George Washington on first sight impressed Dr. James Thacher as ‘noble and majestic.’ Thacher, then 21, was then trying to enlist as a doctor in the provincial hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He would become a surgeon for the 16th Massachusetts Regiment during the American Revolution, and he kept a military diary throughout the war.
Washington had arrived in Cambridge on July 2, 1775, to take command of the Continental Army. The Continental Congress in Philadelphia had created the army from the colonial militias and unanimously named Washington commander-in-chief.
Boston was under siege, and Washington would spend the next months molding the disparate militias into an army and improving Boston’s defenses.
He set up his headquarters in the Benjamin Wadsworth House at Harvard College. As Thacher noted, all the students had left the college. After two weeks, Washington moved to the larger John Vassall House, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here’s how Thacher described George Washington’s arrival in his diary:
I am informed that General George Washington arrived at our provincial camp, in this town, on the 2d July; having been appointed, by the unanimous voice of the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, general and commander-in-chief of all the troops raised, and to be raised, for the defence of the United Colonies, as they are now termed. They are, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
General Washington is a native of Virginia; he was in General Braddock’s defeat in 1755, and having had considerable experience in the wars with the French and Indians on the frontiers of that colony, in former years, he is supposed to possess ample qualifications for the command of our army, and the appointment gives universal satisfaction. Such is his disinterested patriotism, that he assured Congress, on his appointment, that he should receive from the public, for his military services, no other compensation than the amount of his necessary expenses.
He has been received here with every mark of respect, and addressed by our Provincial Congress in the most affectionate and respectful manner. All ranks appear to repose full confidence in him as commander-in-chief; it is the fervent prayer of the religiously disposed, that he may be instrumental in bringing this unhappy controversy to an honorable and speedy termination. He is accompanied by General Lee and General Gates; two gentlemen who have held commissions in the royal army. The former is now appointed major-general, and the latter adjutant-general, by our Continental Congress.
General Washington has established his head-quarters in a convenient house, about half a mile from Harvard College, and in the vicinity, of our hospital. The provincial army is encamped in various parts of this town and Roxbury, and some works have been erected on Prospect hill, and on an eminence near Roxbury church, within cannon-shot of Boston. The amount of our forces I have not ascertained; but we are daily increasing in numbers, both of militia and enlisted soldiers. The operations of the war have interrupted the progress of education at college; the students have returned to their homes, and the college buildings are occupied by our soldiery.
July 20 …I have been much gratified this day with a view of General Washington. His excellency was on horseback, in company with several military gentlemen. It was not difficult to distinguish him from all others; his personal appearance is truly noble and majestic; being tall and well proportioned. His dress is a blue coat with buff-colored facings, a rich epaulette on each shoulder, buff under dress, and an elegant small sword; a black cockade in his hat.