Home Connecticut At 24, George Washington in New London Causes a Stir

At 24, George Washington in New London Causes a Stir


As a 57-year-old president, he made a sensation on his journey through New England, but even at 24 George Washington in New London made quite a splash.

George Washington was a rising young militia officer when he turned heads in 1756.

George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale.

George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale.

He arrived in New London on March 8, 1756. Joshua Hempstead, then a 77-year-old farmer, noted Washington’s arrival in his diary. Hempstead usually remarked only briefly on the day’s events in his diary. But the sight of George Washington in New London caused him to wax unusually descriptive.

Col. Washington is returned from Boston and gone to Long Island, in Power’s sloop; he had also two boats to carry six horses and his retinue; all bound to Virginia. He hath been to advise with Governor Shirley, or to be directed by him, as he is chief general of the American forces.

George Washington in New London

An article in the 1858 publication The Repository explained why Washington drew such notice:

Irving, in the Life of Washington, says that this journey of 500 miles was performed on horseback. Col. Washington was accompanied by his aid, Capt. George Mercer, and Capt. Stewart of the Virginia Light Horse, and the three men each had an African servant in livery. The whole party were splendidly equipped and made a brilliant appearance.

Gov. William Shirley

The Repository author speculated on the impact of George Washington in New London:

We can imagine that the populace of New London, which at that period was very gay and excitable, was considerably moved when this dashing party came galloping into town. Washington was a skillful rider, and a noble figure upon horseback, eminent also for his martial bearing and stately courtesy.

Undoubtedly our gallant fort at the foot of the parade, displayed old England’s cross, and fired its six pounders in a salute to the brave young Virginians. In the evening probably, bonfires blazed and the strangers were saluted with a martial serenade.

Washington probably stayed at Capt. Nathaniel Colt’s Red Lion in Main Street, then the principal house of entertainment for travelers.

Washington had also some celebrity after the publication of his journal describing his expedition to the Ohio Valley three years earlier. Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie had sent him to tell the French to leave the region and to stop harassing English travelers. (The French did not take his advice.)

Roots of a Revolutionary

Washington then received a military commission and a company of 100 men. They set off the French and Indian War in 1754 by ambushing French forces at the Battle of Jumonville Glen. Washington then received an appointment to lead the Virginia Regiment after his bravery during the Battle of the Monongahela.

Joshua Hempstead House

Joshua Hempstead House

He desperately wanted the British Army to recognize his rank of colonel, but the British looked down on the colonial militias. It rankled Washington that junior British Army officers ranked higher than senior militia officers.

So Washington went to Boston in 1756 to ask Gov. William Shirley, acting commander in chief, to obtain a royal commission in the British Army. He didn’t get what he wanted, but Shirley did decree that Virginia militia officers outranked British officers of lower rank.

Joshua Hempstead, a prominent citizen, still actively worked his farm at the age of 77 when Washington came through town. He had lived in the same house all his life, a house his grandfather built before his birth. Today, Connecticut Landmarks runs it as a historic house museum.

Read more about Joshua Hempstead here, here and here.

This story about George Washington in New London was updated in 2022.



Flashback Photos: Southington, Conn., Memorial Day 1942 - New England Historical Society May 25, 2015 - 12:44 pm

[…] George Washington was the town's first important visitor. He passed through Southington in 1770 on his way to Wethersfield. […]

30 New England Places the Founding Fathers Visited (And You Can Too) - New England Historical Society June 12, 2016 - 8:50 am

[…] in 1756 to visit Governor Shirley of Massachusetts on mundane business, George Washington made quite an impression while riding through New London.He made his next trip north in 1776 to take command of the Continental Army in Cambridge, Mass. On […]

The Almanac, Indispensable Day Planner for the Busy Colonist - New England Historical Society December 31, 2016 - 11:35 am

[…] George Washington recorded his activities on interleaved pages of the Virginia Almanac, as did Thomas Jefferson. On the top of every page, Washington wrote, “Where & how my time is Spent.” […]

5 People Who Threw Shade on George Washington - New England Historical Society February 19, 2018 - 9:42 am

[…] new country. He had both political and military skills, along with physical strength, courage and a bearing that inspired confidence among his […]

Eat Like a President – The Founding Fathers' Guide to New England Taverns - New England Historical Society February 18, 2019 - 9:39 am

[…] Washington left tracks all across New England. First coming to the region in 1756 to visit Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, he made his next trip to assume command of the […]

Comments are closed.