Celebrating Washington’s Birthday

J.L. Bell reflects on some of the earliest celebrations of George Washington’s birthday.  Here is a taste:

There might have been a private celebration for the general at Valley Forge in 1778. At least, some regimental musicians got extra pay for some event that 22 February. But the public ceremonies didn’t take off until 1782, after the siege of Yorktown confirmed that Washington was worth celebrating. Rochambeau, the French commander, hosted a big dinner for the general that year.

Some Americans thought that celebrating Washington’s birthday was too reminiscent of the king’s birthday holiday under the monarchy. But the date grew in popularity, even as people weren’t sure when to celebrate. On 14 Feb 1790, Washington’s secretary Tobias Lear told Clement Biddle:

In reply to your wish to know the Presidents birthday it will be sufficient to observe that it is on the 11th of February Old Style; but the almanack makers have generally set it down opposite to the 11th day of February of the present Style; how far that may go towards establishing it on that day I dont know; but I could never consider it any otherways than as stealing so many days from his valuable life as is the difference between the old and the new Style.