Revolutionary War Historical Article
General George Washington - Angler
Fish Trembled at the Sound of His Name
By Donald N. Moran
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the November 2000 Edition of the Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter
Most of the biographers of George Washington's life mention that he displayed a boyhood love for sports, particularly athletics. He did not give up these activities in his later years, but only limited them as his aging body required. He was known as one of the greatest horseman in the colonies, and his fondness for fox hunting bordered on being a passion. But, no one has pointed out that he was an ardent fisherman! Buried in various musty archives is a record of this interest.
Few will dispute that there would be no United States of America without Washington. Duty was always first with the Father of our County - but he was still a man and loved his diversions.
As President of the 1787 Federal Convention in Philadelphia he presided over one of the greatest collection of minds ever assembled. That duty had to be extremely difficult. After two months a special "Committee of Detail" was created to prepare and report the results of the deliberation in the form of a Constitution. The Convention then adjourned on Thursday, July 26th, to reassemble on Monday, August 6th. It was reported in the Philadelphia newspapers that on July 30th, 1787, Washington went to Valley Forge to visit his former headquarters. He stayed at Moore Hall, which was the mansion owned by the late William Moore, three miles from Valley Forge. But visiting his old haunts was not his only objective. In his own words, taken from his diary, George Washington wrote: "Monday, 30th, July. In company with Mr. Govern' Morris went into the neighborhood of Valley Forge to Widow Moore's a fishing at who house we lodged ".
"Tuesday, 31st, July. Before Breakfast I rode to Valley Forge and over the whole cantonment & works of the American Army in the winter of 1777-1778 and on my return to the Widow Moore's found Mr. & Mrs. Rob' Morris. Spent the day there fishing & lodged at the same place."
"Wednesday, August 1st, Returned ab' 11 o'clock with the above company to Philadelphia".
"Friday August 3rd, 1787. Went to Trenton on a Fishing Party with Mr. & Mrs Rob' Morris & Mr. Gov' Morris. Dined and lodged at Col'. Sam Ogden's - In the evening fished".
During his Presidential Tour of New England, in 1789, Washington traveled as far north as Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Viewing the Atlantic Ocean was too much to resist. In a small boat, President Washington tried his hand at salt water fishing. The entry in his diary read: "On Monday, November 2nd, 1789, Having lines, we proceed to the fishing banks a little without the harbor and fished for Cod; but it not being proper time of the tide, we only caught two, with w'ch, about 1 o'clock, we returned to town."
There is evidence that Washington caught one of the cod himself. South Carolinian John Drayton, who was visiting Portsmouth made the following statement in a letter home: "When the President of the United States was here, instead of wedding the seas as the Doge of Venice does, he may be said to have received a tribute from it; for, I am informed, he caught a codfish himself, when indulging in one of these parties".
During his Presidency, a dispute arose between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. President Washington took the two on a fishing trip on the Delaware River. He refused to row them ashore until they resolved their differences. It worked, at least temporarily. A fishing trip? A delightful political ploy.
One can not help but wonder how many fishing trips George Washington made before the war, during the war and while in office, let alone after he retired, that were not recorded.
Was the lack of details, as to the number and size of the fish caught, the result of not catching any, or was telling 'fish stories' a taboo in the 18th century. Or, could it be that the Father of our County could not tell a lie?