Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Meet the Author: Phillip Greenwalt

Our interim Chief of Interpretation is a noted Civil War scholar.  Please join us at his upcoming book talk at Frelinghuysen Arboretum. Details to follow.


Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864

Phillip Greenwalt
Sweep the Shenandoah Valley “clean and clear,” Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant ordered in the late summer of 1864.His man for the job: Maj. Gen. “Little Phil” Sheridan, the bandy-legged Irishman who’d proven himself just the kind of scrapper Grant loved. Grant turned Sheridan loose across Virginia’s most vital landscape, the breadbasket of the Confederacy.

In the spring of 1862, a string of Confederate victories in the Valley had foiled Union plans in the state and kept Confederate armies fed and supplied. In 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia used the Valley as its avenue of invasion, culminating in the battle of Gettysburg. The Valley continued to offer Confederates an alluring backdoor to Washington D.C. But when Sheridan returned to the Valley in 1864, the stakes jumped dramatically. Historians Daniel Davis and Phillip Greenwalt, longtime students of the Civil War, have spent countless hours researching the Valley battles of ’64 and walking the ground where those battles unfolded. Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 shifts attention away from the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia to the campaign that ultimately determined the balance of power across the Eastern Theater.

Greenwalt is the co-Author of A Single Blow: The Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Beginning of the American Revolution April 19, 1775.  He is the co-founder of Emerging Revolution War and historical editor of the Emerging Revolutionary War book series. A prolific American history author, he graduated from George Mason University with an MA in American History; he also holds a BA in History from Wheeling Jesuit University. He currently is a Supervisory Park Ranger in Interpretation & Visitor Services for the National Park Service having served at several National Park Service sites including George Washington National Monument, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

His books will be for sale and will be signed by the author.

June 28 – Morris County
North Jersey Civil War Round Table - Morris County -- 7:14 p.m. at the Haggerty Education Center at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, 353 E. Hanover Avenue, Morris Twp. (opp. the Morris County Library). Admission - $5. Members & Students – free. NPS Rangers – free

Monday, April 23, 2018

Making Connections

Free Reception and Illustrated Talk by Xiomáro on Saturday,
May 19, 2018, 2-4 pm

It’s always a pleasure and honor for me to photograph the National Parks, especially historic houses like the Ford Mansion. In 2017, I was commissioned by Morristown National Historical Park to create images of the home for use in an accessibility book. The large format book will enable physically challenged visitors to “experience” the mansion – George Washington’s headquarters during the winter of 1779-1780 – through narrated photographs, which interpret the house as done on a visitor tour.

Floyd Kitchen hearth.
The project was of particular interest to me because it was a direct connection with another collection of photographs I created in 2013: the William Floyd Estate in Mastic, Long Island.  General Floyd served in the first Continental Congress in 1774 and is a signer of the Declaration of Independence. By the late 1770s, the British occupied Long Island and Floyd had to escape to Connecticut. He returned to a ransacked house, which he restored to receive visitors such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other notable guests. Unlike the Ford Mansion, Floyd’s sprawling 25 room house was continuously occupied by his descendants up until 1976 when it was donated to the National Park Service as part of Fire Island National Seashore.

The Floyd collection was created to draw more attention to the estate and the little-known Founding Father represented by it.  That is one of the aspects of my work that I find most fulfilling:  making photographs that serve as goodwill ambassadors to raise awareness of smaller northeastern sites, which are often overshadowed by larger western parks such as the Grand Canyon.  With the support of Fire Island, the Floyd photographs have been exhibited and garnered much media attention.

Ford Mansion kitchen hearth.
I share that intent with the Ford Mansion. The photographs of Washington’s headquarters are on display at the museum now until December 28, 2018. The exhibition was curated by Jude M. Pfister, the park’s Chief of Cultural Resources. It is pleasing to know that the images raise awareness of “the Ford Mansion’s essence as a home," as noted by Jude, because "the domestic aspects are easily lost in the presence of Washington.”
These overarching themes in my work, as well as my aesthetic and techniques, will be addressed during my free illustrated talk during a reception at the museum on Saturday, May 19, 2018 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. To place the Ford Mansion photographs in context, I will use PowerPoint to show select images I have created for other parks over the past six years. 

