The True George Washington: Social Life

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Social Life

In Virginia

There can be no doubt that Washington, like the Virginian of his time, was pre-eminently social. It is true that late in life he complained, as already quoted, that his home had become a "well resorted tavern," and that at his own table "I rarely miss seeing strange faces, come as they say out of respect for me. Pray, would not the word curiosity answer as well?" but even in writing this he added, "how different this from having a few social friends at a cheerful board!" When a surveyor he said that the greatest pleasure he could have would be to hear from or be with "my Intimate friends and acquaintances;" to one he wrote, "I hope you in particular will not Bauk me of what I so ardently wish for," and he groaned over being "amongst a parcel of barbarians." While in the Virginia regiment he complained of a system of rations which "deprived me of the pleasure of inviting an officer or friend, which to me would be more agreeable, than nick-nacks I shall meet with," and when he was once refused leave of absence by the governor, he replied bitterly, "it was not to enjoy a party of pleasure I wanted a leave of absence; I have been indulged with few of these, winter or summer!" At Mount Vernon, if a day was spent without company the fact was almost always noted in his diary, and in a visit, too, he noted that he had "a very lonesome Evening at Colo Champe's, not any Body favoring us with their Company but himself."

The plantation system which prevented town life and put long distances between neighbors developed two forms of society. One of these was house parties, and probably nowhere else in the world was that form of hospitality so unstinted as in this colony. Any one of a certain social standing was privileged, even welcomed, to ride up to the seat of a planter, dismount, and thus become a guest, ceasing to be such only when he himself chose. Sometimes one family would go en masse many miles to stay a week with friends, and when they set out to return their hosts would journey with them and in turn become guests for a week. The second form of social life was called clubs. At all the cross-roads and court-houses there sprang up taverns or ordinaries, and in these the men of a neighborhood would gather, and over a bowl of punch or a bottle of wine, the expense of which they "clubbed" to share, would spend their evenings.

Into this life Washington entered eagerly. As a mere lad his ledger records expenditures: "By a club in Arrack at Mr. Gordon's 2/6;" "Club of a bottle of Rhenish at Mitchells 1/3;" "To part of the club at Port Royal 1/;" "To Cash in part for a Bowl of fruit punch 1/7-1/2." So, too, he was a visitor at this time at some of the great Virginian houses, as elsewhere noted. When he came into possession of Mount Vernon he offered the same unstinted welcome that he had met with, and even as a bachelor he writes of his "having much company," and again of being occupied with "a good deal of Company." In two months of 1768 Washington had company to dinner, or to spend the night, on twenty-nine days, and dined or visited away from home on seven; and this is typical.

Whenever, too, trips were made to Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, or elsewhere, it was a rare occurrence when the various stages of the journey were not spent with friends, and in those cities he was dined and wined to a surfeit.

Sources +