On March 3, 1797, 14-year-old Ann Craft worked the final stitches on a patriotic sampler dedicated to the triumphs of then-president George Washington. She stitched a stanza from the hymn “A Song of Praise to God from United America,” originally published in 1783 and again in 1791 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Washington’s victory at the Siege of Yorktown:
Let Proud Cornwallis ben/d
the Knee Unto the
God of Victory Who Sna
Tched the Laurels he had
Won and Gave them Up
Ann’s reflection on Washington’s patriotic service came on his last day as President of the United States of America. The next morning, Saturday, March 4, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth administered the oath of office to John Adams as he was inaugurated the second President of the United States—America’s first peaceful transition of presidential power. With Adams ensconced in office, Washington would return to life as a private, though celebrated, citizen.
At 10:00 a.m., the Senate assembled on the second floor of Congress Hall in Philadelphia (then capital of the United States) to begin the proceedings. First on the day’s agenda was the swearing in of a new vice president. Pennsylvanian William Bingham, Senate President Pro Tempore, administered the oath of office to Thomas Jefferson, who requested the Senate downplay his new office as much as possible (a request that was obviously denied when Jefferson received a 16-gun salute upon his arrival in Philadelphia on March 2). Jefferson himself then administered the oath of office to eight newly elected senators. Jefferson made a short speech before the whole of the Senate ventured downstairs to the House of Representatives to attend the day’s main event, the inauguration of John Adams. Samuel Otis, secretary of the Senate, recorded the scene after Jefferson, along with the Senate, took their seats:
…the President of the United States…came into the chamber of the House of Representatives and took his seat in the chair usually occupied by the Speaker. The Vice President and Secretary of the Senate were seated in advance, inclining to the right of the President, the late Speaker of the House of Representatives and Clerk on the left, and the justices of the supreme court were seated around a table in front of the President of the United States. The late President of the United States, the great and good Washington, took a seat, as a private citizen, a little in front of the seats assigned for the Senate… members of the House of Representatives took their usual seats; a great concourse of both sexes being present. After a short pause, the President of the United States arose, and communicated (his) address…
Adams delivered a lengthy speech, in which he vowed allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, with his “mind prepared, without hesitation, to lay (himself) under the most solemn obligations to support it to the upmost” of his power. With that, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth administered the oath of office, and John Adams became the second president of the United States and George Washington, a private citizen. Writing home to Abigail, Adams’ own description of the day is more poignant than the official record:
Your dearest Friend never had a more trying day than Yesterday. A Solenm Scene it was indeed and it was made more affecting to me by the Presence of the General, whose Countenance was as serene and unclouded as the day. He Seem’d to me to enjoy a Tryumph over me. Methought I heard him think Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in! see which of Us will be happiest. When the Ceremony was over he came and made me a visit and cordially congratulated me and wished my Administration might be happy successful and honourable.
Though Ann Craft herself did not witness this momentous event, she was obviously aware of its importance as she selected a stanza honoring Washington to complete on her sampler the day before this transition of power to John Adams. What inspired 14-year-old Ann to stitch this particular verse, on the eve of this particular event?
Perhaps the Crafts resided in or around Philadelphia, where Adams’ inauguration would take place. It certainly would have been the talk of the town, though Adams’ inauguration was noted for its lack of pomp and circumstance, with the days surrounding it largely devoid of the showy displays of patriotism that accompanied Washington’s inaugural years (save Jefferson’s gun salute, of course). Regardless, Ann must have been aware of the upcoming event to select such a patriotic verse from an even lengthier patriotic work. Reverend David Tappan originally published the hymn “A Song of Praise to God from United America,” in 1783 to celebrate the Treaty of Paris. The Philadelphia publication The American Museum, or Universal Magazine republished the hymn in its entirety in its October 1791 issue, on the ten-year anniversary of Washington’s victory at Yorktown. When the American Magazine published the names of its subscribers in July 1787, “Gershom Craft, Esq., Burlington” appears on the list (Burlington, New Jersey is approximately 20 miles from Philadelphia). Whether or not Gershom was a relative of Ann’s who had a collection of American Magazine back issues, somehow Ann must have been exposed to Tappan’s hymn.
Of the hymn’s nine patriotic verses, which together tell the story of the American Revolution, Ann selected the seventh verse for her sampler—the only one to mention Washington by name.
By selecting and stitching these words Ann, just 14 years old, demonstrated her political—and patriotic—consciousness and identity, associating herself with the very event that would become the hallmark of American democracy. Herself born in 1783, Ann was growing up with the new nation. Beholding the country’s first peaceful transition of presidential power must have been a milestone in her young life, as it was for the life of her country. Acknowledging the landmark event and its significance for the new nation firmly rooted Ann as a product of the growing ideology of Republican Motherhood, wherein America’s young girls and women received a patriotic education, eventually to raise patriotic sons—placing the future and security of America’s fledging republic on the shoulders of women, including young Ann Craft.
As Washington passed the presidential baton to Adams in the nation’s first transition of power, Ann’s sampler represents not only her patriotic education, but also her own eventual transition of patriotic and political consciousness to the next generation.
Postscript: While the changeover from Washington to Adams was the first example of the peaceful transition of presidential power—the hallmark of American democracy—ironically, Adams himself refused to attend the inauguration of his successor and then-political rival, Thomas Jefferson. To date, only five presidents have declined to attend the inaugurations of their successors.
Katherine Egner Gruber
Special Exhibition Curator, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
“The Proceedings of the Senate at a session specially called, on Saturday, March 4, 1797,” Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, Volume 2, The Library of Congress
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 5 March 1797, Massachusetts Historical Society
Simon P. Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Street: Festive Culture in the Early American Republic, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010