Today marks the start of the Revolutionary War encampment where I grew up in Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills. From 12/13/1777 until they marched to Valley Forge on 12/19, George Washington and the Continental Army encamped on my little hill. So much of significance happened during those six days, including the new nation’s first Thanksgiving and the decision to camp for the winter at Valley Forge. Check out my 2019 article in the Journal of the American Revolution showing the events day by day, below, and my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and mini-ebook, Six Days in December, on Amazon or

History in the New Year: What We’re Looking Forward To – Journal of the American Revolution

It’s an honor to be listed with these authors and to mention my ongoing work with some colleagues to finally establish AME Bishop Richard Allen as a Revolutionary War patriot who sold salt to the army at Valley Forge.

History in the New Year: What We’re Looking Forward To – Journal of the American Revolution
— Read on

Day 7, Dec. 19, 1777 — Washington’s Army marches out of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills and on to Valley Forge

  On December 19, 1777, at 10 a.m., George Washington and his Continental Army marched out of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, past the Hanging Rock, and on to Valley Forge.  As one historian wrote, “These grounds were the threshold to Valley Forge, and the story of that winter–a story of endurance, forbearance, and patriotism which will never grow old–had its beginnings here, at the six days encampment by the old Gulph Mill.” (see  “The Gulph Hills in the Annals of the Revolution”, by Samuel Gordon Smyth, of West Conshohocken, in an address before the Montgomery County Historical Society, at Ashbourne, Pa., October 6, 1900; address included in Historical Sketches of Montgomery County, Volume 3, Montgomery County Historical Society (1905)).

Captured in the writings of the time and iconic paintings, we know that the March to Valley Foge was largely characterized by hardship for Washington’s 11,000 soldiers. William Trego, painter of the iconic painting The March to Valley Forge, is said to have been inspired by this characterization of the march from author Washington Irving’s Life of Washington. “Sad and dreary was the march to Valley Forge, uncheered by the recollection of any recent triumph. . . Hungry and cold were the poor fellows who had so long been keeping the field . . . provisions were scant, clothing was worn out, and so badly were they off for shoes, that the footsteps of many might be tracked in blood.”

A soldier in Massachusetts’ Eight Regiment, Lt. Samuel Armstrong, wrote: “Friday ye 19th. The Sun Shone out this morning being the first time I had seen it for Seven days, which seem’d to put new Life into everything — We took the Remains of two Days Allowance of Beef,…and two fowls we had left, of these we made a broth upon which we Breakfasted with half a loaf of Bread we Begg’d and bought, of which we shoud have had made a tolerable Breakfast, if there had been Enough!! By ten Oclock we [had]to march to a place Call’d Valley Forge being about five or six miles — about Eleven Ock we Sit out, but did not arrive there ’till after Sun Sit. During this march we had noting to eat or nor to drink.”

While getting his army on the move, General Washington was prolific with is writings on December 19. He wrote three letters at that time. One thanked Virginia patriot Patrick Henry for sending nine wagonloads of supplies for the Virginia troops. Two letter regarded sending soldiers down to Delaware on word on British activity in the area as well as encouraging patriotic residents of that state to take up arms and support the cause. Those letters follow:

To PRESIDENT GEORGE READ Head Quarters, Gulf Mill, December 19, 1777.

Sir: I have received information, which I have great reason to believe is true, that the Enemy mean to establish a post at Wilmington, for the purpose of Countenancing the disaffected in the Delaware State, drawing supplies from that Country and the lower parts of Chester County, and securing a post upon Delaware River during the Winter. As the advantages resulting to the Enemy from such a position are most obvious, I have determined and shall accordingly, this day send off General Smallwood with a respectable Continental force to take post at Wilmington before them. If Genl. Howe thinks the place of that Importance to him, which I conceive it is, he will probably attempt to dispossess us of it; and, as the force, which I can at present spare, is not adequate to making it perfectly secure, I expect that you will call out as many Militia as you possibly can to rendezvous without loss of time at Wilmington, and put themselves under the Command of Genl. Smallwood. I shall hope that the people will turn out cheerfully, when they consider that they are called upon to remain within, and defend, their own state.

