MHS News

The Father of His Country Returns to Boston Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society on October 24

An exhibition of paintings, accounts, and other memorabilia assembled to commemorate the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s visit to Boston


George Washington portrait by GullagerTwo hundred twenty-five years ago, during his first year in office, Pres. George Washington embarked on a month-long tour of New England including a ten-day visit to Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Historical Society is commemorating this visit with the exhibition The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789. The exhibition is open in the Treasures Gallery of the Society through December 31, 2014.

In Boston, the president was met by a great procession that paraded beneath a triumphal arch designed by Charles Bulfinch. Young John Quincy Adams observed the great excitement of people everywhere: “At the present moment they indulge themselves in sentiments of joy, arising/resulting . . . from the gratification of their affection in beholding personally among them, the friend, the benefactor, the father of his Country.” To set the scene, the exhibition includes a map of Boston, an engraving by Samuel Hill showing the triumphal arch, and a broadside describing the welcoming procession along with a painting of State Street in 1801 by James Brown Marston.

Featured in the exhibition is one of six portraits of Washington housed in the Society’s collections. The portrait is a life study by Christian Gullager painted during the New England tour. Gullager began his portrait of the president in October, 1789.  Jeremy Belknap, the minister of Federal Street Church in Boston and founder of the MHS, noted Washington's visit and Gullager's effort to portray him in his diary: "While he was in the chapel, Gullager, the painter stole a likeness of him from a Pew behind the pulpit." Belknap added, "Gullager followed Gen W to Ports[mouth] where he sat for 2 – hours for him to take his portrait wh[ich] he did & obtained a very good likeness after wh[ich] he laid aside the sketch wh[ich] he took in the Chapel wh[ich] however was not a bad one."

Also on display are designs of copper buttons made to celebrate Washington’s inauguration, the Bowdoin Bishop Cup from which Washington is said to have drunk punch, a lock of hair that Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton, and a walking stick presented to George Washington by Gov. James Bowdoin. Martha Washington returned the cane to the Bowdoin family after her husband’s death in 1799.

Published: Friday, 24 October, 2014, 12:00 PM