Pomp and procession have graced Inauguration Day for the past two centuries. Yet no celebration of a president-elect's acceptance of this post can match the grandeur that surrounded George Washington's trip to New York in April 1789 and the subsequent inaugural ceremony at Federal Hall.

Washington's inaugural entry to New York City (LOC)

The journey to America's first capital by its first president was not only a national effusion of gratitude and admiration for the "Father of His Country,'' but a triumphal march for Americans themselves. In praising General Washington, the citizens were acknowledging victory over tyranny; in lauding President Washington they welcomed strength and purpose to the administration of their new government.

On April 16, 1789, George Washington, in a rare diary entry of this period, described his departure from home:

About ten o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Charles Thompson, [sic] and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.

For the next seven days, George Washington would be deluged with honorary dinners, speeches and revelries at almost every town along the road to New York.

view timeline of washington's inauguration day

Follow Washington's Journey to the Inauguration

1789
1789
Alexandria, Georgetown, and Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore and Havre de Grace
Wilmington
Chester and Philadelphia
Philadelphia and Trenton
Trenton, Princeton, Brunswick, and Woodbridge
Bridgetown, Elizabeth Town, and New York
President's Mansion in New York
Inauguration Day

April 16, 1789

Alexandria, Georgetown, and Baltimore

About 10 a.m.
Washington departs Mount Vernon with the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson and his former aide-de-camp, Col. David Humphries.
(Martha Washington departs a month later with her grandchildren; meanwhile, John Adams has completed a triumphal procession of his own, leaving Boston on April 13 and traveling via Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut to New York, where he arrives on April 16.)

About Noontime
Arrives in Alexandria and takes an early dinner at Wise's Tavern with citizens of the town. Address by the Mayor and the drinking of toasts. 

Late Afternoon
George Washington is escorted by some of his admirers up the Potomac and is ferried across the Potomac to Georgetown, where he is greeted by a large party of citizens of that town, who escort him along the post road in the direction of Baltimore.

Night
Spends night at Spurrier's Tavern, about 12 miles south of Baltimore.

Baltimore

Day
Departs Spurrier's Tavern and is soon met outside Baltimore "by a large body of respectable citizens on horseback, and conducted, under the discharge of cannon to Mr. Grant's Tavern (the Fountain Inn) through crowds of admiring spectators." The greeting party is led by Otho H. Williams and David Plunkett. Is presented with an address from the citizens of Baltimore.

Night
Spent at Grant's Tavern.

Baltimore and Havre de Grace

Early Morning
Departs Baltimore about 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. with the firing of an artillery salute. Is escorted about seven miles along the post road to Wilmington by a group of Baltimore citizens, at which point Washington asks his escort to return home, "after thanking them in an affectionate and obliging manner for their politeness."

Night
Probably spent in area of Havre de Grace.

Wilmington

Day
Met on borders of Delaware by a company from Wilmington.

Late Evening
Reaches Wilmington, where he spent the night.

Chester and Philadelphia

Early Morning
Either on the previous evening or early in the morning of the 20th, the Burgesses and Common Council of Wilmington present Washington with an address congratulating him on his election. Instead of the customary illumination of houses, the citizens of Wilmington celebrate Washington's visit by decorating a vessel on the Delaware River opposite.

Morning
Washington leaves Wilmington and is accompanied by his Delaware escort as far as the Pennsylvania border. There he is greeted by a military escort from Philadelphia and by state officials, war veterans, and others. Included among the officials are Thomas Mifflin and Richard Peters, two former members of the Board of War.

About 7 a.m.
Washington's party reaches Chester, where it stops for about two hours to breakfast at the Washington House.

9 a.m.
Leaves Chester and, ordering his carriage to the rear of the line, Washington mounts a white horse for his procession into Philadelphia. Thomson and Humphries also take individual mounts. As the procession moves towards the Schuylkill River, it increases in size; it is joined by contingents of cavalry and by a body of Philadelphia citizens, headed by General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory.