Traveling Medicine Chest, Floyd Estate.

As I think you will see from the presentation I will make, there are interesting connections to be made between these parks. We are fortunate that the pages of history can come alive by visiting the Ford Mansion, the William Floyd Estate, and other related sites that form a tapestry of our nation’s founding. 

Traveling Liquor Box,
Morristown NHP Collection.

I hope to see you there with your friends.  To promote a greater understanding of the home that served as Washington’s headquarters, I will be giving away a copy of Jude’s award-winning book, The Jacob Ford Jr. Mansion:  The Storied History of a New Jersey Home (The History Press, 2009).  I will also be giving away a 5”x7” photographic print from the exhibit.

In the meantime, for more information about my work and to see my other collections and videos, visit www.xiomaro.com where you can also download a free photo eBook on the Ford Mansion.

This blog entry by Xiomáro.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Recovering Martha: Inspiration and Restoration

Last month, a portrait of Martha Dandridge Parke Custis (Washington) returned to Morristown NHP after receiving extensive conservation treatment. The original composition that our Martha Custis portrait is based on was painted by John Wollaston in 1757. During his stay at Daniel Parke Custis’ White House in June, he painted three portraits – one of Martha, one of Daniel, her husband, and one of their two children together. During his two-year visit to Virginia, he produced over 100 portraits, which amounts to an average of four or five portraits a month. But how did he get it all done? 

John Wollaston’s portrait of Catherine Harris Smith Pemberton

John Wollaston’s portrait of Margaret Tudor Nicholls

Wollaston’s portraits were in high demand, as he painted in the latest London portraiture styles. Accordingly, he devised a system meant to mass-produce his portraits; he painted substantial portions of his portraits before he even saw the sitter. Poses, garments, body shapes, hands, and more were prepared as he traveled so that by the time he saw the sitter, he was merely adding details and completing the portrait. His signature style of smiling faces and oval eyes make his work recognizable, despite the fact that he rarely signed or dated portraits. This style and system concurrently makes it difficult to distinguish the identities of his sitters. Some of his portraits are almost identical – take for example the portraits of Catherine Harris Smith Pemberton and Margaret Tudor Nicholls. Thusly, our portrait has also been said to be a portrait of Mrs. Colonel Fielding Lewis, who is George Washington’s sister.

Original Wollaston portrait of Martha Dandridge Custis 

Betty Washington Lewis, attributed to Wollaston 

MORR 3236, Martha Dandridge Custis, after conservation

In 1843, an engraving of the original Wollaston portrait was produced by J. Cheney and J.G. Kellogg for The Life of George Washington by Jared Sparks. We know that the portrait in our collection is likely a copy made from this engraving because the background foliage is very similar to the foliage in the 1843 engraving. It is evident that the painter of our portrait probably never saw the original Wollaston, in which the bow on the front of Martha’s dress is the same blue as the dress. In our portrait, the bow is white. Another difference between the two is that the Wollaston is painted on a traditional 50 x 40 British canvas, and our portrait is painted on a 44 x 35 canvas.

Martha Custis, pre-conservation.
Note the tear, sagging canvas, and discoloration.

The portrait was gifted to Morristown National Historical Park by the Washington Association of New Jersey on March 2nd, 1933 (more than 85 years ago!). The original catalog record notes that it was cleaned and varnished and in “good condition,” in 1934. Six months ago, the condition of the painting was poor. The appraisal report describes the varnish as “dirty” and “discolored.” It also mentions a “9 x 7 inch ‘T’ shaped tear in the upper right quadrant,” a “two inch tear in the lower center in the dress,” and a “3/4 inch tear by the proper right elbow.” 

As described in the 
conservation report, the
“crudely attached”
strip lining.

The conservation report said the canvas 
was “extremely brittle,” and had “a crudely
attached strip lining with a wax resin adhesive
(which has totally failed).” 

