Today, the Washington Bicentennial Quarter Coin remembers his Old Style calendar birthday with a fanciful tale from the Revolution printed in several February 1911 newspapers.
George Washington arrived as a babe on February 11, 1731 while Britain and its colonies still used the Julian or Old Style calendar.
In 1752, like many of the countries before them, they finally adopted the Gregorian calendar, which changed Washington’s birth date to February 22, 1732.
For fun on his Julian calendar birthday, this fanciful tale tells the story of Washington during the Revolutionary War and the reward of a kiss.
The Reward She Received For Bringing Washington Information
MAY C. ETHEREDGE
When Washington was at Cambridge in command of the patriot army holding the British shut up in Boston it was his object to capture them If he could, if not to force them out. He sent a spy Into the city to learn of their strength and condition.
The young man selected for this work was Joel Armstrong, twenty two years old, who a few days before had left Boston to join the army at Cambridge on the eve of his betrothal to Sally Perkins.
Washington instructed him to discover just what supplies and ammunition the British possessed. The general knew the numbers and armament.
It Is not far from Cambridge to Boston; indeed, they are now one city. Joel had no need to fear being taken in citizen’s dress, for he had no uniform. He had always lived in Boston and knew all routes between it and its environs. He went through in the night, and in the morning when Sally had just lighted the fire in the kitchen and was swinging the crane bearing the pot to boll the water he walked In, and they were locked In each other’s arms.
There was no great danger to Joel in going about the city so long as he was not liable to be caught with information on his person. The American army was considered by the British rather as a rabble than an organized force and transitory at that. Joel collected all the information he wanted from patriot citizens who knew very well how General Howe was situated. But he did not dare trust to his memory. Besides, certain citizens were desirous of sending communications to Washington informing him of various matters important for him to know. Joel took all these letters and papers to Sally and asked her to sew them in the lining of his coat
Now, it so happened that a British soldier whom Joel had known and had told that he was going to Cambridge to fight against the tyrant king saw Joel walking past Faneuil hall. This soldier saw the young patriot go into the house where Sally Perkins lived and told his captain of the circumstances. The captain told his colonel, and a guard was sent to the house to prevent Joel’s going back to the American army, lest he carry information.
It so happened that Sally was sewing the papers In Joel’s coat when, looking out through a window from which she could see some distance down the street, she spied a squad of soldiers coming, the officer making inquiries as he came. She also saw a citizen point to her home. Quick as a flash she inferred that Joel was in danger. Pulling a huge chest out from under a bed, she put her lover into it and shoved It back as the soldiers stopped before the house and surrounded it. An officer walked in without knocking and found Sally at her spinning wheel.
Joel was not discovered, but the guard remained outside on watch so that if he were still there he could not leave. Sally told Joel of the situation, and he was much chagrined that he could not deliver the information he possessed to General Washington.
“I suppose I shall have to burn It all.” he said.
“How would It do for me to take It?” Sally asked.
“Do you think you could?”
So Joel transferred the papers to Sally, who concealed them about her person and walked out of the house in face of the guard. The officer looked dubious about letting her go since he had received orders to permit no one to leave the house. But Sally paid no attention to him. though her heart was beating like a trip hammer.
Sally, fearing she might be followed, went among the shops making purchases. She saw a redcoat following her but managed to elude him. When it was quite dark she started for Cambridge, keeping to the fields. Finding a boat on the Charles river, she appropriated It and. rowing across, was taken In by an American sentry. She asked to be conducted to the commander in chief.
Washington was conferring with people who called to see him on innumerable subjects when a sentry announced Sally Perkins.
“What can I do for you. Mistress Perkins?” asked the general.
“Nothing, general. I am doing something for you. You sent Joel Armstrong, a soldier in your army, to Boston for information. He is shut up there and cannot leave for the redcoats who are watching the house. Here is what he collected for you.”
The general’s face lighted at seeing the papers. He took them and, having glanced at them, said:
“We are under obligations to you. Mistress Perkins for these papers, which are of great value to us. What can I do In recognition of our appreciation of your heroic act? Is there anything I can give you?”
“Yes, general, a kiss. I would like to be able to say that I have kissed the commander in chief.”
Washington, though he was old enough to be the girl’s father, colored slightly. He was so dignified as well as modest that this reward given before a dozen persons was a great trial to him. He submitted to be kissed on the cheek by the girl, then »aid:
“Now that this worthless reward has been given you must go and have something of value—a supper.”
Joel Armstrong remained hidden till Boston was evacuated.
Could the story be true? Sure, but it’s most probably fiction as a search for Sally Perkins and Joel Armstrong among the history books and historical papers does not readily return documents describing their spy efforts.
The Washington Bicentennial Quarter Coin shows against a Revolutionary War era room with a desk.