Historic D.C. Washington Returns: Christmas 1783
When George Washington rode off to war in June 1776, he told Martha he would come back home in the fall. Instead, he didn’t return to Mount Vernon until December 1783, eight years later.
The war went on much longer than General Washington, or anyone else, had thought it would. Even the British felt the skirmish with renegade colonists could be settled in months. During this long and hard-fought war, Washington proved to be a brilliant military strategist, a man of impeccable integrity and a gifted leader who was able to rally his troops during even the bleakest weeks and months of the long war.
In the fall of 1783, when Washington got word that the Treaty of Paris was signed, he and his troops waited outside of New York City until the ships carrying the remaining 20,000 British troops and the thousands of colonists loyal to the king set sail for England. Then, they rode into the city for a triumphal march and a series of celebrations and parties in their honor. Washington’s many fans urged him to declare himself king or emperor, but he reminded them of the freedom they had just fought so hard to win, and instead told them he was going home to Mount Vernon. Some of his officers formed the Society of the Cincinnati, in honor of Washington, who like the Roman General Cincinnatus, after his great war victories, resigned as wartime consul of Rome and went home to his farm and “his plough.”
When it came the time to say goodbye to the “band of brothers” who prevailed with him in victory against incredible odds, Washington set up a farewell party at Fraunces Tavern in New York City. He got up to make his farewell speech and his voice broke. “With a heart full of gratitude,” he said, “ I now take leave of you. I devoutly wish that your later days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.” Each man, one by one, embraced their leader and parted with tears in their eyes. Washington resigned his commission in Annapolis and attended a ball in his honor, making sure to dance every set, so that the ladies could say that had danced with him. Then, he set out from Annapolis on horseback and reached Mount Vernon as the sun was setting on Christmas Eve. He and Martha were sure that they would settle down to farm the plantation and grow old together at Mount Vernon, but six years later, he was unanimously elected as the first president of the new republic he fought to create.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed, King George asked an American visitor what General Washington planned to do after the war. When the man replied that the general would probably go back home to his farm, the king said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”