History

A HISTORY OF THE SONS OF THE REVOLUTION IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (MARCH 1964)

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by John B. Gordon1

The Society of the Sons of the Revolution was instituted in the State of New York on the anniversary of the birthday of George Washington, February 22,
1876, largely by members of the Society of the Cincin­
nati, and reorganized on the present basis on
December 4, 1883. Following the organization of the
New York Society, similar societies were formed in
other States. The second such society was the
Pennsylvania Society instituted on April 3, 1888.

On March 11, 1889, 75 years ago today, distin­ guished gentlemen residing in Washington, DC and its environs presented a petition to the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York at a special meet­ ing held at Fraunces Tavern requesting authority to organize and incorporate a branch of the Society in the District of Columbia. It was moved and seconded that the petition be granted and it was voted that the auxiliary branch in the District of Columbia be re­ ceived into full fellowship in the Society.

The initial meeting of the Sons of the Revolu­
tion in the District of Columbia was held on December
3, 1889 at the horne of Lieutenant Commander Theodorus
Bailey Myers Mason at 1606 Twentieth Street, North
West. At this meeting John Lee Carroll, a former Governor of the State of Maryland, was elected Presi­ dent.· Lieutenant Commander Mason was elected Vice
President and Arthur Henry Dutton was elected Secre­ tary-Treasurer. Nicholas Longworth Anderson, Archi­ bald Hopkins and Daniel Morgan Taylor were elected to the Board of Governors for the year 1890.

A bronze tablet commemorating the above facts was placed on the Southeast wall of the Mason House on April 19, 1917 during the Presidency of Brigadier
General George Richards, U.S.M.C. The tablet remained there through the time that 1606 20th Street was
occupied by successive owners and apparently disap­peared during recent years prior to its purchase by its present owners, a real estate firm, which states

1He was born June 22, 1889, elected January 11,
1924, and died July 6, 1964.

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that 1606 was a boarding house when they purchased it. The metal grid which held the tablet in place s ill remains in the brick of the South wall of 1606.

The Sons of the Revolution in the District of Columbia was incorporated under the laws of the Dis­ trict of Columbia on December 18, 1889. The Certifi­ cate of Incorporation states in part “That the particular business and objects of our said Society (the members of which are to be those only who are lineal descendants of those soldiers, sailors, and officials. of the Civil Government who served in the Cause of American Independence during the War of the Revolution between the years 1775 and 1783) are to foster the memories of the Revolutionary period, and
qy social intercourse to encourage the spirit and
sentiments, and by meetings and otherwise, to commemo­
rate the patriotic deeds of our ancestors; and to
gather, publish and preserve the family records and
personal memories of those who participated in the war
for American Independence; and that the operations of
our said Society are to be carried on within the
District of Columbia.”

In due course, a General Society of the “Sons of the Revolution” was formed, upon the basis of the Society of the Cincinnati with a constitution from the pen of Judge Sims, the President. of the State SoGiety of the Cincinnati in New Jersey. This constitut1on
was adopted by the representatives of the Societies of
the Sons of .the Revolution of New York, Pennsylvania
and the District of Columbia in Washington, DC on
April 19, 1890. A tablet on the wall of the Bowen
Building at 819 Fifteenth Street, NW, on the side of the building adjacent to the Liberty Branch of the
National Bank of Washington, marks the site of the
Chamberlain Hotel, a famous Inn of the late 19th Cen­
tury and early 20th, where the meeting was held.3
The
constitution adopted at this meeting governs the pro­ cedure in the pres nt 21 State Societies of the Sons of the Revolution.

2
It too has now been removed.

3
The plaque on the Bowen Building placed by the
General Society on April 19, 1947 replaced the one
first put up on 823 15th Street, Chamberlain’s Hotel,
on April 19, 1923 in commemoration of the April 19,
1890 meeting.

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John Lee Carroll, the first President of the District of Columbia Society, was elected as the first General President of the General Society. He served for four years. ·He was succeeded as President of the District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the Revolution by Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court David Josiah Brewer.

Over the 75 year period of the District of Columbia Society’s existence, it has had three princi­ pal meeting places, viz: the Willard Hotel, the Army and Navy Club and the Chevy Chase Club. The Univer­ sity Club also appears frequently in the records as
the meeting place of the Board of Managers.

The Willard had a mahogany finished banquet hall paralleling its Peacock Alley on the F Street side of the building, with magnificent chandeliers. It was just the right size to accommodate the
Society’s Annual Dinner. The cuisine was of the best. The Manager of the Willard Hotel, FrankS. Hight
(father of our immediate Past President) was a member of the Board of Managers over a period of many years.

One of these annual dinners, held during the regime of Calvin Coolidge as President of the United States, comes particularly to my mind because of the Rupert Hughes -Albion K. Parris, Sr. imbroglio. Hughes was a writer of some note. Mr. Parris was a Past President of the District of Columbia Society.

Hughes was the author of a book on George Washington which it was apparent that the Chairman of the Program Committee had not read. Following his introduction which extolled Mr. Hughes as an authority on George Washington, Hughes arose and said “You gentlemen are Sons of the Revolution. I am a member
of the Sons of B’s.” He did not however abbreviate
the term.

Midstream in his discourse, Mr. Hughes ran
afoul of Mr. Parris by alleging that George Washington
had affairs with various ladies. Mr. Parris arose and
said that Hughes’ entire speech should be stricken
from the record. When the meeting was adjourned
Hughes followed Mr. Parris out into Peacock Alley
saying that he had meant only to show that General
Washington was a human individual and not the aloof
person which history pictured him but Mr. Parris said
“You, sir, are a scoundrel and I want no part of your
speech in the record.”

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Since newspaper men were waiting outside the banquet hall to garner some news they made quite a story of the episode and in due course one or more of the White House correspondents asked President Coolidge what he thought of Hughes• remarks about George Washington. Mr. Coolidge listened intently and then turned around in his swivel chair to look
out of the window back of him. He then turned back to the newspaper man and said, · ell, I see that his monument is still standing.”

I know. of no particular story associated with the many S. R. meetings held at the Army and Navy Club. However, if you enter the front door of the building on I Street and walk down the hallway to the desk where members register in their guests you will note a head and bust of George Washington after Sar­ gent’s Engraving of Gilbert Stuart’s painting. Fastened to it by two chains is a brass plaque which carries the following inscription:

“Presented·by the Sons of the Revolution in the District of Columbia to the Army and Navy Club, April 30, 1919; in commemoration of the One Hundred and Thirtieth Anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States.”

The painting was presented during the tenure in office of Brigadier General George Richards, U.S.M.C., who was President of the District of
Columbia Society of the Sons of the Revolution for the
10 year period from 1916 to 1926. At the time of the
presentation General Richards was Vice President of
the Army and Navy Club. Present besides members of the Sons of the Revolution were the members of the
Army and Navy Club, headed by its President, General Frank Mcintyre. Gaillard Hunt of the State Depart­ ment, a formerS. R. President, spoke for the Sons of the Revolution. The title’of his address was “George
.washington, the Nationalist.”

Highlight of the association of the Sons of the Revolution with the Chevy Chase Club has been the presence of the distaff side of the families of the members of the Sons of the Revolution in the District
. of Columbia who have been present at all dinners there.
The downtown meetings have most generally been stag affairs.

The peak of the membership rolls of the Dis­
trict of Columbia Society came in 1930 when Dr. Thomas

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Edward Green, for many years Chaplain of the Society, became its·President. In that year the rosters showed a membership of 421.

The Sons of the Revolution in the District of
Columbia were hosts to the General Society, Sons of
. the Revolution, on June 14 and 15 in 1934 which was
44 years after the organization of the General Society at Chamberlain’s Hotel in Washington, DC. One of the
important meetings of the General Society, occupying the greater part of a day,·was held in the Old Presby­ terian Meeting House in Alexandria. This was because the District of Columbia Society and members of the
S. R. State Societies throughout the United States had
an important part in the restoration of this historic
old colonial church built in the Georgian period in
1774 which remains as one of the priceless relics of
the hardy race of Scot pioneers of Northern Virginia.

This quaint structure with its atmosphere of Colonial days is a veritable Masonic Westminster Abbey, for in the churchyard are buried thirty fellow
Masons of George Washington who was the first Worship­
ful Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. These fellow Masons of General Washington who are
buried in the Presbyterian Meeting House churchyard were members of the funeral lodge which conducted the
burial services of George washington and who as pall­ .
bearers carried his body to its tomb at Mount Vernon.
John Carlyle, General Braddock’s Quartermaster on his
ill fated march to Fort Duquesne, is buried there.·

One of the most colorful figures of Colonial and Revolutionary days, Dr. James Craik, friend and personal physician of George Washington and first Surgeon General of the United States Army, rests here. Dr. Craik ministered to the dying British Gene al, Braddock, after the ambush of the Monongahela. He
was at the death of John Custis, Mrs. Washington’s
son, at Eltham after Yorktown and dressed Lafayette’s
wounds at Brandywine. He was with George Washington
when he passed into the great beyond and closed the
eyes of Martha Washington in her last sleep. He was,
perhaps, the most intimate friend of George Washing­
ton, who refers to him in his diaries as “My old
and intimate friend, Dr. Craik.”

The old churchyard is also the last resting place of many Revolutionary soldiers, one of whom is

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the “Unknown Soldier of the Revolution.” The first line of the inscription on this tomb reads:

“Here lies a soldier hero of. the Revolution whose identity is known but to God.”

Chief Justice John Marshall and Francis Scott
Key delivered orations in the old Meeting House.

‘·’,:
On January 24, 1927, Dr. Marcus Benjamin, then President of the District of Columbia Society, ap­ pointed a committee of members of the Society with full powers to rehabilitate the Old Presbyterian Meeting House of Alexandria as well as its adjoining churchyard. The personnel of this Committee con­ sisted of the following: Brigadier General George Richards, U.S.M.C., Honorary Chairman; John B.
Gordon, Chairman; Bruce E. Clark; Colonel Robert N.
Harper; Robert V. Fleming, Treasurer; Charles P. Light, Sr.; Captain Conway W. Cooke and Brigadier General Dion S. Williams, U.S.M.C.

This Committee raised the money from District Society members and members of Chapters throughout the United States, put a new slate roof on the Old Meeting House, retrieved a large number of the old colonial pews from a darky church in exchange for new pews and built a massive brick wall with iron gratings around the old church. A bronze tablet affixed to the wall near the tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier gives credit to the Sons of the Revolution.

The Golden Jubilee Banquet of the District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the Revolution was held on the evening of March 11, 1939 at the Willard Hotel. The United States Navy Band Orchestra fur­ nished a musical program. Charles Colfax Long, President of the District of Columbia Society, presided.

An address entitled “A few recollections of Fifty Years· of History” was given by Colonel Barry Bulkley. Other speakers were Major General Allen W. Gullion, the Judge Advocate General of the U. S. Army, and Brigadier General George Richards, U.S.M.C.

Church services commemorative of the Birth of George Washington were the order of the day over a period of years by the Sons of the Revolution on the Sunday preceding February 22nd. They were held at

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4:00 P.M. commonly at the Church of the Epiphany, witt St. John’s Episcopal Church ranking next, for the very good reason that the Reverend Randolph H. McKim, Chaplain of the Sons of the Revolution in the District of Columbia, was Rector of the Church of the Epiphany for many years. If my memory is correct, the Reverend Dr. McKim had been a soldier in the Confederate Army
in his youth. On the occasion of the February 19,
1933, S. R. service, the Reverend Dr. McKim had ex­
pected to preach the commemorative sermon and he had
prepared the Order of Service. But when the appointee
Sabbath had arrived the Reverend Dr. McKim had passed
on into the great beyond. The Order of Service as
prepared by the Reverend Dr. McKim was followed in
precise detail.

Joint Celebration of George Washington’s Birthday

It is presently the custom of the four heredi­ tary Socie ies in the District of Columbia stemming from the Revolutionary War to jointly celebrate
George Washington’s Birthday. This informal group
first acted in concert on February 22, 1916 at
Continental Memorial Hall.

Prior to 1916 the Sons of the Revolution was accustomed to celebrate George Washington’s birthday in its own unique way. For illustration, I quote fran the records of Colonel George Richards, the Secretary of the Society in 1914. “The 182nd anniversary of
the birth of George washington was publicly commemo­
rated by a meeting held at the new National Theatre
on Sunday, February 22, 1914 at 3:00 P.M. with Colone:
Henry May, the President, in the chair. This meeting
was exceedingly well attended by the general public,
by members of the Society and the invited guests. ThE
Society was especially honored on this occasion by.thE
attendance of the President of the United States, the
Honorable Woodrow Wilson, and its guests included the French Ambassador, Mr. J. J. Jusserand, the Secretary of State, the Honorable William Jennings Bryan, and the Secretary of War, the Honorable L. M. Garrison. The other guests included a long list of persons prominent in official circles. The Orator of the day was the Honorable Joseph W. Folk (former Governor of Missouri), then the Solicitor for the Department of State, who delivered an admirable address on the
‘Ideals of George Washington.’

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“At 3 o’clock, the hour set for the opening of the Exercises, four trumpeters at the entrance to the theatre sounded the signal announcing the arrival of President Wilson. As the audience, that filled every available inch of space in the auditorium, rose in honor of the Chief Executive, the Marine Band, on the stage, played ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ As Presi­ dent Wilson approached the stage the strains softened and gave way to the stirring music of the ‘Marseil­ laise,’ the National Anthem of France. This, with
the French colors interwoven with the red, white and blue and the Stars and Stripes, in the scheme of decorations, was intended as a tribute to the part played by France in helping to bring ab ut the final overthrow of British power in the Colonies and was expressed as a compliment to the French Republic represented by Ambassador Jusserand and the attaches of the French Embassy present in the audience.

“Following the invocation, the band played
‘Dixie,’ the audience cheering until the volume of
applause almost drowned the music.

“Mr. Barry Bulkley, a member of the Society, read the address of Richard Henry Lee to the Congress of the United States that feature being followed by the oration of the day by Mr. Folk, the former Gov­ ernor of Missouri.”

After 8 years of quite friendly relations with the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution- in the joint celebration
of the natal day of the Father of our Country, the
informal group almost flew apart. This was in re­ spect to the city wide celebration of George Washington’s birthday in 1925.

A letter was written by the Honorable Cuno H. Rudolph, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, in September of 1924 to about 80 Patriotic, Civic, Fraternal and Veterans organizations inviting them to participate in a single mammoth ceremony to commemorate the anniver­ sary of the birth of George Washington in the District of Columbia and to put forth a Joint Cele­ bration in the National Capital which would be a credit to the nation. General George Richards, the then President of the Sons of the Revolution in the District of Columbia, and the Presidents of the DAR and SAR each received a personal letter from

1’J

Commissioner Rudolph and at his request the three Societies appointed delegations to represent the War of the Revolution upon behalf of their National and local organizations. These delegates met on December
12, 1924 with 150 delegates from other organizations.
The meeting created a Committee of Twenty-Five with power to arrange for the Bi-Centennial Celebration. This Committee elected General George Ri.chards as the
D.C. Celebration Chairman and selected the newly completed Washington Auditorium (which the wreckers have just demolished) as the place where the Com­ memoration exercises would be held.

At this point General Richards was informed by the Presidents of the SAR and the DAR that they had decided to adhere to their accustomed Celebration of George Washington’s Birthday at Continental Memorial Hall. When it was explained that the delegates of the two Societies had been instructed merely to function as observers the atmosphere cleared.
\

The District of Columbia Celebration proceeded at the Washington Auditorium on February 2 , 1925 under the Chairmanship of Brigadier General Richards.
Over five thousand people were in attendance. Eighty­
two organizations participated. The program was
broadcast over a Nation-wide hook-up.

The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Managers as held March 11, 1927 show “That the 3rd Official Public Celebration of George Washington’s Birthday by the District of Columbia, as held a·t Poli’s Theatre the morning of February 22, 1927 under the auspices of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia and of which this Society was one of the
80-odd participating organizations, was very success­
ful. Also that the gold medal offered by the Sons of
the Revolution to the pupils of the Public and Private
Schools in the District of Columbia for the best essay
on the Revolutionary topic, ‘William Pitt; Lord
Chatham, His Services for America’s Welfare,• was
awarded to Miss Adelaide Emley of Gunston Hall School.”

The official D.C. Celebration commemorating
the 196th Anniversary of the birth of George Washing­
ton was held at the National Theatre with General
Richards acting as Chairman. Eighty-nine patriotic,
historical, fraternal, civic and other organizations
participated. Senators David Walsh of Massachusetts
and Simeon D. Fess of Ohio were the speakers. The

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S.R. gold meda1 for the winner of the Essay Contest was presentedGenera1 John J. Pershing, with congratulatory remarks to Miss Margaret Elizabeth Moffett, of Hiss Eastman’s School. The exercises were broadcast nationally.

When the !89th Anniversary of the Birth of
George Washington was celebrated on February 22, 1930,
Genera1 George Richards had resigned as Chairman of
the District of Columbia Annual Ceremony. Dr. Thomas
Edward Green, his successor as President, decided to
renew the Sons of the Revolution association with the
DAR, SAR and CAR which lapsed in 1925. Thus after a
lapse of five years, this amicable asso iation has
continued for the intervening 34 years.

The Annual Presentation of a Gold Medal to Senior High School Students for the best essay on the “Greatest Event of the American Revolution” was
always made at these February 22nd Washington Birth­ day Celebrations. For instance, the Society’s Gold Medal -was presented to Clarence J.· Ramling,· a student of the McKinley Manual Training School as a feature
of the S.R. Exercises which President Woodrow Wilson attended in 1914.

President Wilson was not the only Chief Execu­ tive to attend a Sons of the Revolution function in the District of Columbia. Another was Franklin
Delano Roosevelt. However, he was not then President of the United States but Assistant Secretary of the Navy. At a meeting on January 27, 1914 he addressed the Society on “The Important Services of Admiral Francois Paul Joseph de Grasse to the cause of the American Revolution.”

For a number of years the Sons of the Revolu­ tion followed the practice of decorating the monuments of. heroes of the Revolution, such as John Paul Jones, Rochambeau, Lafayette, Commodore Barry, General Nathanael Greene, Benjamin Franklin, Alex­ ander Hamilton, and others on the anniversary of

4
After a lapse in participation since 1964,
this Society rejoined the SAR, DAR and CAR in Febru­
ary 1976 to commemorate the birth of George
Washington.

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their natal day. On the occasion when Lafayette was honored President Coolidge sent flowers, care of General Richards, the S.R. President. When French heroes were honored the Ambassador of France could be expected to turn out. In those days Washington was less sophisticated. One can not imagine Secretary McNainara·helping’lay a wreath.

The Scins of the Revolution in the District of Columbia have followed a consistent course in actively supporting patriotic movements. Over the long period of years when Wakefield; the birth place of George Washington, was neglected, the Sons of the Revolution was importuning the Federal Government and the State
of Virginia to act to preserve the site. The Society was equally’insistent in its support of the reha’bili­ tation of Yorktown. It agitated for the establishment of a monument at Bladensburg. It ordered a bronze
tablet.erected 5o mak the terminus in connection with the c&o canal lead to consultations between States which terminated in the:formulation of the.Constitution of the United States.

5 .
The C&O Canal marker at 17th and B Streets to
mark the terminus of the canal was placed by 1930.

More recently in”l971 the Society placed a plaque on the grave of Major (later Colonel)George Beall, Jr. of the Montgomery County Maryland Militia
1777, who is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.