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Rambles about Town: Tryon's Palace, concluded; Washington's Visit to New Bern

[From: The Daily Journal, December 24, 1882]

Our absence from this place prevented the conclusion of the story of Tryon’s palace last week. Washington, it has been shown, was in Newbern a few years after the war of the Revolution. He lodged while here in the John Wright Stanly mansion and his public receptions of our people were in the halls of the palace. Also, there he was given by them a ball and supper which eclipsed the finest and most costly entertainments of any other royal governor. We have many times heard one old citizen speak of Washington’s good appearance and of his affability and patience with all who called to see him. Even the colored persons were not excepted, and some who had been connected with the army, Asa Spelman and others, were taken by him by the hand and spoken to with much feeling and kindness. Spelman has a son still living in our town. David was of course an aged man. He has also a number of grand children and among them Jacob Wiggins, a worthy colored man living near the bank of the Neuse a few miles above Newbern. We can remember the old Revolutionary soldier who was pensioned by the Government in his last days—his expressions of love and reverence for “the great General Washington” were unbounded to the last hour of his life. He lived nearly a century in our county. But others besides colored men felt for Washington “an awful reverence.” His name and authority were then the vital power in the land. To know his wishes was to adopt them by our people. We could now give all the particulars of his visit to Newbern but for the loss of the records on the subject of St. John’s Lodge. They were carried off in the late war and never returned. The Carolina Centinel, however, in its account of the reception of President Monroe in Newbern in 1819, lets us know also with what affection and adoration Washington was received here thirty years before. We quote from it:

“The streets were thronged to hail his welcome, and the air rung with shouts of exaltation as he passed; Such a burst of joy has not been manifested by our citizens since the memorable entry of the illustrious Washington.”

It was stated heretofore that the object of Washington’s visit to our State was to exert his influence for the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, about which he felt great solicitude. It is said when he was about to sign that instrument, “he rose from seat and holding the pen in his hand after a short pause, pronounced these words: ‘Should the States reject this excellent Constitution, the probability is that an opportunity will never again be offered to cancel another in peace.’”

We repeat others than our own citizens felt for Washington reverence beyond that for any other man in this or any other country. Edward Everett says in his history of Washington in 1860 what he said in substance relative to him when he was standing with Judge Donnell and the writer on the ruins of the palace a short time before we have referred to it, now hear him:

“Posterity will not be left without a faithful representation of his person. The statue by Hondon in the capitol at Richmond modeled at the age of fifty-three, is the accepted embodiment of his countenance and form, and has been followed substantially by all his successors in several monumental works of distinguished merit. A series of portraits by able artists, from the age of thirty-eight onwards delineate him under all the modifications of feature and person gradually reduced by the advance of years.”

The bronze statute of Washington in the capital square, Raleigh, is an exact copy of the statue by Hondon in Richmond. Mr. Everett continues:

“In the final contemplation of his character, we shall not hesitate to pronounce Washington of all men that have ever lived, THE GREATEST OF GOOD MEN AND THE BEST OF GREAT MEN. Nor let this judgment be attributed to national partiality. In the year 1797, Mr. Rufus King, then the American minister in London, wrote to General Hamilton, “no one who has not been in England, can have a just idea of the admiration expressed among all parties for General Washington. It is a common observation that he is not only the most illustrious, but the most meritorious character that has yet appeared.” Lord Erskine in writing to Washington about the same time says, “you are the only human being for whom I have an awful reverence.” Mr. Charles James Fox remarks of him that “a character of virtues, so happily tempered by one another and so wholly unalloyed by any vices, as that of Washington is hardly to be found on the pages of history.” Lord Brougham, in his brilliant comparative sketch of Napoleon and Washington, after a glowing picture of the virtues and vices of the great modern conqueror, exclaims: “How grateful the relief, which the friend of mankind, the lover of virtue experiences when turning from the contemplation of such a character, his eye rests upon the greatest man of our own or any age, the only one upon whom an epithet so thoughtlessly lavished by men, may be innocently and justly bestowed.” Nor are these testimonies confined to Englishmen, in whom they might be supposed to be inspired, in some degree, by Anglo-Saxon sympathy. When the news of his death reached France Fontanes, by direction of Napoleon, delivered an eloquent eulogium, in which he declared him to be a “character worthy the best days of antiquity.” M. Guizot, a far higher authority, in his essay on the character of Washington, pronounces that “of all great men he was the most virtuous and the most fortunate.”

