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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

President Washington’s Receptions

By William Sullivan (1774–1839)

[From The Public Men of the Revolution. 1834.—Edition of 1847.]

HE devoted one hour every other Tuesday, from three to four, to these visits. He understood himself to be visited as the President of the United States, and not on his own account. He was not to be seen by anybody and everybody; but required that every one who came should be introduced by his secretary, or by some gentleman whom he knew himself. He lived on the south side of Market Street, just below Sixth. The place of reception was the dining-room in the rear, twenty-five or thirty feet in length, including the bow projecting into the garden. Mrs. Washington received her visitors in the two rooms on the second floor, from front to rear.

At three o’clock, or at any time within a quarter of an hour afterwards, the visitor was conducted to this dining-room, from which all seats had been removed for the time. On entering, he saw the tall, manly figure of Washington clad in black velvet; his hair in full dress, powdered and gathered behind in a large silk bag; yellow gloves on his hands; holding a cocked hat with cockade in it, and the edges adorned with a black feather about an inch deep. He wore knee and shoe buckles; and a long sword, with a finely-wrought and polished steel hilt, which appeared at the left hip; the coat worn over the sword, so that the hilt, and the part below the folds of the coat behind, were in view. The scabbard was white polished leather.

He stood always in front of the fire-place, with his face towards the door of entrance. The visitor was conducted to him and he required to have the name so distinctly pronounced, that he could hear it. He had the very uncommon faculty of associating a man’s name and personal appearance so durably in his memory, as to be able to call any one by name, who made him a second visit. He received his visitor with a dignified bow, while his hands were so disposed of as to indicate that the salutation was not to be accompanied with shaking hands. This ceremony never occurred in these visits, even with his most near friends, that no distinction might be made.

As visitors came in, they formed a circle around the room. At a quarter past three, the door was closed, and the circle was formed for that day. He then began on the right and spoke to each visitor, calling him by name and exchanging a few words with him. When he had completed his circuit he resumed his first position, and the visitors approached him in succession, bowed and retired. By four o’clock this ceremony was over.

On the evenings when Mrs. Washington received visitors, he did not consider himself as visited. He was then as a private gentleman, dressed usually in some colored coat and waistcoat (the only one recollected was brown, with bright buttons), and black on his lower limbs. He had then neither hat nor sword; he moved about among the company, conversing with one and another. He had once a fortnight an official dinner and select companies on other days. He sat (it is said) at the side, in a central position, Mrs. Washington opposite; the two ends were occupied by members of his family, or by personal friends.