HAMPSTEAD – Part of President George Washington’s southern journey in 1791 took him from New Bern to Wilmington. Along the way it is said that he rested under a Live Oak tree in the area that today is know as Hampstead.
A rededication of the marker that commemorates the tree was held on Saturday, Nov. 19, by the Stamp Defiance Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution out of Wilmington.
“This beautiful Live Oak tree that we stand under today is thought to be between 350 and 500 years old,” said DAR Regent Ruth-Anne Bolz at the ceremony.
Before the rededication the marker had been moved from between the tree and the road to a spot beside the tree because it had sunk into a depression in the earth.
Bolz told a bit of the history of the marker, saying that it had originally been placed under the tree in 1925 by the North Carolina Society Daughters of the Revolution.
“In Nov. 24, 1925 state officers, members of the Stamp Defiance and guests journeyed out to this location after earlier in the day dedicating a Washington Memorial Tree in Pembroke Jones Park on Market Street,” said Bolz.
That tree is no longer standing. The park eventually became a parking lot and tennis courts for New Hanover High School.
Bolz said that during the original unveiling of the marker for the George Washington Tree in Hampstead that Stamp Defiant Regent Margaret Lovell Gibson presided over the unveiling ceremony and State Regent Mary Margaret Overman Gregory was the main speaker.
Bolz recounted Gibson’s words explaining the location of the marker.
“In placing a tablet on this road so far from the city, we feel that some explanation is necessary. When the Stamp Defiance Chapter was asked to join the State DAR in marking Washington’s journey through North Carolina, we faced the fact that the New Hanover County Historic Commission had some years ago marked that section of Wilmington which we held sacred to the memory of George Washington.
“We therefore turned our attention to the road over which he came into Wilmington from New Bern.
“In choosing this particular site we know for a certainty one thing, if neighborhood tradition can be relied upon, that at least this portion of the road was that old road over which Washington truly traveled.
“We feel sure that he passed under this tree, though we do not accept without reservation the tradition that he may have eaten his lunch there. But we do know that beyond here about a mile once stood a mulberry tree grown from a switch used by Washington.
“We know that not far from this spot Washington was met by a party that escorted him into the city. We know that there were stopping places along this road, which Washington named in his diary,” said Gibson at the 1925 ceremony.
At Saturday’s rededication ceremony, Honorary Past Regent Marilyn Williams introduced guest state Representative Carolyn Justice.
“It is appropriate that the father of our country came through here,” said Rep. Justice. “He left behind an area of patriots.”
She noted the people of Pender County are not afraid to stand up for what is right.
Rep. Justice also recounted folklore about how Hampstead got its name, saying that when Washington stopped under the tree for lunch he was offered sausage but asked for ham instead.
Chapter Historian Bettie Lettieri then introduced the guest speaker, State Historian Lois Marlow.
“I feel honored to stand under the tree that George Washington stood under,” said Marlow.
She told of Washington’s travels through the South, which began March 21, 1791.
When he would get close to a destination, Washington would change into his ceremonial garb and ride his white horse Prescott into the city or town amidst great fanfare, said Marlow.
She noted that the roadway that was located near the tree in Revolutionary times was called the Kings Highway and went from Boston to Charleston.
After Marlow was done speaking the ceremony continued and the marker was unveiled.
An award of appreciation was given to Chad Kimes, the North Carolina Department of Transportation division engineer, who was instrumental in getting the marker moved to its new location.