About 12 p.m.
Procession reaches Gray's Ferry Bridge on the Schuylkill, where Washington is surprised by an impressive scene: the bridge's span is decorated "with laurel and other evergreens," as well as the flags of the eleven states of the Union and other banners, carrying such mottoes as "The Rising Empire," and "Don't Tread on Me." All of this was accomplished by Mr. Gray and by the painter, Charles Willson Peale. At each end of the bridge is a classical arch, "composed of laurel, emblematic of the ancient triumphal arches used by the Romans."

Thousands of spectators have come out from Philadelphia to witness the crossing. As Washington passes under one of the arches, a child lowers a crown of laurel over his head (according to some reports, the child was Angelica Peale, daughter of the painter). At least 20,000 people line the road from Gray's Ferry Bridge into Philadelphia, and the procession swells in size as it nears the city.

1 p.m.
Enters Philadelphia, greeted by three discharges of artillery and salutes from the ships in the river. Proceeds down Market and Second Streets cheered by a boisterous throng, filling "the doors, windows and streets ... greater than on any other occasion we ever remember."

3 p.m.
Escorted to City Tavern on Second and Walnut Streets, Washington dines there with a party of 250; and party is entertained with band music, toasts, and more artillery salutes. Washington remains to the end of the festivities and "as usual captivated every heart."

Evening
Washington goes to home of Robert Morris on the south side of Market Street, Between 5th and 6th. Before retiring, he is entertained by a fireworks display.

Philadelphia and Trenton

Early Morning
Receives addresses from prominent residents of Philadelphia, including representatives of the Society of Cincinnatus, the President and Executive Council of Pennsylvania, Supreme Court Judges, and city officials.

About 10 a.m.
Departs in the rain for Trenton, declines escort by City Troops of Horse on account of the inclement weather. Proceeds northeast along post road along the Delaware River, through Frankford, Bristol, Bordentown to Trenton.

About 2 p.m.
Washington's party crosses the Delaware at Calvin's Ferry. At the Trenton Landing is met by military units and representatives of civic organizations. Enters city on white horse, greeted by the booming of cannon and cheers of large crowd.

Comes to the bridge across Assumpink Creek (just to the south of the city), which Washington had used in battle of Trenton twelve years before. Greeted at the bridge by a magnificent site: a triumphal arch with columns decorated in greenery covered the entrance of the bridge, with a large artificial sunflower capping the arch. While crossing the bridge Washington heralded by the group of women and girls, who sing for him an ode and strew flowers in his path. Thanking the women, Washington proceeds into Trenton and dines at Samuel Henry's City Tavern.

Night
Washington spends the night in Trenton at the home of a local citizen.

Trenton, Princeton, Brunswick, and Woodbridge

Early Morning
Washington departs Trenton and continues along post road through Maidenhead to Princeton, where he breakfasts.

Midday and Night
Leaves Princeton with a military escort and takes the "old road" to Brunswick, where he is met by the former Governor, William Livingston, who escorts him to Woodbridge, where he spends the night.

Bridgetown, Elizabeth Town, and New York

Early Morning
Leaves Woodbridge for Bridgetown, where his military escort is augmented, and proceeds along main road to Elizabeth Town, which he reaches between 8:00 and 9:00 a. m. He is received with "a Federal salute from the cannon" and stops at the public house of Samuel Smith, where he receives the congratulations of the Committee on Congress and citizens of the town. Breakfasts at the residence of Elias Boudinot, Chairman of the Committee.

Late Morning
Reaches Elizabeth Town Point. About noon steps aboard at 4 7 foot ceremonial barge, constructed for the occasion. Rowed by 13 Masters of Vessels, dressed in white uniforms and black caps, who serve as oarsmen. The barge is festooned with an awning and red curtains. Six other barges loaded with the Congressional delegates and other dignitaries, accompany him. The flotilla departs to the salute of artillery and moves across Newark Bay, up the Mouth of the Kills and past Bedler's Island.

