George Washington’s upcoming birthday and a recently spotted highway historical marker pertaining to his Southern Tour in 1791 prompted a search for contemporary (to Washington) maps showing the President’s route through North Carolina. What did we find?
We found a rather simple manuscript map of eastern North Carolina showing two potential routes. Distances in miles are shown between place names, and the difference in mileage between the two proposed routes is calculated to the left. It is, essentially, an 18th century version of a AAA TripTik®. The chosen route from Petersburg, VA, to New Bern, NC, via Halifax, was determined to be 32 miles shorter, exclusive of the ferries, than the route via Suffolk, VA, and Edenton, NC. An annotation near the bottom right of the sheet reads [in the writing of Hugh Williamson]. The accuracy of that attribution is debatable. Two George Washington authorities believe the map, or certainly the place names and mileage calculation, to be in the hand of George Washington. Hugh Williamson was one of several North Carolinians who sent “TripAdvisor®-type” travel recommendations to Washington during the planning stages of his 1791 Southern Tour. The map image above is available on line via the Library of Congress. The map is also illustrated on page 235 of George Washington’s America: A biography through his maps by Barnet Schecter.
In 1932, on the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the National Geographic Society published a map showing Washington’s various travels, including the entire route of his 1791 Southern Tour. Reprints of the map are available for purchase and a zoomable image is provided at maps.com. Below is a snippet showing a segment of Washington’s return route through the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
A very recent and superb interactive map of “George Washington’s world”, showing places where he traveled, is now available on line, thanks to Washington College (Chestertown, MD) and Mount Vernon. You can view it right here. Be sure to zoom in on North Carolina!
George Washington’s TripTik® included not just the map of eastern NC, but also the day-by-day travel schedule with mileages between locations and cumulative mileage:
What did the President think of North Carolina? Below are just a few excerpts from his diary.
Halifax: It seems to be in a decline & does not it is said contain a thousand Souls.
Tarborough: This place is less [populated] than Halifax, but more lively and thriving… We were rec’d at this place by as good a salute as could be given by one piece of artillery.
Greenville: dined at a trifling place called Greenville.
New Bern: It stands on a good deal of ground, but the buildings are sparce and altogether of Wood… The number of Souls are about 2000… Dined with the Citizens at a public dinner given by them; and went to a dancing assembly in the evening – both of which was at what they call the Pallace – formerly the Government House & a good brick building but now hastening to Ruins.
Wilmington: The whole road from Newbern to WIlmington (except in a few places of small extent) passes through the most barren country I ever beheld [until he traveled between Columbia and Camden, SC]… Dined with the Citizens of the place at a public dinner given by them – Went to a Ball in the evening at which there were 62 ladies – illuminations, Bonfires, &c.
Charlotte: Charlotte is a trifling place, though the Court of Mecklenburg is held in it.
Salisbury: Salisbury is but a small place altho’ it is the County town, and the district Court is held in it; –nor does it appear to be much on the increase,–there is about three hundred souls in it and tradesmen of different kinds.
Salem: Salem is a small but neat village; & like all the rest of the Moravian settlements, is governed by an excellent police–having within itself all kinds of artizans–The number of souls does not exceed 200… Spent the forenoon visiting the Shops of the different tradesmen–The houses of accommodation for the single men & Sisters of the Fraternity–& their place of worship.
An extensive on line image library of George Washington’s papers is available via the Library of Congress. You can read more about that project here. Warren Bingham, of Raleigh, has authored an outstanding book on the topic of Washington’s Southern Tour; the book is scheduled for publication this year (Update: Bingham’s book on GW’s Southern Tour arrives in February 2016 from
@HistoryPress). If you can’t wait, consider the following books available on line:
Washington’s Southern Tour 1791 by Archibald Henderson (1923)
The diary of George Washington, from 1789 to 1791... edited by Bensing Lossing (1860), from which the excerpts above were transcribed.
Acknowledgments: Ed Redmond at the Library of Congress and Warren Bingham were very helpful in providing information. Peter Hirtle provided guidance to the on line image of the eastern NC manuscript map. Assistance was also provided by Robert Anthony and his staff in the North Carolina Collection at UNC-CH.
Planning a trip? George Washington isn’t available, so why not try AAA’s TripTik® service?
Readers are requested to notify us (via the “What’s on your mind” box below) of any period maps depicting Washington’s Southern Tour.