I cannot tell a lie – George Washington visited Brown

Happy Presidents Day. It’s not a day off here at WPRI, so I’ll be blogging as usual; I’ll just have to write “could not be reached for comment” more than usual.

To celebrate the holiday, Brown University’s Deb Baum has posted a story on the school’s website about President George Washington’s 1790 visit to Providence and Brown. (That was the same year Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution.) Here’s a sample:

According to a 1932 account by John Williams Haley, Washington stayed at Mr. Daggett’s Tavern on Benefit Street, and in the evening, “as he was about to depart for his night’s rest he was informed that the students on the Hill had prepared a special illumination of the building now known as University Hall, and that they would be highly honored if he would visit the College and view the spectacle. Although it was raining slightly, and contrary to his usual custom of remaining indoors at night, he climbed the hill in company with a few friends and there beheld the college building completely illuminated with candle lights in every window.”

Sounds pretty. Apparently what was Mr. Daggett’s Tavern is now this vacant spot next to Geoff’s Superlative Sandwiches.

According to Baum, George Washington is one of six U.S. presidents who’ve received honorary doctorates from Brown – although only the father of our country got his while serving as president. The others were John Adams in 1787, Thomas Jefferson in 1797, Woodrow Wilson in 1903, Herbert Hoover in 1916, William Howard Taft in 1914 and Lyndon Johnson in 1960.

(Bonus fact: The U.S. Census Bureau says Washington is, in fact, the “blackest name” in America.)

OK readers, let’s test our presidential trivia knowledge. What other presidents had Rhode Island connections? Off the top of my head, I know JFK got married in Newport, but I’m sure there’s much more. Leave yours in comments – no registration required.

Update: As always, Nesi’s Notes readers come through. A tipster from Newport points out that two consecutive presidents kept their “summer White Houses” in the City by the Sea – Dwight Eisenhower at the Naval War College and then JFK at Hammersmith Farm, Jackie O’s childhood home – and that Sen. Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W., attended St. George’s School.

I’m sure there’s more, though, so keep ’em coming.

Update #2: A trifecta!

Two presidents – James Monroe and Andrew Jackson – made pilgrimages to Pawtucket to visit Samuel Slater of Slater Mill fame, according to my pal Bill Hamilton, who was a Pawtucket Times reporter back in the day.

Bill sent along this American Heritage article:

President James Monroe had come to Pawtucket in 1817 to visit the “Old Mill,” which was then the largest cotton mill in the nation, containing 5,170 spindles. It had started with 72. Slater himself conducted his distinguished visitor through the factory and proudly showed him his original spinning frame, still running after 27 years.

Some years later another President, Andrew Jackson, visited Pawtucket, and when he was told that Slater was confined to his house by rheumatism brought on from that first winter of breaking the ice on the Blackstone, Old Hickory went to pay his respects to the invalid. Courteously addressing Slater as “the Father of American Manufactures,” General Jackson said:

“I understand you taught us how to spin, so as to rival Great Britain in her manufactures; you set all these thousands of spindles to work, which I have been delighted in viewing, and which have made so many happy, by a lucrative employment.”

Slater thanked his visitor politely and with the dry wit for which he was well known replied:

“Yes, Sir, I suppose that I gave out the psalm, and they have been singing to the tune ever since.”

Whereupon President Jackson promptly told Slater to shove it.

Update #3: Now here’s a good one that I had no idea about – Honest Abe himself campaigned in Providence and Woonsocket on the eve of the Civil War.

So reports historian Harold Holzer, chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, in a Washington Post Q&A today. (He just penned an article for the paper debunking five myths about Lincoln.) Here’s Holzer’s response (edited for clarity) to a reader who asked about whether “Lincoln ever visited Rhode Island or any connections he had with Rhode Island”:

He gave an important speech in Providence in 1860, right after his Cooper Union speech – another soon after in Woonsocket – all important in establishing his claim to the Republican presidential nomination. His current connection to Rhode Island is your chief justice emeritus, Frank J. Williams, one of the best Lincoln scholars in the country and chairman of the Lincoln Forum, which meets annually in Gettysburg. Check www.thelincolnforum.org and become a member.

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has an entire Web page devoted to connections between Lincoln and Rhode Island. It says the Great Emancipator visited Rhode Island three times – he changed trains in Providence in 1848, then made the two campaign stops in 1860 mentioned by Holzer.

In Providence, Lincoln visited a home on Washington Street that’s now gone and made a speech in a train depot, also long gone, in what’s now Kennedy Plaza, the commission reports. And in Woonsocket, he spoke inside what’s now Woonsocket City Hall.

Update #4: For a guy from Kansas, Ike really liked Rhode Island, huh?

Via Twitter, Bruce Saccoccio reminds me that Eisenhower liked to hunt and fish on the West Greenwich property of his pal Citgo CEO W. Alton Jones. That spot is now, of course, a URI campus named after Jones.

Update #5: The Projo took a look at previous presidential visits to Rhode Island last October ahead of the Obama trip that coincided with Shoveitgate. They’ve got quite a few more – Grant, FDR, LBJ, Nixon, etc. – but appear to have missed the Monroe and Jackson visits cited in that American Heritage article.

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