Today, the George Washington Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers when the man said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern on December 3, 1783.
From A Sketch of Fraunces Tavern by Henry Russell Drowne, published in 1919:
On December 4, 1783, the memorable scene occurred in Fraunces Tavern of Washington’s Farewell to his Officers.
Various writers estimate that some forty-four of our greatest military leaders were present, including Generals Greene, Knox, Wayne, Steuben, McDougall, Schuyler, Lincoln, Gates, Putnam, Lee, Stark, Kosciuszko, Moultrie, Hamilton and Colonel Humphreys, Governor Clinton, Major Fish, Charles Carroll, Colonel Tallmadge and others, and for a very interesting account of this scene we are indebted to Colonel Tallmadge, whose original diary the Sons of the Revolution now own.
The occasion, however, is also described as follows by the celebrated English writer Thackeray:
“The last soldier had quitted the soil of the Republic, and the Commander-in-Chief proposed to leave New York for Annapolis, where Congress was sitting, and there resign his commission.
“About noon on the 4th day of December, a barge was in waiting at Whitehall Ferry to convey him across the Hudson. The chiefs of the Army assembled at a tavern near the ferry, and there the General joined them.
“Seldom as he showed his emotion outwardly, on this day he could not disguise it.
“He filled a glass of wine and said, ‘I bid you farewell with a heart full of love and gratitude and wish your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as those past have been glorious and honorable.’
“Then he drank to them. ‘I cannot come to each of you to take my leave,’ he said, ‘but shall be obliged if each of you will come and shake me by the hand.’
“General Knox, who was nearest, came forward, and the Chief, with tears in his eyes embraced him. The others came one by one to him, and took their leave without a word.
“A line of infantry was formed from the Tavern to the Ferry, and the General, with his officers following him, walked silently to the water. He stood up in the barge, taking off his hat and waving a farewell. And his comrades remained bareheaded on the shore until their leader’s boat was out of view.”
Years afterward, one of the officers present, wrote as follows: “Happy as was the occasion, prayed for as it had been by him and all the patriots, that we might at last feel that there was no enemy left in America, the triumph brought with it its sorrows, and I could hardly speak when I turned from taking my last look at him. It was extremely affecting, and I do not think there were ever so many broken hearts in New York as there were that night.”
Washington did not again return to New York until he came to be inaugurated as First President of the United States on April 6, 1789.
Fraunces Tavern has never lost its name and has been open continuously as a house of public entertainment since 1762, having providentially escaped the great conflagrations of 1776, 1835 and 1845, which destroyed so much of New York.
It has been preserved as an historical memorial of Washington and the days of the Revolution and even as a teacher it is worth a thousand times what it cost in dollars and cents.
Fraunces Tavern, December 4, 1783.
Halt — Uncover — Here once stood
When all his battle days were done
The conqueror of Briton’s hosts,
Our Nation’s father — Washington.
He stood like some bold towering peak
With crest of the eternal snows;
His features like the God-carved crags
On which the sunset glory glows.
A clang of swords — a clink of spurs,
Was mingled with the martial tread,
As comrades mustered to his call
And in his presence bared the head.
These men who had defied a king
And faced the iron blast of death
Now stood like children ‘fore their sire,
Attentive and with bated breath.
Resounded salvos of the guns
And cheers of triumph in the street,
But like the minute ‘fore the charge
One might have heard their brave hearts beat.
As soared their hearts at victory,
So sank they now in blank despair,
For some this look will be the last
Upon their Chief — their father there.
They gazed in his gray searching eyes,
They caught the tremor of his lip,
And, as they grasped his great brown hand,
They felt his soul was in the grip.
This spot is sacred; not by blood,
But what is purer and more dear;
‘Twas here he kissed each sun-scorched cheek,
‘Twas here was shed the parting tear.
The George Washington Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an image of Fraunces Tavern, circa 1900.