As the ceremonial flotilla enters New York Harbor it is joined by other vessels. "Boat after Boat & Sloop after Sloop added to our Train gaily dressed in all their naval ornaments," with "a number of Porpoises ... playing amongst us." Washington is saluted with odes from spectators on the adjoining ships, including one to the tune of "God Save the King." All the adjacent shores crowded with cheering throngs. "The successive Motion of the hats, form the Battery to the Coffee House, was like the rolling motion of the sea, or a field of grain waving with the wind."

About 3:00 p.m.
Washington's barge arrives at Murray's Wharf, to the firing of a thirteen-gun salute and a series of huzzas among the vast throng. The ferry stairs are adorned with crimson drapery and carpet. Washington is welcomed by Governor Clinton and citizens, including many of his old comrades in arms.

With difficulty the military escort of Light Infantry and Grenadiers commanded by Colonel Morgan Lewis cuts a passage through the dense throng, as Washington proceeds on foot with Governor Clinton; Washington is wearing the patriotic blue and buff. He is followed by other state's officials, members of Congress, clergy, and citizens. The solemn procession makes its way from the Coffee House along Queen Street to Franklin House, at the corner of Cherry Street, the whole route jammed by cheering crowds, "the windows to the highest Stories were illuminated by the sparkling Eyes of innumerable Companies of Ladies.

Late Afternoon and Night
Washington receives well-wishers at a levee at Franklin House (3 Cherry Street). Wine and punch served.

President's Mansion in New York

President-elect George Washington resides at Franklin House and receives visitors for five days.

Inauguration Day

Sunrise
Discharge of artillery from Ft. George near Bowling Green.

9 a.m.
Bells of the city's churches ring for half an hour.

12:30 p.m.
Military escort sent to Franklin House: full ceremonial procession departs for Federal Hall via Queen (Pearl), Great Dock, and Broad Streets. Colonel Morgan serves as Grand Marshall; followed by a military contingent of 500, including a troop of horse, artillery, two companies of Grenadiers, a company of light infantry, and a company of Scottish Highlanders in traditional garb.

Washington travels in a state coach, accompanied by the Senate Committee, Committee of the House, Chancellor Robert Livingston, the French and Spanish ministers, and a multitude of ordinary citizens.

1 p.m.
Procession arrives at Federal Hall. Military units drawn up; on two sides to provide avenue for the President-elect and his party. Washington proceeds to Senate Chamber. Is presented to both Houses and conducted to his chair by Vice President John Adams. Informed by Adams that both Houses are ready to attend him to take the oath of office.

Washington escorted to the outer balcony in front of the Senate Chamber, looking out on Broad Street. Balcony bedecked with a canopy and with curtains of red and white. Balcony has a table and an arm chair for the President-elect. Washington appears to the cheers of the crowd below. He is dressed in a Hartford-made dark brown suit with brass buttons decorated with eagles, dress sword, and shoes with plain silver buckles. Chancellor Livingston, who will administer the oath, is dressed in a black suit and his official robe.

2 p.m.
Taking of the oath. A Masonic Bible acquired at the last minute from St. John's Lodge nearly, rests on a red velvet pillow. Washington takes the oath and with his hand over his heart and kisses the Bible. Livingston proclaims Washington's presidency to the crowd. Greeted by cheers, peeling of bells and a cannonade from the harbor. The new President bows to the crowd and then retires to the Senate Chamber, where he delivers his inaugural address.

Mid Afternoon
Inaugural party proceeds to St. Paul's Church, where Divine Service and Te Deum are celebrated, the celebration led by the Episcopal Bishop of New York (and Chaplain of the Senate). Washington then returns to Franklin House.

Evening
The day ends with illuminations, fireworks, and theatrical displays. Washington watches the fireworks from Livingston's house. Returns home at 10:00 p.m.

Buy Tickets What to See Calendar Shop Restaurant Donate Membership
Estate Hours

Open today from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

iconDirections & Parking
buy tickets online & save