Martha Custis, during cleaning with acetone

Conservation efforts have wildly improved the appearance and condition of the painting. Acetone and a solution of soap and water were used to remove the discolored varnish and surface dirt. The old strip lining was removed, the canvas was carefully flattened, and the three tears were mended using an adhesive powder. The painting was then relined onto a linen canvas, and then re-stretched onto its original stretcher. New varnish was applied, as was a small amount of inpainting to replace any paint loss. Two more layers of varnish completed the conservation work. Upon its arrival back to Morristown NHP, we replaced it into our collection storage facility with the rest of our paintings. 

Martha Custis, post-conservation. Note the repaired tear, improved coloration, and stabilized canvas.

This blog post by Amanda Schroeder,  Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Washington and His Family Return

Washington and His Family, pre-conservation.

In 2012 Washington and His Family (1850), painted by Thomas Sully, underwent a conservation report here at Morristown National Historical Park in order to prepare the portrait to go on loan. A brief history of the painting and the process of determining its condition can be found here. 

The work that was done in 2012 did not end up leading to any stabilizing conservation at that time, and thus the painting was left in the collections. But as we know time marches ever on, and the painting has since required more attention. The fact that the painting and frame are in need of restoration should come as a surprise to none as it is close to 220 years old. Such an aged painting with such a historic subject certainly deserves conservation in order for future generations to view and learn from it. Thus, in late 2017 the painting was sent away for restorative work.

Here the painting is shown under UV examination. 
The blue areas indicate layers of original varnish.

But before we get into the details of this restoration let us first discuss a key term. In this context, conservation refers to the restoration of a work of art in such a way that the essence of the painting is not lost, nor has its original style been altered. Conservation work is all about diagnosing deterioration issues and remedying them in a way that will cause the least amount of future stress. This task requires a professional with extensive knowledge of art history as well as a chemistry background in order to best analyze and make decisions based on a painting’s past, present, and future. Now that we understand the goal of art conservation let’s get into the details of the conservation report and what was done to restore Washington and his Family. 

After the use of various techniques designed to determine condition and past restorative actions, the painting was removed from its frame and lightly cleaned with a natural enzyme meant to eliminate built up dirt and grime. It was then rinsed with distilled water and sprayed with acryloid B-72, which is a flexible, non-yellowing varnish commonly used in restorative work. The back was dust vacuumed and the green duct tape applied in the late 1960s was removed. Next, a technique called inpainting was utilized to touch up areas where paint had flaked away over time. This technique aims to be true to the original artist’s painting style and to seamlessly integrate with the artwork.  Another layer of adhesive varnish was applied and the painting was rinsed again. 

Close up of the frame before conservation.

As for the frame, which, of the two components was in worse condition, the same adhesive spray used on the painting was used here to fix parts of the frame that were lifting and broken. MNHP had sent the painting away with a small bag of bits that had fallen off, and through the course of the condition report it was determined that many came from past restorative work. Therefore, only broken pieces that were original to the frame itself were reapplied. Inpainting was done to the gold finish of the frame and all hanging hardware was replaced.  As the old label was falling off it was removed and placed in a Maylar envelope and reattached to the back. Once the cleaned painting was reframed it was returned to us here at MNHP. Finally it was securely placed in our artwork collection storage.   

The newly conserved painting.

Conservation is vital to the continued display of a painting as well as its continued use as a historic artifact from which we can glean knowledge from the past. It is how we preserve the only images that we have for future generations to enjoy. 

This blog entry by Pamela Russo, Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meet the Interns

This spring we are grateful to have three scholars from Fairleigh Dickinson University join us! We have wasted no time getting them acclimated to museum life. In addition to their individual projects, Pamela, Nicholas, and Amanda are helping with social media and blogging, our Skype program, and they even worked as docents for our Discover History Center grand opening!

FDU senior, Pamela Russo is a history major and Latin American and British Studies minor. Pamela's interests lie in the intersection of natural and cultural history. This semester she will focus on John James Audubon's Birds of America and how the prints were made, his inspiration, and the history of scientific illustration. Pamela is a budding behind-the-scenes maven and hopes to use her time at Morristown to flex her Skype and distance learning muscles. #futureyoutubestar

Nicholas Quintero is a sophomore dual history (B.A.) and education (M.A.T.) major with primary interest in U.S. history. Nick is interested in the diverse Morristown NHP holdings and is exploring the many ways museums serve as interactive classrooms. For his research project, he will examine the connection between the Iroquois system of governance (pre-contact) and the formation of the U.S. Constitution. He is particularly interested in the degree to which Native Americans influenced the colonial leaders in fashioning an independent American system of governance. Stay tuned, this guy is going to make some stellar lesson plans!

Junior, Amanda Schroeder studies political science and British history. She selected Morristown for her practicum because she knew she'd get lots of exposure to the inner-workings of a museum and library, and her enthusiasm for "doing history" makes her a natural in the classroom. Amanda (and Pamela) have already had an opportunity to share their teaching savvy with kids! This semester she is examining the influence of 18th-Century women on the politics of their husbands/father/brothers/sons. #whorulestheworld?


Monday, January 29, 2018

Honing Our Place-Based Education Skills

Participants prepare field trip activities during a rapid prototyping session.

Several years ago the Morristown education team began to dabble in teacher-led place based learning (PBL) projects. Recognizing a need for more teacher autonomy and an empowered learning space for students, we joined the Park for Every Classroom (PEC) initiative. PEC connects Park sites and partners with other programs in the northeast region to share best practices and model PBL and PBSL (place based service learning). The biggest impact for Morristown has been a transition from programming consisting of entirely staff-led offerings to the addition of teacher-staff co-led endeavors and most recently teacher-led field trip and workshops. Since we began, we have employed five master teachers through our Teacher-Ranger-Teacher (TRT) program who have helped us design our immersion activities, create exemplar lessons, and bring new teachers into the teacher-led PBL fold. 

Teacher demonstrates a lesson short.
Our current professional development model utilizes Design Thinking practices. Design Thinking methodology borrows collaborative brainstorming and planning tools from the design and engineering world. In short, Design Thinking is a methodology and mental framing strategy that encourages divergent (thinking big) and convergent (narrowing in) planning and moves ideas into actionable tasks. For our teacher partners it's also a way to to plan lessons in a rapid and collaborative environment. Teachers become familiar with Park resources and leave their workshop confident to utilize those resources independently and creatively.  

Interns 'ideate' or collaboratively brainstorm.

Readers may remember we reflected on design thinking last spring with our field trip programs:

Engaging Millennials? There's an App For That!

From Reese's to Results: The Prototyping Process

Morris Museum Collections Manager, Maria Ribaudo,
explores a gallery space.

This round's new recruits included area collections managers and Park sites, elementary and middle school teachers (in the past our Jockey Hollow site has been the primary location for this age group), and studio arts, language arts, and STEAM instructors. One exciting side effect of Design Thinking is how 
it enlivens our interdisciplinary

Edison National Historic Site Education Specialist, 
Carmen Panteleo, prototypes app use in the gallery.


Education assistant, Abby Parsons, demos a lesson concept.

Our ideation (collaborative brainstorming) session sticky wall.

Morristown teacher partners are certainly turning ideas  → 

Example rapid lesson prototype.

into plans of action →      

Monday, January 22, 2018


During Federal shutdown, we do not monitor or update social media. Morristown National Historical Park is closed for resource protection and safety. For more information: www.nps.gov/morr

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Junior Scholars Interview historian Jude Pfister

 Pictured: Dr. Jude Pfister and student-scholars, 
Aaron S. Ladinsky, Nandini Swami, and 
Arnav Aggarwal.

As part of the 2017 Patriot’s Week events in Trenton, Morristown NHP Chief of Cultural Resources Dr. Jude Pfister gave a talk at the Trenton Free Public Library. The topic of the talk was The Federalist papers, the focus of Dr. Pfister’s 2016 book Charting an American Republic, published by McFarland Press. After the talk, three Lawrence Middle School students, working on a National History Day project, questioned Dr. Pfister about The Federalist papers. The student-scholars, Aaron S. Ladinsky, Nandini Swami, and Arnav Aggarwal, were all knowledgeable about the Constitution and The Federalist papers. On behalf of Morristown NHP, we wish Mr. Ladinsky, Ms. Swami, and Mr. Aggarwal the best of luck with their project. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Morristown NHP Eliminates Entrance Fees at Washington’s Headquarters Museum

Hey families, it's now even easier to #FindYourPark, at Morristown!
Morristown, NJ- Beginning January 1, 2018, Morristown National Historical Park will no longer charge an entrance fee to visit the park’s Washington’s Headquarters Museum. After analyzing the costs and benefits of the recreational fee program, park leadership determined that it is in the best interest of both Morristown National Historical Park and the public to eliminate the entrance charge at the museum (which also includes a guided tour of the Ford Mansion).

The current museum entrance fee of $7 for individuals age 16 and older is in effect through December 31, 2017.

“Our cost-benefit analysis revealed that the administrative burden of maintaining our fee program is not sustainable,” explained Park Superintendent, Tom Ross. He noted that, “This decision is the right thing to do for both visitors and our staff members, who now can focus their time and talents on the core missions of the National Park Service.”

The remaining revenue from the entrance fees will be used to achieve many mission-critical projects, including developing an accessibility book for the Ford Mansion, conserving historic paintings in the park’s collection, and installing new audio-visual equipment in the Washington’s Headquarters Museum auditorium.

“Morristown National Historical Park has, and always will, welcome donations from park visitors, supporters, and advocates,” Ross added. “Donations will continue to sustain visitor programs and support the park mission.”

Through December 31, 2017, Morristown NHP also will continue to sell the various America the Beautiful passes for entrance to the National Parks and other Federal Recreational Lands (the annual $20 Senior Pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over, the $80 lifetime Senior Pass, and the $80 Annual Pass).

The free passes for active-duty military, for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities; and for the 4th-grade Every Kid in a Park program will continue to be available at Morristown NHP after December 31, 2017.

All America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes can still be purchased at most federal recreation sites that collect entrance fees, including at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey or by applying at http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Winter Letters of George Washington, Henry Laurens, and Samuel Huntington

John Singleton Copley, Henry Laurens, 1782, oil on canvas, 137.5 cm x 103 cm, Washington, D.C .
National Portrait Gallery; Charles Willson Peale, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1783,
 oil on canvas, 237 x 145 cm., Princeton, Princeton University Art Museum; Charles Willson Peale,
Samuel Huntington, 1783, Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park.

Images of poorly-clothed and ill-fed Continental soldiers huddled in huts, marching barefoot in the snow, determinedly defending bleak hills despite ice and wind are seminal images in American history. According to these narratives, the army’s ability to endure such hard times demonstrated their resolve to establish a new nation. However, many of those images have more in common with national myths and not with historic facts. Why the honest confusion? Why have the boundaries between history and myth been blurred? In order to understand the origins of such legends, the winter encampments at Valley Forge in southeastern Pennsylvania (1777-1778) and Jockey Hollow near Morristown, New Jersey (1779-1780) are essential places to start. These two winter encampments were both moments when it appeared the common cause might unravel. The roots of our national mythologies largely grow from these points.[1]

How and why Americans have conflated the experiences of the revolutionary winters would require an exhaustive study of cultural memory. However, one way we can develop a measure of appreciation for authentic encampment experience and strip away the illusions and inventions is by analyzing letters belonging to the foremost military and political leader of the American war effort, George Washington. Specifically, Washington’s letters exchanged with the presidents of the Continental Congress are essential documents that highlight some of the most important challenges of each encampment. During the Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow winters, Washington depended on two different presidents, Henry Laurens and Samuel Huntington, respectively. Both men had experience in provincial governance. Both had developed reputations as steady and evenhanded leaders among congressional delegates. And both assumed the presidency mere weeks before the Continental army established their encampments. And yet their differences were striking. Henry Laurens was born into a prominent South Carolina family and earned a fortune trading enslaved persons and profiting off their labor. Samuel Huntington was born to hardscrabble Connecticut farmers and self-educated, a far cry from Laurens’s private tutoring or European apprenticeship. During these dismal winters, Washington had two remarkably different presidents on whom the fate of his army rested.[2]

These correspondences do not provide a complete picture of everyday life in camp or the numberless challenges faced by the Continentals. They are a mere fraction of Washington’s total papers from these hard times. However, they do highlight some of the most urgent matters that befell the commander in chief and the Continental Congress. They uncover how the demands of war evolved as the conflict ground on from Valley Forge, to Jockey Hollow, and beyond. And most importantly, they challenge popular images of these encampments long seared in the national psyche. Appreciating how Washington, Laurens, and Huntington made war throughout these wearisome winters is a small but essential step in more fully appreciating the complexity of these iconic Revolutionary moments.[3]

