Five of the Founding Fathers elected president visited every state in New England, though four of them came from Virginia.
George Washington left tracks all across New England. John Adams, who lived in Massachusetts, traveled to the most New England places. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took a tour through New England before their election as president. Then James Monroe came through in 1817 to apologize for the War of 1812.
Founding Fathers in Connecticut
1. First coming to the region 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 his way he stayed at the Shaw Mansion in New London, as he had 20 years earlier. The New London County Historical Society offers tours of the mansion. (Click here for more information.)
2. Washington also stayed at Beer’s Tavern in New Haven during that trip. John Adams reported staying here as well while travelling to the first Continental Congress in 1774. He was a repeat customer on his trips back and forth to Philadelphia. Over the years it’s been through many iterations, but you can still eat there today, as the restaurant now operates under the name ‘Ordinary‘. Read a wonderful description of its history here.
3. Washington also visited the Silas Deane house in Wethersfield. It now belongs to the Webb Deane Stevens Museum. In May 1781, he returned to the nearby Joseph Webb House, which also belongs to the museum, where it served as his headquarters. Here he met with French commander the Comte de Rochambeau, who travelled from Newport, R.I., to discuss plans for the siege of Yorktown. The Webb Deane Stevens Museum not only features the two houses where Washington slept, it has a colonial outhouse where he may have sat.
4, On his never-ending quest for supplies for his army, Washington also visited Thomas Leffingwell at the Leffingwell Inn in Norwich, open as a museum today.
Taverns and Museums of the Founding Fathers
5. In Middletown, Bigelow’s Tavern was the popular place to be. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed here on their return trip from Vermont in 1792, and John Adams stayed here in 1774 when passing through Connecticut. Started by Timothy Bigelow, his widow operated it after his death in 1776. She managed it successfully for decades. Unfortunately, it is long since gone. But the building in its place, which houses the Middletown Police Department, is home to the First and Last Tavern, where perhaps the presidential spirit remains.
6. Washington made later trips to New England for political reasons. He needed to thank the wealthy patrons and soldiers who supported the American Revolution and to get a sense for the mood of the country. He stayed in public accommodations during that trip so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. In October 1789, Washington stayed at the Sun Tavern in Fairfield. Though you can’t eat there, you can visit as it’s now part of the Fairfield Museum and History Center.
7. In Greenwich, Knapp’s Tavern is also known as Putnam Cottage, for its owner General Israel Putnam. But as Knapp’s, innkeeper Isaac Knapp kept it as a tavern and hosted both George Washington and John Adams. No longer a tavern, the building can be visited, however, as it is now a museum.
8. In Guilford, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed at the Stone Tavern, with Jefferson rating it above average. That tavern isn’t around anymore. Stone, anticipating a change in the route of the Post Road in 1802, built a new tavern along what he thought was the new route. The road, however, went elsewhere leaving him with a tavern with no customers. Today it’s a museum.
9. Another favorite of Madison and Jefferson: Bull’s Tavern in Hartford. John Adams visited it, too, and enjoyed his stay. Frederick Bull ran the tavern, now gone, but his brother, Capt. William Bull, ran a tavern in Litchfield. The Captain William Bull Tavern moved from its original site and incorporated into the Tollgate Hill Inn and Restaurant.
10. During his presidential visit to New England In 1789, George Washington fished for cod in the waters off Kittery. On Nov. 2, he recorded the adventure in his diary: “I went in a boat to view the harbour of Portsmouth…In my way to the Mouth of the Harbour, I stopped at a place called Kittery in the Provence of Main, the River Piscataqua being the boundary between New Hampshire and it. From hence I went by the Old Fort (formerly built while under the English government) on an Island which is at the Entrance of the Harbour and where the Light House stands. As we passed this Fort we were saluted by 13 Guns. Having Lines we proceeded to the Fishing banks a little with out the Harbour and fished for Cod — but it not being a proper time of tide we only caught two.”
11. John Adams did the most travelling around New England, and his diaries tell of many now-gone taverns where he stopped (now gone). He visited Allen’s in Biddeford and Webb’s in Falmouth (Portland), an inn that doubled as the town jail. He also argued a case in the Pownalborough (now Dresden) courthouse.
12. While headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., during the American Revolution, Washington lived at the Longfellow House in Cambridge, now a museum.
13. He also dined at theMunroe Tavern in Lexington, which was a hot spot for anti-British meetings before the war and near the site of the Battle of Lexington. Washington visited the tavern on his 1789 celebration tour, and today it’s open as a museum.