In a letter, which I had the honor of receiving from you some little time past, you express a wish that some mode may be fallen upon to procure the exchange of Govr. McKinley. As this Gentleman will be considered in the Civil line, I have not any prisoner of War proper to be proposed for him. The application would go more properly to Congress, who have a number of State Prisoners under their direction for some of whom Sir Win. Howe would probably exchange the Governor. I have the honor etc.

P.S. Let the Militia March to Wilmington by Companies, or even parts of Companies and form their Battalions there; Because if the Enemy move, it will be quickly.

To GOVERNOR PATRICK HENRY Camp 14 Miles from Philadelphia, December 19, 1777.

Sir: On Saturday Evening I was honored with your favor of the 6th. Instant, and am much obliged by your exertions for Cloathing the Virginia Troops. The Articles you send shall be applied to their use, agreeable to your wishes.37 It will be difficult for me to determine when the Troops are supplied, owing to their fluctuating and deficient state at present; However I believe there will be little reason to suspect that the quantities that may be procured, will much exceed the necessary demands. It will be a happy circumstance, and of great saving, if we should be able in future to Cloath our Army comfortably. Their sufferings hitherto have been great, and from our deficiencies in this instance, we have lost many men and have generally been deprived of a large proportion of our Force. I could wish you to transmit the price of all the Necessaries, you may send from time to time. This will be essential, and the omission upon former occasions of the like Nature in the Course of the War, has been the cause of much unneasiness and intricacy in adjusting Accounts.

I am persuaded that many desertions have proceeded from the cause you mention. The Officers were highly culpable in making such assurances. The Expedient you propose might, and I believe would bring in several, but I cannot consider myself authorised to adopt it.

The Letters for the Marquis were sent to his Quarters as soon as they were received. I shall present you to him according to your wishes. He is certainly amiable and highly worthy of Esteem.

I have nothing material to inform you of, Except that we are told by the Boston paper that a Ship has arrived from France at one of the eastern Ports, with Fifty pieces of Brass Artillery, 5000 Stand of Arms and other Stores. There are letters also which mention her arrival, but not the particular amount of the Stores. I have the honor etc.

P.S. I sent the Express on to Congress, which occasioned me to write by this Conveyance. I wrote you on the 13th Ulto. two Letters — one a private one. I am fearful and uneasy lest they should have miscarried, as you have not mentioned the Receipt of them.39


Dr. Sir: With the Division lately commanded by Genl. Sullivan, you are to March immediately for Wilmington, and take Post there. You are not to delay a moment in putting the place in the best posture of defence, to do which, and for the security of it afterwards, I have written in urgent terms to the President of the Delaware State to give every aid he possibly can of Militia. I have also directed an Engineer to attend you for the purpose of constructing, and superintending the Works, and you will fix with the Quarter Master on the number of Tools necessary for the business; but do not let any neglect, or deficiency on his part, impede your operations, as you are hereby vested with full power to sieze and take (passing receipts) such articles as are wanted. The Commissary and Forage Master will receive directions respecting your Supplies, in their way; but I earnestly request that you will see that these Supplies are drawn from the Country between you and Philadelphia, as it will be depriving the Enemy of all chance of getting them; and in this point of view, becomes an object to us of importance.

I earnestly exhort you to keep both Officers and Men to their duty, and to avoid furloughs but in cases of absolute necessity. You will also use your utmost endeavours to collect all the straglers &ca. from both Brigades, and you are also to use your best endeavours to get the Men Cloathed in the most comfortable manner you can.

You will be particular in your observation of every thing passing on the River and will communicate every matter of Importance to, Dear Sir, etc.



While the main army left Rebel Hill and the Gulph on December 19, both places remained outposts for soldiers who could warn the army in Valley Forge if the British decided to approach from Philadelphia.

Aaron Burr remained at a picket post at the base of Rebel Hill on Gulph Road during the Valley Forge encampment.  General Lord Sterling, was in charge of the Gulph Mills encampment, and he spent the winter on Rebel Hill at the home of John Rees.  And, Gulph Mills was also used as the site for many court martials while the army was at Valley Forge.