Before diving into the contents of these documents, we must first understand their objectives and purposes. For all the letters’ descriptions of suffering soldiers and supply shortages, these letters are inherently political documents. Washington, Laurens, and Huntington all used persuasive language to convince their recipient other their agenda. On December 23rd, in the midst of a potentially catastrophic provisions crisis at Valley Forge, Washington composed a letter appealing to President Laurens. Washington included detailed descriptions of the sorry state of the Continental army describing the “no less than 2898 Men now in Camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and otherwise naked”. Highlighting the stakes of the moment he informed Laurens that “unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place…this Army must inevitably…Starve—dissolve—or disperse”. But despite the dramatic pleas, the letter’s intent was not to detail specific shortcomings of the army. Rather, Washington intended the letter encourage Laurens to act on these urgent needs. The letter was just as much a plea as it was a ploy: if “some great and capital change” were to occur, the letter implies that President Laurens would bring it to fruition. Despite national mythologies that cast revolutionaries, particularly Washington, as fundamentally apolitical, these men were nonetheless astute wartime politicians who understood that political means were necessary for achieving military ends .[4]

Figure 1: Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, engraving
by Alexander Hay Ritchie, Henry Laurens, 1783,
Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Box 148,
Folder 3438, Morristown National Historical Park.
In several ways, these letters challenge cultural images that have developed around these winter encampments. First, the standard picture of an inept, and uncaring Continental Congress oblivious to the problems befalling the Continental army does not stand up to the scrutiny of these letters. Both Laurens and Huntington deliberately and frequently informed Washington of specific resolutions passed in Congress. Laurens reported on Congressional actions intended to fill vacant positions in the army, establish regulations for foraging soldiers, among others to the commander. Huntington too enclosed resolutions in his dispatches including actions concerning new enlistment terms and resolves on rank disputes. Congress certainly did not solve all the problems of supply, unfilled leadership positions, or poor army organizational structure that engulfed the Continentals in these winters. However, their chief executives recognized that congressional inaction meant certain doom for the war effort. [5]

Another challenge to the national mythology these letters present concerns the military situation of each encampment. The prevailing perception that during the Revolution both armies paused active military operations until the spring does not correspond with the documentary evidence. Washington and Laurens exchanged letters describing both British and American foraging operations and even planned an entire expedition into Canada that they eventually aborted. Especially during the Jockey Hollow encampment, it even appears cold weather encouraged more operations. Solid ice that chocked the tidal strait between New Jersey and Staten Island allowed both armies to launch raids in January 1780. After a failed American expedition into Staten Island, on January 27 Washington wrote to Huntington “I am sorry to inform your Excellency that the Enemy on the night of the 25th surprised our advanced parties which were stationed at Elizabeth Town and New Ark—and made a part of them prisoners… several people were plundered at New Ark & the Academy burnt; also the Meeting & Town Houses at Elizabeth Town.” These various operations are instructive in that they remind us despite winter conditions (and in some cases because of them) military endeavors continued during the encampments. No winter ceasefire, spoken or unspoken, existed. [6]

Figure 2: Bonar and Cumming, Samuel Huntington,
Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Box 11, Folder 1293,
 Morristown National Historical Park.
If their letters are any indication, the most pressing problem the army confronted both winters was not supply crises or harsh weather, but prisoner exchange. No single topic exhausted so much ink between the leaders. Reports of the filthy, malnourished, and diseased condition of American captives languishing in New York had long been presented to Washington and Congress. While at Valley Forge Washington and his aides attempted to set up a fair and equitable prisoner exchange via a cartel. At the time President Laurens wanted to ensure that Congress be involved in any negotiation. “I am also directed to intimate to your Excellency as a recommendation from Congress that every proper precaution be taken against putting it in the power of the Enemy to take any unfair advantages in the Exchange of prisoners,” Laurens wrote. By the time of the winter at Jockey Hollow, the cartel still managed to elude the commander in chief. President Huntington, perhaps appreciating the worsening state of American captives, ceded Congressional authority in the negotiation, informing Washington that “…the matter of negotiating and settling a Cartel may safely be trusted in your hands.” As the war ground on, not only did the terms of negotiation change, but so did Washington’s relationship with the President and thereby Congress itself.[7]

Some of the most important political relationships Washington developed throughout the war were with noncombatants, and these letters to Laurens and Huntington reveal subtle changes in these interactions. Moreover, even these relationships challenge national ideas about civilian interactions with the military. Difficulties in procuring supplies were issues that befell both winter encampments and led to drastic measures in the Continental army. To Henry Laurens on January 5, 1778 the general wrote that the army’s frequent use of supply “seizures” and other “coercive measures…may give a momentary relief, but if repeated will prove of the most pernicious consequence.” These procedures were “spreading disaffection” and instilled among his soldiers a “disposition to licentiousness—to plunder & Robbery, difficult to suppress afterwards.” Surely Washington and Laurens considered how these actions weakened the army’s political support in the countryside.[8]

Writing exactly two years later to Samuel Huntington, Washington’s views had altered noticeably. Facing another provisions shortage he reported that with “very scanty supplies…some for their preservation have been compelled to maraud and rob from the Inhabitants.” During the Valley Forge winter Washington explained to Laurens why such actions
harmed the cause. At Jockey Hollow he informed Huntington to expect no such admonition. “I have it not in my power to punish or to repress the practice. If our condition should not undergo a very speedy & considerable change for the better—it will be difficult to point out all the consequences that may ensue.” More importantly, both these letters challenge the ingrained national mythology that virtuous citizen soldiers of the Continental army always demonstrated stouthearted commitment to the cause and their fellow citizens. As supplies dwindled, the Continental army did not pause to seize property of civilians, and it appears that by 1780, Washington was not as willing to admonish his plundering soldiers.[9]

While these letters do not provide a comprehensive overview of either the Valley Forge or Jockey Hollow winter encampments, they do provide the starting point for us to understand which encampment descriptions hold up to historical scrutiny and which images were fabricated or in some cases outright invented. The impression of the war effort according to these documents can be aptly summarized by what Ron Chernow called the “draining atmosphere of a perpetual, slow motion crisis.” To Washington, Laurens, and Huntington, Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow were not moments that demonstrated national public virtue and unwavering commitment to the cause as much as they were moments of exhaustion. The continuous strain of supply crises, ongoing negotiations of prisoner exchanges, and constant military operations, (all of which compounded by the slow pace of congressional resolutions) sapped the Revolutionary movement of its vigor. It is only in hindsight Americans have ascribed these encampments the veneer of heroism. [10]    

     [1] This essay relies on George Washington’s letters exchanged with Presidents Henry Laurens and Samuel Huntington during the winters (December 21-March 21) at Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow, 1777-1778 and 1779-1780, respectively. See The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel et al., Revolutionary War Series (16 June 1775-31 December 1783 [in progress]), Volumes 12-14, 23-24 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008). Hereafter cited as PGW, Rev. War Ser.

     [2] Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, “Laurens, Henry (1724-1792)”, accessed Nov 20, 2017, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=L000121; Richard L. Blanco, The American Revolution 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia, vol. 1, “Laurens, Henry (1724-1792)” (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 906; Calvin C. Jillson and Rick K. Willson, Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774-1789 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 77-78; Carol Ganz, Samuel Huntington Governor of Connecticut, 1786-1796 History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library (Hartford: November 2007).

     [3] Robert Middlekauf, Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 150.

     [4] PGW, Rev. War Ser., 12:668-70, 683.

     [5]Ibid., 13: 147-48, 597-98, 24: 495-96, 597.

     [6] Ibid., 13: 104, 445, 478, 14: 160-62, 24: 174-76, 291.

     [7] Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 100; PGW, Rev. War Ser., 14: 12, 24: 293-94.

     [8] PGW, Rev. War Ser., 13: 147-48.

     [9] Ibid., 24:42-43; James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender, “A Respectable Army”: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, 3rd ed., (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 3.

     [10] Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 351.

This article by Blake McGready, Interpretive Park Guide, Valley Forge National Historical Park