“drew his sword and took formal command” — George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when he arrived in Cambridge and took formal command of the army on July 3, 1775.

From the New York Herald newspaper of July 3, 1875:


The Cambridge Centennial.

The One Hundredth Anniversary of Washington’s Assumption of Command.

The Journey from Philadelphia to Boston.

The Sword Unsheathed Beneath the Old Elm Tree.

Cambridge, MA, July 2, 1875

The event of the day, winch is to be celebrated tomorrow, is the one hundredth anniversary of Washington’s assumption of the command of the American army.

To John Adams belongs the credit of bringing the members of the Continental Congress to a decision upon the difficult question of selecting a Commander-in-Chief.

Rising in his place one day and stating the exigencies of the care, he declared that he “had but one gentleman in his mind for that important command, and that was a gentleman from Virginia, whose skill and experience as an officer, whose independent fortune, great talents and excellent universal character would command the approbation of all America, and unite the cordial exertions of all the colonies better than any other person in the Union.”

Washington, who happened to sit near the door, as soon as he heard this allusion to himself, with characteristic modesty darted Into the library room.

John Hancock, who had an ambition to be appointed Commander-in-Chief, when Adams came to describe Washington for the commander, suddenly changed countenance, and forcibly exhibited mortification and resentment.

On the 15th of June, 1775, the army status was regularly adopted by Congress, and the pay of the Commander-in-Chief fixed at $5oo a month.

General Artemus Ward, who was actually in command of the army around Boston, was elected second in command of all the armies, and General Charles Lee the third.

Philip Schuyler, of New York, and Israel Putnam, of Connecticut, were also elected major generals.

A number of brigadier generals were appointed, at the request of Washington. Major Horatio Gates was appointed adjutant general, with the rank of brigadier.

The town of Cambridge and the county of Middlesex are filled with the vestiges of the Revolution. Whithersoever we turn our eyes we behold some accounts of its glorious scenes.

The rural magazine at Medford reminds us of one of the earliest acts of British aggression.

The march of both divisions of the royal army, on the memorable 19th day of April, was through the limits of Cambridge.

There the first American army was formed, from this place, on the 17th of June, was detached the Spartan band that immortalized the heights of Charlestown, and consecrated that day with blood and fire to the cause of American liberty; and beneath the venerable elm which still shades the southwestern corner of the Common General Washington first unleashed his sword at the head of an American army.

The city of Cambridge today contains many monuments of the olden time; many residences, lacking, perhaps. the beauty of their youth, but rich in historical reminiscences.

Phipps Farm, or, as it was afterward called, Leechmere’s Point, was the landing place of the British troops on the memorable evening of April, 1775. Then also, on the 9th of November following, six companies of light infantry and a hundred Grenadiers landed for the purpose of carrying off the stock, but were driven to their boats, losing two men and carrying off ten cows.

Fort Putnam was one of the most important of American works, commanding as it did the river and west part of the town. The work was began and carried on under the supervision of General Putnam, but was completed by General Heath. In 1800 Andrew Cragie purchased this “Point” and the site of the old mansion house of the estate was known for many years by the existence of the remains of the foundation of the cellar.

Leechmere Point was first fortified on the 29th of November, 1775, by the erection of a bomb battery. Meanwhile Washington had caused two half-moon batteries to be erected—one on what has since been called Captain’s Island, where the State magazine is located; the other, in an excellent state of preservation, being known as Fort Washington.

This battery commanding the Common and west end of Boston, built on what was the farthest southeasterly point of land on the Cambridge shore, is at the easterly end of Aliston street, surrounded by a handsome iron fence and containing three mounted guns, furnished some years since for the purpose by the United States government, while from a lofty flagstaff is often displayed the largest flag thrown to the breeze in Cambridge.

The first church in Cambridge was built in 1632, about thirty rods south of the present Dane Hall, or Harvard Law School, and within its walls, after a ten years’ discussion, was finally adopted the platform of Church discipline called “the Cambridge platform.”

There were held the sessions of the First and Second Provincial Congresses,. There was organized that famous Committee of Safety, of which every man was a host in himself. There Washington often worshipped during his encampment in Cambridge.

The Washington Elm stands near the westerly end of the Common, under whose shade Washington first drew his sword as General-in-Chief of the American Army.

Apart from its association with a great event there is something impressive about this elm. It is a king among trees; a monarch native to the son whose subjects, once scattered over the broad plain before it, have all vanished and left it alone in solitary state.

Tradition says that when the surrounding forest was felled by the axe of the woodman this tree had already attained so great a size that it obtained a respectful immunity for the fate of its neighbors and kin.

Though portions of it are somewhat decayed and the blasts of centuries have passed over it, it is still vigorous; and it loving care and watchful nursing can avail it will continue to live and flourish for many generations.

The residence of Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, built in 1759 by Colonel John Vassal, was for nine months used as Washington’s headquarters, having previously been occupied by Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead regiment.

General Washington occupied the southeast chamber as a sleeping room and the one beneath it as his study being the same now used by the poet for a like purpose, and where have been composed most of those exquisite productions of his genius which have made him so famous in the literary world.

On the 20th of June, 1775, one hundred years ago, Washington received his commission from the President of Congress, and on the day following he set out on horseback from Philadelphia for the arm before Boston, having for military companions of his journey Major Generals Lee and Schuyler, and escorted as far as New York by Captain Markoe’s “gentlemen troop” of Philadelphia light horse.

They had scarcely proceeded twenty miles from Philadelphia when they were met by a courier spurring with all speed, bearing dispatches from the army to Congress, communicating tidings of the battle of Bunker Hill.

At Newark, NJ, Washington was met on the 25th by a committee of the Provincial Congress of New York, sent to conduct him to the city, when he heard all the details of the battle, which quickened his impatience to arrive at the camp.

The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, then in session, at Watertown had made arrangements for his reception, and sent on a deputation, which met Washington at Springfield, and provided escorts and accommodations for him along the road.

Thus honorably attended from town to town, says Irving, and escorted by volunteer companies and cavalcades of gentlemen he arrived at Watertown on the 2nd of July, where he was greeted by Congress with a congratulatory address.

The ceremony over Washington was again in the saddle, and escorted by a troop of light horse and a cavalcade of citizens, proceeded to the headquarters provided for him in the house at Cambridge occupied by the President of the Provincial Congress.

As he entered the confines of the camp the shouts of the multitude and the thundering of artillery gave note to the enemy beleaguers in Boston of his arrival.

On the morning of the 3rd of July Washington accompanied by General Lee and a numerous suite rode down the Common, where the army was drawn up, and, wheeling his horse under the ancient elm, he drew his sword and took formal command of the army.


The George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal of the General taking formal command of the army at Cambridge on July 3, 1775.

George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin