Growing up near Matson’s Ford Road and living on Rebel Hill in Upper Merion Township, I never learned about the Battle of Matson’s Ford in school, but I should have. It’s an important prelude to General George Washington and the Continental Army’s march to Valley Forge. I wrote about the Battle of Matson’s Ford in my ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill, December 13 – 19, 1777 Please see the excerpt below:
“On December 11, Washington’s Army began marching to the Rebel Hill area for what some historians thought would be the army’s winter quarters. However, on that day, the army was not aware that British General Cornwallis had 3000 troops brutally foraging through Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills , taking whatever food and provisions they could find from local residents. The first divisons of Washington’s Army began crossing over from Whitemarsh over a bridge they had constructed at Matson’s Ford. As they came over, they saw
Cornwallis’ troops up on Rebel Hill and on Prospect Hill, on the other side of what is now Matson’s Ford Road. General James Potter, with part of the Pennsylvania Militia, had been at Harriton Plantation on Old Gulph Road. His regiments began attacking the British, and his men formed battle lines on Rebel Hill and other hills in Gulph Mills over four miles. Gen. Potter’s men fought bravely until the sheer numbers of British soldiers caused them to retreat back across the bridge at Matson’s Ford, as had other tropps that had crossed over, where the rest of Washington’s Army was waiting. Gen. Washington lauded Gen. Potter and the Pennsylvania militia in his Orderly Book of December 12, 1777, writing, “The Commander-in-Chief, with great pleasure, expresses his approbation of the behavior of the Pennsylvania Militia yesterday, under General Potter, on the vigorous opposition they made ot a body of the enemy on the other side of the Schuylkill.” However, General Potter later lamented the retreat because it left the residents of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills to the British plundering. In a report to Thomas Wharton, President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, Potter wrote, “…thus the enemy Got leave to plunder the Countrey, which they have dun without parsiality or favour to any, leaving none of the Nessecereys of life Behind them that the conveniently could Carry or destroy….”4
There are several versions of how Rebel Hill got its name. One is that British General Cornwallis, who led the 3000 British soldiers in the foraging raid on December 11, called it Rebel Hill because the British Army found that the hill was full of rebels—or what we call patriots. Another is that it was called Rebel Hill because Continental Army General William Alexander “ Lord Stirling” commanded an outpost on the hill during the Valley Forge encampment. While on Rebel Hill, General Lord Stirling stayed at the home of Jonathan Rees. Joining General Stirling on Rebel Hill was his aide-de-camp, James Monroe, who later went on to become the 5th President of the United States.
No matter how Rebel Hill got its name, it has a proud history in the founding of this nation. As one historian noted, “These grounds were the threshold to Valley Forge, and the story of that winter—a story of endurance, forebearance, and patriotism which will never grow old—had its beginnings here, at the six days encampment by the old Gulph Mill.”
Who knew, right? Of course, I write about this battle in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge. I answer the question: what happens when the war comes to your back yard? What happened to the residents of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills when, overnight, the Continental Army came to encamp around them?