Washington’s ‘top men’ focus of Old State House program

Beth Jelich and Tom Welch discuss plans for an annual event commemorating George Washington on his birthday. This year’s focus will be on Washington’s top men and the qualities they exemplified. The event will be held Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. at the Old State House in Dover. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

DOVER — George Washington seemingly had a sixth sense when it came to picking the men to serve alongside him.

“Some historians will say that’s why the less qualified, less well-equipped, less well-trained army won the war,” noted Tom Welch, a historic interpreter for the Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs. “Because Washington picked better generals.”

Those men — figures like Henry Knox, who once owned and operated a bookstore but is remembered in history for leading the crusade to haul 60 tons of cannon across 300 miles of the Berkshire Mountains in the winter to the Boston siege camps — will be recognized during an annual event celebrating Washington’s birthday at the Old State House.

“In general, it is my view shared by many of the history business that we as a country don’t do very well covering, telling, keeping, restoring, preserving history,” Mr. Welch said. “Most folks don’t know very much about American history, and that includes the first president.”

Through a series of programs, which began in 2016 to correspond with Washington’s birthday, those at the Old State House is looking to address that.

The event, “Selecting Top Men – A Washington Skill,” will present Washington’s top men, spanning from when Washington selected his generals for the war in 1775, through his presidential cabinet, to Supreme Court justices, to the end of his term in 1797.

“He attracted people because of his great sense of patriotism,” Mr. Welch added.

Set for Sunday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. at the Old State House, the event will run for about an hour. Mr. Welch, Beth Jelich and Delaware State University professor Sam Hoff will discuss what Washington saw in these men, who he viewed as having “talent, skill and initiative,” Mr. Welch said.

“The celebration of Presidents’ Day and George Washington’s birthday is important and should be important to Dover citizens as American citizens,” Dr. Hoff, a George Washington Distinguished Professor, said.

“I think that it’s important to offer a venue for citizens to be entertained and educated. I think that’s we’ve done over the years. I think that’s our intention this time with this programming that we think will add to the understanding and comprehension about Washington’s character.”

The group hopes to see a mixed crowd of history lovers and those who may have not attended before, because, they noted, it has its cinematic moments.

For Ms. Jelich, who was a fourth-grade teacher, getting children interested in history is particularly important to her, she said.

“It was big in my classroom. If you can turn them on to history when they’re young, they tend to stay history lovers the rest of their life,” she said. “They need to know where they come from.”

“It’s fun,” added Dennis Fisher, a historic interpreter for the Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs. “It’s nice to spread knowledge to the general public.”