14. Several other stops along Washington’s tour in Massachusetts remain open to the public. Ye Olde Tavern in West Brookfield (which also hosted John Adams in addition to Washington) remains a restaurant today.
15. Washington dined at Faneuil Hall in Boston, though the layout back then did not include food courts.
16. In Marblehead, Washington visited the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, a museum today.
17. In Newburyport, Washington stayed at the Tracy Mansion, now the public library.
18. Washington also dined and danced at Salem’s Cotting-Smith Assembly House, a Federalist club. It’s now accessible through tours by the Peabody Essex Museum.
Apologies and First Mothers
19. James Monroe also made a stop in Salem on his 1817 tour of New England places. Monroe came on a road show to soothe New Englanders’ bad feelings over the War of 1812. He probably travelled more extensively throughout New England than any of the founding fathers apart from John Adams. Monroe’s trip took him through all the states, including Maine and Vermont. Most of the places he stopped at – including Clapp’s Inn in Walpole and Gilman’s Hotel in Newburyport — are no longer open to the public. Salem hosted a reception for Monroe at the Old Town Hall, which would have been new at the time.
20. John Adams, of course, lived in his “sweet little farm” in Braintree. It is now the Adams National Historical Park with extensive programs and exhibits.
21. Adams also traveled extensively through New England. He stayed at the Newcomb Tavern in Sandwich (now a private home) on a trip to Barnstable on Cape Cod. Ironically, the tavern became the watering hole for Tories in the run up to the American Revolution.
22. Whether John Adams actually ate at the famous Union Oyster House isn’t clear, though he certainly might have. What is certain is that Abigail Adams ate there.
23. During his trip in 1789, George Washington made it to New Hampshire for five days. He received a hero’s welcome as he rode into Portsmouth, dining at the Langdon House, now a Historic New England museum.
25. Washington made a stop at the Folsom Tavern in 1789, now open in Exeter as a museum. In his diary he noted, “It is a place of some consequence but does not contain more than 1000 Inhabitants. A jealousy subsists between this Town (where the Legislature alternately sits) and Portsmouth, which, had I known it in time, would have made it necessary to have accepted an Invitation to a Public dinner, but my arrangements having been otherwise made I could not.”
26. During his apologetic tour of New England in 1817, James Monroe stayed at Wyatt’s Inn in Dover, which is no longer open to the public.
27. During George Washington’s celebratory trip to New England in 1789, he left Rhode Island off the itinerary because the state hadn’t taken any action to ratify the U.S. Constitution. When Rhode Island did ratify, Washington made things right in 1790 and travelled to the state for celebrations in Newport and Providence. In Providence he stayed at the Abner Daggett’s Golden Ball Inn, since demolished.
28. In Newport the only tavern in business today Washington might have visited is the White Horse Tavern. French commander Rochambeau frequently patronized the establishment. Though there is no record of it, Rochambeau might have dined with Washington there when Washington came to spend a week in Newport in 1781. Washington also famously replied to a letter written from the congregation of the Touro Synagogue during his 1790 visit.
Founding Fathers Visit Vermont
29. In 1791, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson made a journey from New York City up the Hudson River Valley and across Lake Champlain to Vermont. It had just become America’s 14th state. Jefferson then served as vice president and Madison as a member of Congress. They made the journey for recreation and to explore the environment of the new state. The two were not altogether impressed with the Green Mountain state. They also had harsh thoughts on the climate – “locked in six months of ice and snow” – is how Madison put it. And Jefferson felt Lake Champlain inferior to New York’s Lake George. The two landed in Vermont on May 31 and spent the night at Chimney Point, now a state-owned historical site. They had a few harsh words for the locals about antagonizing British soldiers in Canada and then crossed to New York to visit the battlefields at Saratoga.
30. The two Founding Fathers returned to the Vermont side of the lake and overnighted on June 4 at an inn in Bennington. It’s now a private residence tucked among the many historic homes. Jefferson and Madison congratulated Vermonters on their statehood and filled them in about some of the political goings on in Philadelphia. Jefferson did have kind words for Vermont’s flora and fauna. He also had high hopes that Vermont maples could become a source of sugar. He bought 20 small trees and sent them to his home at Monticello.
This story about the New England places visited by the Founding Fathers was updated in 2022.
Images: Leffingwell Inn By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50367619. White Horse Tavern By Kenneth C. Zirkel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58527439. Union Oyster House By Swampyank at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20434529. William Bull Tavern By JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ, M.D. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50850817. First Church in Bennington By Nheyob – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16986574. Faneuil Hall By Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA – Faneuil Hall, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93960898.