- Historic Sites
Protégé Of Cornwallis, Guest Of Washington
August 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 5
Arriving in Philadelphia on May 11, though unwell “with a slight return of my Indian symptoms, ” Twining checked the condition of his animals, still grazing on Bingham’s lawn, and called on Dr. Ross and other friends. He then made his visit to President Washington. The product of the meeting was a remarkable close-up look at the hero of the age. He lived in a small red brick house on the left side of High Street, not much higher up than Fourth Street. There was nothing in the exterior of the house that denoted the rank of its possessor. Next door was a hairdresser. Having stated my object to a servant who came to the door, I was conducted up a neat but rather narrow staircase, carpeted in the middle, and was shown into a middling-sized, well-furnished drawing room on the left of the passage. … !here was nobody in the room, but in a minute Mrs. Washington came in, when I repeated the object of my calling, and put into her hands the letter for General Washington, and his miniature. She said she would deliver them to the President, and, inviting me to sit down, retired for that purpose. She soon returned, and said the President would come presently. Mrs. Washington was a middle sized lady, rather stout; her manner extremely kind and unaffected. She sat down on the sofa, and invited me to sit by her. I spoke of the pleasant days I had passed at Washington, and of the attentions I had received from her grand-daughter, Mrs. Law. While engaged in this conversation, but with my thoughts turned to the expected arrival of the General, the door opened, and Mrs. Washington and myself rising, she said, “The President,”and introduced me to him. Never did I feel more interest than at this moment, when I saw the tall, upright, venerable figure of this great man advancing towards me to take me by the hand. There was a seriousness in his manner which seemed to contribute to the impressive dignity of his person, without diminishing the confidence and ease which the benevolence of his countenance and the kindness of his address inspired. There are persons in whose appearance one looks in vain for the qualities they are known to possess, but the appearance of General Washington harmonized in a singular manner with the dignity and modesty of his public life. So completely did he look the great and good man he really was, that I felt rather respect than awe in his presence, and experienced neither the surprise nor disappointment with which a personal introduction to distinguished individuals is often accompanied. The General, having thanked me for the picture, requested me to sit down next the fire, Mrs. Washington being on the sofa on the other side, and himself taking a chair in the middle. He now inquired about my arrival in America, my voyage, my late journey, and his granddaughters, Mrs. Law and her sister, who had accompanied me to Alexandria. He asked me my opinion of that town, and seemed pleased with the account I gave of the extraordinary activity I had observed there. In the course of the conversation I mentioned the particular regard and respect with which Lord Cornwallis always spoke of him. He received this communication in the most courteous manner, inquired about his lordship, and expressed for him much esteem. … After sitting about three quarters of an hour, I rose to take my leave, when the General invited me to drink tea with him that evening. I regret to say that I declined this honor on account of some other engagement—a wrong and injudicious decision for which 1 have since reproached myself. No engagement should have prevented my accepting such an invitation. If forwardness on such occasions be displeasing, an excess of delicacy and reserve is scarcely less to be avoided. However, this private intercourse with one of the most unblemished characters that any country has produced had entirely satisfied me, and greatly exceeded my previous expectations, which had been limited to the usual transient introduction at a public levee. This, then, forms one of my most memorable days.
The main purpose of his visit was now realized, and Twining booked passage to England on an American ship, the Atlantic . Learning then that the sailing would be delayed for some days, he travelled to New York to visit a friend, Gabriel Shaw, with whom he had gone to school in England. Just beyond the Dutch town of Newark, “one of the neatest and prettiest towns I had seen,” the carriage went out of control on the steep road leading down to the wooden bridge over the Passaic River. Twining jumped to safety, suffering as a result a bad cut on his right leg.
He had his wound dressed by an apothecary in New York, rented a room in a boarding house near City Hall, and went out in search of his friend, whose address he did not know. When he found the house at last, he was dismayed to learn that Shaw had just left with friends on a “foot excursion” to West Point, there to pluck a blade of grass from the grave of Major John André, executed sixteen years earlier as a British spy.