History Corner: George Washington Did Sleep Here
Last week, the Owl received the Needham History Center’s periodic newsletter and was sucked in by the fabulous title “Oops- Corrections! George Washington Never Slept Here.” If you have not signed up for NHC’s newsletter, do it right now–Gloria Greis is one heckuva writer and storyteller and you will immediately get sucked into the story about how George enjoyed halcyon days in New England where the weather was infinitely colder than it is today.
My favorite mathy part of this particular story is when she estimates that Washington slept 3,100 nights not in his own bed. Talk about loyalty points! Alas, no Marriott Rewards in those days. At the risk of cutting to the chase, but actually cutting to the chase, Washington never spent one of those 3,100 nights in Needham. Yes, he passed through, enjoyed some Thai food and a drink of water at a shady elm tree then moseyed on over to Sherborn by way of the Sherborn Turnpike–which henceforth became known as Washington Street. Most of this, minus the Thai food, is true.
The Owl then got curious about Washington in Weston. Some of you eagle-eyed folks might have noticed a giant stone marker (seriously, if you haven’t noticed it, it is time to get out and walk once in a while. It’s right there by the JST) saying that Washington passed by that spot on the way to Cambridge, again looking for ethnic food. Sometimes I think it a miracle that Pam Fox, town historian, even answers my emails anymore. By the way, this is a new marker–the original one got hit by a car and smashed into itty bits.
But did Washington actually pull up a pillow in Weston? And where did he do that? At the JoSTice? At the Golden Ball Tavern, notorious Loyalist hotspot? Let’s get the actual factual facts on this from Pam, who did indeed write me back on November 4.
George Washington traveled twice through Weston. And one night he really did sleep here. Not at one of our existing taverns but at the
Hampton Inn Flagg Tavern, which once stood on Boston Post Road where No. 725 is today.
While Washington passed through Weston in June 1775 on his way to Cambridge to take command of the Patriot army,
he was a repeat visitor in October 23, 1789, on his inaugural journey through New England. That’s when he slept at John Flagg’s place and wrote this highly illuminating note in his journal: “Dressed by seven o’clock and set out at eight.” He left a four-star review on Trip Advisor with no other comment.
Having Washington as an overnight guest definitely added to the cache of a village tavern. In the summer of 1794, Henry Wansey, an Englishman traveling from Boston by stagecoach, stopped at the Flagg Tavern for breakfast and described his over-priced fare: “We…had brought in for our breakfasts, beef-stakes, coffee, bacon and eggs, and veal cutlets, with toast and butter; the very sight of these things took away my appetite, the weather being intensely hot. Captain Flagg charged us two shillings a head for our déjeune which we thought dear. We paid the dearer, I suppose, because General Washington had been entertained, and slept at his house.” And so you see the so-called “Weston tax” has been in place for a very very long time.
The Flagg Tavern operated through the mid-19th century and burned to the ground in 1902.
To read all about Washington’s night out in Weston, and to learn about the taverns where he didn’t sleep, visit the Weston Historical Society’s excellent exhibit at the Josiah Smith Tavern. The next opportunity is an open house on Wednesday, November 9 from 5 to 7. Pam Fox will give a gallery talk at 5:30 pm, and refreshments will be served.