In 1789, President-elect George Washington (1732-1799) traveled from his home in Virginia to New York City for his inauguration. On his journey, well-wishers gathered along the road to fête him and to celebrate an important moment—the swearing in of the new nation’s first president. This print, Washington's Reception on the Bridge at Trenton in 1785, (at left) shows an event that took place during Washington’s journey. The image was created at least 50 years after Washington traveled to New York.
In 1776 Washington had won an important battle in Trenton, New Jersey. Later called the Battle of Trenton, during this conflict on December 26, 1776, Washington routed Hessian soldiers from Trenton, where they had established their winter quarters. Washington and his troops surprised the Hessians. After a brief fight, the Continental Army captured over 800 Hessian soldiers. Historians credit this victory with improving colonists’ moral and helping the Continental Army sign on more recruits in the following weeks and months. A week or so later, Washington fought a smaller battle at Assunpick Creek, near Trenton. At this battle, Washington and his troops defended a position near the bridge over the creek and kept the British soldiers from crossing the creek.
As Washington journeyed to his inauguration over ten years after the battle, Trenton residents called attention to Washington’s battles in the area. At the bridge over the Assunpick, townspeople built an evergreen arch decorated with flags for Washington to pass through. This lithograph shows Washington in Trenton as a group of young girls in white dresses pay him tribute by strewing flowers in his path. In the distance, men doff their hats. The print shows the arch draped with a banner that reads, “The hero who defended the mothers [in] Decem 26, 1775 will protect the daughters." The motto linked Washington’s work as a military leader with his future role as United States President.
This print, designed by New York artist John Ludlow Morton (1792-1871) for Columbian Magazine, may have been based on the watercolor pictured below.
If you are interested in this and similar prints of scenes from American history, be sure to come to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library to enjoy a new exhibition, “The Art of American History,” which opens to the public Saturday, November 17, 2018.