- Robert Hodge
Beginning a three-month tour of the Southern states in April of 1791, President George Washington came, unannounced, to Fredericksburg from Mt. Vernon.
Without delay, all forces were organized and an elegant dinner was prepared at Fredericksburg's Market-House/Town Hall to honor the hometown boy. The principal inhabitants of the corporation amassed at the brick building at the west side of Caroline Street, just below Market Alley.
Washington recorded that on Friday, April 8, he "set out about six o'clock, and dined and lodged at my sister Lewis' (Betty Washington Lewis of Kenmore) in Fredericksburg." The next day he "dined at an entertainment given by the citizens of the town. Received and answered an address from the corporation."
Fredericksburg Mayor William Harvey told him: "The inhabitants of Fredericksburg, Sir, as they can boast the first Acquaintance with your virtues, claim a peculiar pleasure in testifying to the world of your exulted worth."
The President replied: "At all times flattered by the esteem and grateful for the good wishes of my fellow citizens, I am particularly so when to my respect for their public worth is united the endearment of private acquaintance."
His toast for the occasion: "The town we are in and prosperity to its inhabitants." Fifteen other patriotic toasts were drunk that day.
At three o'clock the afternoon of June 10, 1791, President Washington's white coach reappeared at Kenmore where he dined with Betty Washington Lewis and spent the night, the next day crossing the Rappahannock and proceeding to Stafford Court House. His tour had taken him some 1,900 miles.
Fredericksburgers not only entertained their President at Market-House/Town Hall, they also used it for the courts, the Common Council, balls, sociables, public meetings and lodge rooms. During the Revolutionary War colonial troops used part of the building for barracks.
According to historian S.J. Quinn, the "mainly of brick" building was constructed prior to 1752. It was Fredericksburg's arts and entertainment center until it was taken down in 1813 and replaced by the nearby new Town Hall, now the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center at William and Princess Anne Streets.
In 1794 at the first Market-House/Town Hall, the celebrated lecturer entertainers Mr. and Mrs. Moore presented a program consisting of a prologue, a Eulogy on Free Masonry by Mr. Moore, a song by the Mrs., a poetic vision during which Mr. Moore imitated Falstaff, Pistol, Fribble, a Miser, Lord Foppington, Lord Ogilby, Maw-worm and Mungo.
Mr. Moore then presented an illustrated lecture on HEADS with proper paintings of the Exhibitionist, the Grinner, the Cherokee, the Quack Doctor, the Lawyer, the Old Maid, the Married Lady with Venus' Girdle, the Jockey, the Old Philosopher, the Table Critic. The final act was a scene of the comic opera, Love in a Cottage.
Another evening at the Market-House/Town Hall featured the exhibition of a little solid gold head, sealed in a tumbler, which would answer any questions put to it by members of the audience. Next came a new display of Chinese Shades called the "Thunder Storm at Sea."
The audience saw the swelling of the sea, the waves rolling with incredible impetuosity; the sky wonderfully filled with moving clouds; the natural appearance of hail, with its concomitant noise. A ship in distress after a long struggle went down beneath the waves.
After George Washington's death the 25 wax figures "as natural as life" in the "New and Elegant Exhibition of Wax Works" included a striking likeness of Washington alive and another of him as a fallen victim to death. The latter had his lady and domestics weeping about him.
For many years, historian Robert A. Hodge researched and recorded Fredericksburg's history. Now a resident of Emporia, Kansas, he continues his historical research in Kansas, his native state.
This article originally appeared in the February, 1995, issue of the Fredericksburg Times and is reprinted on HistoryPoint.org with the author's permission.