Today’s Keyhole to History August 17, 1790, President Washington visits Rhode Island in support of the U.S. Constitution. Washington was addressed by the local Jewish congregation of Yeshuat Israel, whose members had been practicing there since 1658. Their leader, Moses Seixas, praised Washington and expressed the congregation’s gratefulness for the United States’ civil and religious liberties. Washington’s written response has survived as one of the great expressions of religious liberty by the Founding Fathers, reaffirming that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction” and “requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” Every year, Seixas’ and Washington’s letters are read in celebration of religious tolerance at the synagogue, which still stands today.
Keyhole to History: November 10, 1794, the day Reverend John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, died in Princeton, New Jersey. John Witherspoon was born in Scotland in 1722. At age forty-six, he came to New Jersey with an offer to be president of Princeton. Under his leadership, the college grew and prospered until 1776, when the Revolutionary War forced it to close its doors. During the war, the British took over the college, housing their troops there. In one dramatic show of force to prove to the Americans that they were in charge, they burned one of the finest college libraries in the country. Witherspoon was elected to the first Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence, and remained in Congress until 1782.
Keyhole to History: November 28, 1795. That’s the day Revolutionary War hero Baron von Steuben died in Steubenville, New York. Much of the success of the Continental Army was due to the experience and valor of several foreign officers who volunteered to assist us. The names of Lafayette, von Steuben, de Kalb, Pulaski, and Kosciuszko have all been honored with streets, bridges, and schools named by the American people. Baron von Steuben was said to be an aide-de-camp for Frederick the Great of Prussia, leaving behind fame and fortune to come here and help a struggling people in their efforts to be free. He joined up with Washington in Pennsylvania at Valley Forge and Congress appointed him inspector general in May of 1778.
Today’s Keyhole to History highlights George Washington’s Farewell Address. When Washington left office he began the tradition of outgoing presidents addressing the nation. Published in a newspaper on September 17, 1796, it solidified his decision to be a two-term president. Washington wrote the address with significant assistance from James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. The address highlighted the importance of unity. He warned against regionalism, writing, “The name of American…must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations…” He also advised the American people “…to steer clear of permanent alliances…” with foreign powers and alerted the public on potential problems that political factions could cause.
Today’s Keyhole to History focuses on George Washington’s Kentucky land. In 1789, Washington purchased 5,000 acres of land from General Henry Lee, on the south side of Rough Creek, in present day Grayson County, Kentucky. Washington exchanged his pedigree horse Magnolio, valued at £500, for the two tracts of land. The area was known to have rich deposits of iron ore, a scarce commodity on the frontier that attracted developers and surveyors. For several reasons, the deal was delayed for nearly ten years. It was officially entered into the Kentucky Court of Appeals Deed Book on December 7, 1799, only seven days before Washington’s death at Mount Vernon. Washington was never able to visit his Kentucky lands, which comprised about ten percent of his total land holdings.
Keyhole to History: February 22, 1800. That’s the day that John Carroll gave the eulogy for George Washington. John Carroll, who was considered the “father of the Roman Catholic Church in America,” was born in Maryland in 1735. At the tender age of thirteen, he was sent off to France to attend college. Two colleges and twenty years later, he was ordained a Jesuit priest. Then in 1773, when the Jesuits were expelled from France, he relocated in England. As the sounds of war grew, Father Carroll decided to move back to America and in 1775, he resumed his priestly duties. In 1790, he became the first Catholic priest in America to be consecrated a bishop, and since the entire nation was but one diocese known as the See of Baltimore, he was at its head. Carroll also founded the college at Georgetown.