Again we quote:

[Several paragraphs on Edward Everett’s discussion of George Washington have been omitted.]

We repeat much of what we have here given was said while Mr. Everett was conversing with the Honorable John R. Donnell on the subject of Washington’s visit to Newbern and the Palace. Judge Donnell being closely connected with the Spaight family was familiar with what transpired on that occasion and Mr. Everett listened to his statements with deep interest. It is to be regretted that all that was said by them could not have been preserved.

We stated in the beginning of these communications they were designed chiefly for our youths, hence we have given at length what we believed would interest them concerning the great father of his country. An eminent statesman observes, “Every American may well doubt the patriotism of his own heart when he finds that in that heart veneration for Washington begins to be languishing and dying away.”

“Immortal chief whose matchless deeds proclaim
The hero’s glory and the statesman’s fame,
Whose worth, attested by thy country’s voice
Obtained her suffrage, and confirmed her choice,
In war her leader, and in peace her guide,
And first in both, her bulwark and her pride.”

Caswell, it is known, was elected a delegate to the “Federal Convention” which assembled in Philadelphia in May, 1787, and being unable to attend, acting under the power conferred upon him, delegated Wm. Blount. Spaight, of Newbern, a delegate, was during the war aide-de-camp to Gen. Caswell and as such was at the battle of Camden in 1780. The following letter we recently copied from the original now in the Governor’s office at Raleigh. It will prove the long friendship existing between these two patriots and undoubtedly Washington came to Newbern to get them to co-operate with him in his efforts for the permanent Union of the States.

KINSTON, July 26th, 1787
Dear Sir:--I have been very much indisposed the greater part of the time since you left the State is the reason I have not before this done myself the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your favor of the 20th May and 12th of June which came to hand some weeks past. However I am now able to be about and hope to get restored to health.
The convention in my judgment have done wisely in enjoining secrecy on their members. Was the case otherwise it would give more room to babblers and scribblers to exercise their powers than they can be at liberty to take in their present case. From the hint you throw out in your first letter, I am induced to think that a plan of a National Parliament and Supreme Executive with adequate powers to the government of the Union will be more suitable to our situation and circumstances than any other. But I should wish also an independent judicial department to decide any contest that may happen between the United States and individual States and between one State and another. This however is only a hint. You may not see the necessity of it as forcable [sic] as I do and I presume it is too late to offer any reasons for the establishment at that matter I flatter myself is before this got over. All I can say respecting the Convention is to recommend a perserverance to the end, to the Deputies from this State.
I had previous to the receipt of your letter, written to the Collectors and spoken to Collector Reid politically to return the moneys in their hands directed by the Assembly to be applied to the discharge of the allowances to the Deputies subject to such further drafts as might be made in their favor. Your warrant for 128 pounds, two months allowance, in addition to the former four months I forwarded to Mr. John G. Blount some time past.
I have the honor to be, with great esteem and respect, dear sir, your most obedient servant.
To Hon. Richard D. Spaight.”

Caswell, it will be seen, was anxious and uneasy relative to the independence of the Judiciary. He had witnessed the effect on judges dependent on the British Crown. “The Declaration of Independence itself,” as has been said, “puts forth this as prominent grievance among those which justified the Revolution.” “The British King,” it declares, “had made judges dependent on his own will alone for the tenure of their offices.” He was looking beyond courts to deal justly with merely private questions to protection against unconstitutional acts. He was evidently afraid of Parliament (Congress) as well as the Supreme Executive, and seems to have taken a glance in the future and had before him political judges made by unscrupulous politicians.

The last account we have of the Palace is in 1796. A visitor then said of it: “It is a large and elegant edifice, two stories high, with two wings for offices, a little advanced in front towards the town, these wings are connected with the principal building by a circular arcade. This once handsome and well furnished building is now much out of repair. One of the halls is now used for dancing and the other for a school room, which are the only present uses of this Palace. The arms of the King of Great Britain still appear in a pediment in front of the building.”

This was written 26 years after the completion of the Palace, and 4 years before its destruction. Therefore it was standing but 30 years. It was not the home of Sir William Draper’s friend, Governor Tryon, two years. With all the anxious years of himself and family to have the Palace erected, in a little more than a year subsequent to its acceptancy by them, they were compelled to leave it never again to return to its magnificent halls, where, in regal splendor, did they except, no doubt, to be long surrounded by the wealth, talent, beauty and fashion of the country.

