On This Day in History, December 4, 1783, Washington bids farewell to approximately 30 of his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York.
New York had been held by the British since the beginning of the war and there were many British soldiers still in the outlying areas and on ships in the harbor waiting for the weather to clear so they could sail back to Britain. Washington refused to leave New York until all of the soldiers were gone. On December 1, British Sir Guy Carleton wrote to Washington: “Wind and weather permitting, I hope that the Embarkation of such of his Majesty’s Troops as yet remain on Long Island and Staten Island may be completed (by December 4).” General Washington was anxious to finally return home to Mount Vernon and was thrilled to receive this news.
An officer that was very close to Washington was at the farewell party. Benjamin Tallmadge, the head of Washington’s secret Culper Spy Ring, celebrated with him and he later wrote of the experience…“We had been assembled but a few moments, when His Excellency entered the room. His emotion, too strong to be concealed, seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment, in almost breathless silence, the General filled his glass with wine, and turning to the officers, he said: ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.’” He concluded, “I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.”
Henry Knox was the first officer to greet Washington after his short but emotional speech. Tallmadge writes that Washington “suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance, but grasped [Knox’s] hand; when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner, every officer in the room marched up to, kissed, and parted with his General-in-Chief.”
After this final farewell, Washington went down to the wharf where a barge was waiting for him. He was leaving New York to appear before the Continental Congress to officially resign his commission. Afterward, he would be heading home, to his wife, Martha, and his beloved Mount Vernon.
He could retire his commission knowing the war was finally over and our independence had been won.
The quotes above are from the original manuscript for The Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge.