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Capitol Plaza Trees Trees

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Historical Findings on the Capitol Grounds

One of the coolest finds our tree expert from Wood Rodgers identified is an American Elm tree marked with a historical plaque reading:


Washington first took command of the American Army under the grandparent of this elm at Cambridge, Mass. July 3, 1975

Raised and given by Maryland DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), marked by Nevada DAR. This tree is planted as part of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Washington 1732-1932







The Tree, the Myth, the Legend

Somewhere in the 1830s, it was rumored that the tree was the place Washington took command linked to the writing of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and The Diary of Dorothy Dudley in 1876. While no official documentation on Washington and the tree exists, plenty of historical lore ties the original tree to one of the greatest moments in American history!

 

Historical Context

On a warm summer day in 1775, the verdant grounds of Cambridge, Massachusetts, became the stage for a pivotal moment in American history. On July 3, George Washington officially took command of the Continental Army, marking a significant step in the colonies' quest for independence from British rule.


The Prelude to Command

The early months of 1775 were a period of rising tension and conflict between the American colonies and the British government. The battles of Lexington and Concord in April had ignited the Revolutionary War, and the colonial forces, mainly composed of militia and volunteers, desperately needed unified leadership. The Continental Congress, recognizing the necessity for a cohesive command structure, appointed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on June 15, 1775.


Washington, a Virginia planter and former British Army officer, was selected for his military experience and reputation for strong leadership and integrity. His appointment was also a strategic move to unite the colonies, as his Southern roots helped garner broader support for the cause.


The Arrival in Cambridge

Washington's journey from Philadelphia to Cambridge was met with hope and uncertainty. Upon his arrival on July 2, a motley assembly of colonial forces greeted him. The next day, July 3, 1775, legend has it that Washington formally assumed command in a ceremony under the iconic elm tree in Cambridge, known as the Washington Elm. A solemn recognition marked the immense responsibility lying ahead.


Dressed in a blue and buff uniform, Washington addressed the assembled troops and local spectators with a demeanor that exuded confidence and determination. His presence alone was a source of inspiration, symbolizing the colonies' commitment to liberty and the fight for self-governance.


The Washington Elm: A Symbol of Unity

The Washington Elm, under which Washington allegedly took command, became an enduring symbol of this historic moment. According to legend, it was beneath this very tree that Washington first drew his sword as Commander-in-Chief. While the exact details of the ceremony may be shrouded in myth, the elm grew to represent the unity and resolve of the American forces.


The tree stood as a living monument to the beginnings of American independence for many years. Unfortunately, the original Washington Elm succumbed to age and disease in 1923, when parks department workers in Cambridge reportedly removed some branches, causing the venerable old tree to come crashing down. The tree was cut into 1,000 pieces and many were sent to all states and their legislatures, and root shoots were distributed throughout the country.


While The Cambridge Historical Commission says the link to George Washington is a myth, they say it still stands for patriotism and its legacy continues through its descendants planted across the country as symbols of the enduring spirit of the American Revolution.


Challenges and Immediate Actions

Washington quickly began organizing the disparate and untrained forces into a semblance of a professional army. He faced numerous challenges, including inadequate supplies, lack of discipline, and the daunting task of coordinating the efforts of soldiers from different colonies with varying training and equipment levels.


One of his immediate priorities was establishing a discipline and order system. Washington issued general orders to improve sanitation, standardize drills, and enforce rules of conduct. He also began strategizing the defense of Boston, which was then under British occupation.


The Symbolic Importance

Washington's assumption of command in Cambridge was more than a mere military appointment; it was a powerful symbol of unity and resolve. It demonstrated to the American public and the British that the colonies were serious about their struggle for independence. Washington's leadership style, characterized by a blend of firmness and empathy, helped solidify his role as a unifying figurehead for the developing nation.


This event also set the stage for the protracted and arduous journey toward independence. Washington's leadership during the subsequent years of the Revolutionary War would prove crucial to the ultimate success of the American cause.


The Legacy of the Elm Tree

The legacy of the Washington Elm extends far beyond Cambridge. Notably, a grandchild of this iconic tree was gifted to the state of Nevada's Daughters of the American Revolution by the DAR of Maryland. This living descendant serves as a tangible link to the past, connecting contemporary Americans with the momentous events of 1775.


Planted with care and reverence, this elm in Nevada still stands as a tribute to Washington's enduring values of freedom and unity. It reminds us of the deep roots of American independence and the ongoing efforts to preserve the history and heritage of the nation's founding moments.


Daughters of the American Revolution and the Washington Elm Offshoots

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), an organization dedicated to preserving the American Revolution's legacy, played a significant role in ensuring the Washington Elm's legacy lived on. They undertook the initiative to propagate and distribute offshoots of the Washington Elm nationwide. These saplings, direct descendants of the historic tree, were gifted to various states and communities, including Nevada.


By planting these offshoots, the DAR aimed to create living memorials that would educate and inspire future generations about the sacrifices and ideals of the Revolutionary era. These trees are enduring symbols of the unity and perseverance that defined the struggle for American independence.


Legacy and Reflection

Reflecting on this historic moment, George Washington's command in Cambridge was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. His ability to transform a fledgling militia into a disciplined army was instrumental in the colonies' fight for independence. Washington's leadership laid the foundation for the principles and values shaping the United States of America.


As we remember July 3, 1775, we honor not only Washington's dedication and sacrifice but also the collective effort of the countless individuals who fought for a vision of a free and independent nation. Washington's command in Cambridge remains a testament to the enduring spirit of perseverance and unity that continues to define the American ethos. The grandchild of the Washington Elm, now standing in Nevada, and other offshoots across the country serve as living symbols of this legacy, bridging the past and the present with their storied branches.


Resources:

George Washington - Students | Britannica Kids | Homework Help. https://kids.britannica.com/students/assembly/view/261648



Harvard Political Review – Shadows of Revolution: The Forgotten Tale of the Washington Elm https://harvardpolitics.com/the-washington-elm/

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