In 1795 the Newbern Academy was burned, and the Trustees were by act of the Assembly allowed the use of the Palace and its appendages for a school. The Rev. Thomas Pitt Irving was the Principal, and occupied with his family rooms there. In 1800 a servant was sent with a torch in the basement under the Council Chamber, where hay was kept, to get the eggs in a hen’s nest, when a spark was dropped and soon the fire was flashing over the hay. Still the house would not have been burned if a hole had not been cut through the floor to pour down water, which let the blaze and smoke into the room above, and drove those in it out. However, the Palace for several years had been much neglected, and our people were quite indifferent as to its destruction. The east wing was burned with it. The west wing or laundry is yet standing, and for a hundred years has been used for various purposes. In it during the visit of Washington were kept his horses, and on the different stalls were marked their names, which were not obliterated for many years afterwards. Some years ago it was generously donated by the family of the late John P. Daves to Christ Church, Newbern, and after undergoing thorough repairs converted into a school-house under the control of the church. It is now used as a school house and chapel. We said of this house on another occasion: “Thus behold the wonderful changes a century can work. First, the laundry of the family of Gov. Tryon, where the frills and puffs, ruffles and laces of Lady Tryon and her lovely and bewitching sister, Esther Wake, were prepared for those grand entertainments which made once the noble Court of Newbern almost rival the Royal Court in England, in its dazzling splendor and grandeur. Next it is the shelter of some of the very horses that perhaps heard the roar of the guns on the bloody fields of Monmouth and Trenton, and also had been the unconscious participators with the great rebel and immortal chief in the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, to the terror of this same Tryon who had so ill used our people. Then again, form may years it was the low abode of cattle, and afterwards it was designed to direct the young in the way of truth and knowledge—a much nobler purpose than that perhaps for which the Palace was originally appropriated, and in the days of its greatness and fame.

The stone steps at the residence of Mrs. Bryan Gardner, on George street, that at a house on Metcalf street, near Pollock, and at the office of W.H. Oliver, Esq., on Craven street were steps at the different doors of the Palace. Most of the material for it was prepared in England and brought to this country ready to be put in place. The top of the building was not finished as Lossing represents it. The third story was omitted and parapet walls run up with a balustrade around them, to which we have before alluded in connection with the walk inside it.

What contemplations are awakened in our minds when we stand on the ruins of Tryon’s Palace. We have often thought what an interesting and instructive play could be written by a competent writer, based upon scenes enacted within its walls. First, we would have the grand levee of Governor Tryon in October, 1770, when the doors of the Palace were first flung back for his courtiers and friends. The lovely Lady Tryon and the enchanting and beautiful Esther Wake would there appear in all their glory. Next the reception of the Assembly (Caswell was the Speaker) by Tryon and his dazzling Court. Then his departure with his family for New York the arrival of Gov. Martin; his stirring term of office, and his hasty departure for Wilmington. A change of scene, and Washington appears there. His grand form in the midst of little boys and girls, afterwards our great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, and then he would be at the ball towering above all those around him—hailed as the savior of his country. Again a change, and the school of Irving is there; and finally the destruction of the building by fire. We repeat, here is an opportunity for a play, and as Mr. Washington Bryan writes with facility, has travelled in Europe as well as in this country, and as he lives on the old Palace square with the remains of some of the work once connected with it in his yard before him, we know of no one who could better perform that task. At any rate many of the real scenes in the Palace imitated now would make striking and beautiful tableaux. Have we not those who could represent a Lady Tryon or an Esther Wake, if we have not a Washington or a Cornwallis or a Spaight among us?

But look. See what changes from the completion of the Palace to its destruction—thirty short years. “One may live as a conqueror, a king or a magistrate, but he must die as a man.” Washington, too, had to die, and many who had taken part in those bright scenes in the Palace had gone before him, had vanished like the mist before the morning sun. Thus we can exclaim, how soon, how very soon, is the brightness of noonday to all of us; none are exempt, followed by darkness. Yet it is consoling to know,

But for night ther’d be no flowers,
Remember this when you are sad.
The golden grain is made by showers
And after tears the heart is glad.


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