At 24, George Washington in New London Causes a Stir

George Washington was a rising 24-year-old militia officer when he came through New England in 1756, and he made quite a splash.

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, a thorough but laconic diarist, was unusually descriptive about the young Virginian.

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.

The Repository author speculated on Washington’s stay:

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, which was then the principal house of entertainment for travelers.

Washington was also something of a 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.)

Washington was then given a military commission and a company of 100 men, which set off the French and Indian War in 1754 by ambushing French forces at the Battle of Jumonville Glen. He was appointed to lead the Virginia Regiment after his bravery during the Battle of the Monongahela.

Joshua Hempstead House

Joshua Hempstead House

His chief ambition was to have his rank of colonel to be recognized by the British Army, which looked down on the colonial militias. It rankled Washington that junior British Army officers were placed above senior ranking militia officers.

Washington went to Boston in 1756 was to ask Gov. William Shirley, who had been 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 was a prominent citizen who, at 77, was still actively working his farm.  He had lived in the same house all his life, a house his grandfather built before he was born. His father, Joshua, was a wheelwright; his mother was named Elizabeth Larrabee.

Read more about Joshua Hempstead here, here and here.

This story was updated from the 2015 version.


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