“I’ll be home for Christmas.” A catchy, albeit melancholy holiday tune. Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago this month, General George Washington sat inside his cold command tent and promised his long-suffering wife Martha that he would indeed be home for Christmas.
If he made it home, it would be the first time in over a decade. Since being commissioned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army following the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, Washington had served his country constantly, never leaving the field of battle.
As they sat in his tent in Newburgh, New York, Washington reluctantly rose and sent Martha on ahead to Mt. Vernon, reassuring her that he would be home in time to pour the Christmas cordial in her glass.
For his part, the retiring general faced enduring a month-long journey before he would see her again. If Washington was going to keep his promise, he had a few important tasks to accomplish. He was to accept the transfer of control of New York City from the English, say goodbye to his men, and probably most important in Washington’s mind, he would officially resign his commission and give his final report to Congress then meeting in Annapolis, Maryland — and he would do it all in less than one month. The first stop on the road home was New York City.
On September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was ratified by British negotiators in France, and the wheels of the occupiers’ departure from the newly recognized American Republic were set in motion. Although British troops occupied forts in America for another decade, in New York City, the redcoats gladly evacuated their American barracks and outposts, boarding ships bound for their longed-for island home.
While accomplishing his necessary duties in New York, Washington delivered the first of several farewells. This one was to what remained of his cadre of commanders and took place on December 4, 1783, at the popular public house, Fraunces Tavern.
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Painting: General George Washington Resigning His Commission, by John Trumbull