in the said attitude. During his Presidency, our vestry provided him with a pew, ten yards in front of the reading-desk. It was habitually occupied by himself, by Mrs. Washington, who was regularly a communicant, and by his secretaries.

Although I was often in company of this great man, and had the honor of dining often at his table, I never heard anything from him that could manifest his opinions on the subject of religion. I knew no man who seemed so carefully to guard against the discoursing of himself or of his acts, or of anything pertaining to him: and it has occasionally occurred to me, when in his company, that if a stranger to his person were present, he would never have known, from anything said by the President, that he was conscious of having distinguished himself in the eyes of the world. His ordinary behavior, although unexceptionably courteous, was not such as to encourage obtrusion on what might be in his mind….

On the day before his leaving of the Presidential chair a large company dined with him. Among them were the foreign ministers and their ladies, Mr. and Mrs. Adams, Mr. Jefferson, with other conspicuous persons of both sexes. During the dinner much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President: certainly without design. Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, as nearly as can be recollected in the following terms: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health as a public man. I do it with sincerity, and wishing you all possible happiness.” There was an end of all pleasantry. He who gives this relation accidentally directed his eye to the lady of the British minister (Mrs. Listen), and tears were running down her cheeks.