The Best Likeness of George Washington

Colonel, General, and President – George Washington towers above all other figures in American history for his humility and indispensability. He was the essential man to hold things together through the Revolutionary War and through the first 8 years of the Republic. Many people say that no other man is more responsible than Samuel Adams for starting the Revolution. While perhaps true, none other is more responsible for its success than George Washington.

Without question a colossus in American history, George Washington was but one of many who advanced the American cause in Boston. Washington was a Virginian and a gentleman and did not fit into the same crowd as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. Both his wealthy background and his prudence set him apart from these New England rabble rousers.

While the New England militias had shown they could fight battles and hold their own, to win a war, they would need a leader. Washington was called upon in late 1775 to expel the British army from Boston, once and for all. In December of 1775, Washington ordered a young Boston bookseller and Continental Army Colonel named Henry Knox to fetch 55 cannons held at a British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga – 300 miles away. Knox ventured across Massachusetts and into upstate New York in the dead of winter, retrieved the cannons and hauled them back to Boston. It was Knox’s heroism and Washington’s shrewd placement of those cannons atop Dorchester Heights that eventually forced British General Howe to surrender Boston to the Americans.

Although the surrender of Boston to the Continentals was a major triumph for Washington, his name fades out of Boston history after this. The statues and monuments around the city to him are reflections of a national consciousness that will forever see Washington as the Father of the United States. One such monument sits in a dusty alcove above a door in the back of a North End church. The bust is about 2 ½ feet tall and there are no particularly revolutionary aspects to it. It does not depict Washington with a halo ascending into heaven on the backs of angels or as a handsome and unblemished Roman god wearing a toga. This bust depicts Washington as a man hardened by two wars and worn by age.

The bust of George Washington that sits in the Old North Church was carved in 1789 by Christian Gullagher. It is supposed that Washington sat for Gullagher on his victory tour following his election as 1st President of the United States. While the origins of the bust’s first ownership are not known, somehow it landed into the hands of a man named Shubael Bell, a senior warden at the Old North Church. Bell donated the bust to his church in 1815.

Construction on the first public monument to George Washington, the Washington Monument in Baltimore Maryland, began in 1815 and was completed in 1829. Technically, the first one to be erected in a public space was the Gullagher bust that still sits in the Old North Church.

An old acquaintance of Washington since the early days of the Revolutionary War was a young French aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette had fought alongside Washington during the Revolution, and the two developed a close friendship. Lafayette visited to the Old North Church is 1824 – 25 years after Washington’s death. By this time, Lafayette was a very old man and the Revolution was but a distant memory. Lafayette though remembered his friend’s face. When he saw the bust of his friend in the church, he exclaimed “Yes, that is the man I knew! And the best likeness of him I have ever seen”.

Because of this quote by Lafayette, the bust of George Washington in the Old North Church is said to be the closest likeness to our first President.