Washington Takes Command Of the Continental Army

US #617 pictures Washington taking command of his troops at Cambridge on this day in 1775. Click image to order.

On July 3, 1775, George Washington took command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As America fought its war for independence against the British, it was decided that a commander in chief was needed to lead the newly established Continental Army.  Several men were considered, including John Hancock. 

US #706 was based on Virginia Colonel by Charles Willson Peale. Click image to order.

Washington was among those in consideration and he arrived at the Second Continental Congress in full military uniform, signaling his intention to fight in the war.  While some argued against Washington, the Continental Congress ultimately decided that his Virginian roots would help garner support from the southern colonies.  Washington was officially appointed the commander of the Continental Army on June 16.  In his acceptance speech, he said, “I am truly sensible of the high Honor done to me in this appointment…  I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.

US #708 is based on a 1777 portrait by Peale. Click image to order.

Although he was faced with the very real threat of death, either in battle or following a conviction for treason, Washington refused compensation for his service and asked only to have his expenses reimbursed.  Within days of receiving his commission, Washington left for Massachusetts, where his army awaited. 

On July 3, 1775, Washington officially took command of the 14,500-member Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, riding out ahead of them and drawing his sword.  Many of the troops were suspicious of the outsider they’d never heard of.  But Washington was determined to transform the ragtag band of undisciplined men into a well-structured army.  At Cambridge, it was evident that Washington possessed the leadership qualities to guide America through her fight for Independence.

The Washington at Cambridge Stamp

US #617-19 were issued for the 150th anniversary of the war.  Click image to order.

The 1925 Washington at Cambridge stamp is part of the Lexington-Concord Issue, which was the first set of US postage stamps to honor the War of Independence.  Although part of the Lexington-Concord issue, US #617 pictures General George Washington leading colonial forces at Cambridge Common on July 3, 1775.  This was two-and-a-half months after the battles at Lexington and Concord.  A driving factor for this scene’s inclusion in the set was due to the famed “Washington Elm.”  According to legend, Washington stood under the elm tree as he took command of the Continental Army.

Over the years, the tree was badly damaged and was accidentally knocked over during repair attempts in 1923.  Revolutionary War scholars debate the historical accuracy of the scene pictured on this stamp.  Some protest that the army would have been too busy and not properly trained to assemble in the way shown.  Whether the story is true or not, a plaque stands where the tree once did, according to the Cambridge Historical Commission, “not because Washington ever stood there, but as a monument to a belief.”

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  1. Thanks Mystic. I appreciate reading about some facts (and maybe some myths) of the early struggles of our nation that are new to me. Again, well done Mystic.

  2. Washington’s desire to have a British Commission was always denied, although his older half brother had one. His was always a commission given by the local area officials–not the King, even though he supported the British officials in America in the French & Indian Wars preceding the revolution. Perhaps that made him a real supporter for the independence from Britain and the best person to understand the British Army.

  3. As we approach Independence Day can we wish that modern day politicians of whatever leaning take a few moments to reflect on the qualities of George Washington. Had he been infected with the same egomania current politicians suffer from we would never have become independent, let alone a republic.

  4. It is interesting to note that the man that was chosen for that top position and stayed at the top through all the bickering of “aslo-ran’s” put his country before himself. Each time we are called to battle, we have to build a military from scratch because someone tore the one we had to shreds. We had to learn how to build that first one and thankfully we relied on a trustworthy man to keep it on track, regardless of what tree he was under. Mystic is not near the Mystic River but Cambridge is.

  5. Well said, John. Country before self is what keeps America great. Love this history of early America.

  6. I love all things “George Washington” , both facts & myths. His humble style but knowledge he would make a difference in acquiring liberty & honor for our country made him the best example of leadership to start our young country.

  7. The main appeal for me is the connection of U.S. stamps and our American history. Every single day i read and appreciate the Mystic day in history features. Well done and researched. Thank you

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