Rebel Hill’s role in the Revolutionary War was not over on December 19.  In May 1778, General Washington and a large force of troops returned to Rebel Hill to provide backup for General Marquis de Lafayette, who was engaged in battle with the British in Conshohocken at the Battle of Barren Hill.  When Lafayette’s forces retreated, they retreated to Rebel Hill and its surroundings.  Lafayette’s forces included a number of Oneida Indians who had joined Washington’s Army.  (No wonder my siblings and I found many arrownheads as we played in the Rebel Hill woods, and we found buckshot that was used in muskets at that time, too.)

Of course, Hanging Rock remains a natural landmark of the Gulph Mills/Rebel Hill encampment.  Hanging Rock jutted far out over Gulph Road, much farther than it does today.  As cars got more prevalent and needed more room, Hanging Rock became a transportation problem.  In 1924, the owner of the Rock, J. Aubrey Anderson, donated it to the Valley Forge Historical Society, which put a plaque on it noting that Washington and his army passed by it and that is marked the spot of the December 13 – 18 encampment.  Stairs were built so people could climb up to the top of the rock to picnic at the small park that was up there until the P & W line was completed.  All of us who lived in the area as children remember the school bus stopping every day at Hanging Rock until oncoming traffic stopped and the bus could swing out onto the other side of the road and around the rock.  In 1995, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation finally decided to cut down the size of the rock (some of it got knocked off in many truck accidents).  In 1997, the Hanging Rock, also called the Overhanging Rock, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hanging Rock

So, thus ends my daily diary of the role that my childhood home on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills played in the Revolutionary War on December 13 through 19, 1777.   And, by Rebel Hill, I don’t mean just what we now as Rebel Hill today.  Rebel Hill Road extended over into what we now call Union Hill (Hillside Rd., DeHaven St., etc.) during the Revolutionary War.  Rebel Hill was one large and long hill until 1952, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation sliced through Rebel Hill to make way for the Schuylkill Expressway.

My Mom was right when she talked about George Washington and Rebel Hill.  We lived, and still own our family home, on historic ground.  I am proud of our history, and I hope that others are, too.  Tonight, I’m going to Valley Forge National Park to a program and reenactment commemorating Washington and his army’s march in to Valley Forge.  Maybe next year we can do a program and reenactment of Washington and his army’s march in to Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills.  Maybe at the community center on Rebel Hill?

It is this proud history that started me on my path to write my latest novel, Becoming Valley Forge, winner of the 2016 Regional Fiction Award, Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and available at Valley Forge National Park Encampment Store and the Museum of the American Revolution.  Called “a stunning saga” and “impressively well-written from beginning to end”, a description of the novel follows below.  If you have any more stories about Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills or artifacts, please get in touch with me at  Read more about and order my other books and the other authors of The Elevator Group at  I’m happy to speak to your group or historical society about the Six Days in December.  Please email me at

You can read more about these momentous six days in my article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Encampment at Gulph Mills in the Journal of the American Revolution ,


Becoming Valley Forge  by Sheilah Vance, ISBN: 0-9824945-9-2, $17.95, Trade Paperback, 565 pp; January 2016.  Also available as an ebook on Amazon.  On sale for $10 directly from The Elevator Group by clicking here.

Becoming Valley Forge 9780982494592

This epic historical novel shows how the lives of ordinary men and women who lived in the shadow of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, were changed forever during The Philadelphia Campaign in mid-1777, when the Revolutionary War battles came to their doorsteps, leading them and their loved ones to Valley Forge from winter 1777 through summer 1778. James, a former slave, lives as a blacksmith on Rebel Hill in Gulph Mills, with his patriot friend, Daniel. Daniel is reluctant to volunteer for the army because he supports his mother and sister. James questions the sincerity of patriots who fight for freedom when so many African Americans are still slaves. But, the Continental Army’s occupation of Rebel Hill in early December uproots their plans. Orland Roberts, a Paoli farmer, leads a local patriot spy network with the help of his wife Teenie, daughter Betsey, and brother Norman, who owns a local tavern. As soon as they come of age, the Roberts’ boys–Fred and Allen–enlist in the Continental Army under the command of their neighbor, General Anthony Wayne, which puts them in the thick of The Philadelphia Campaign battles. The family outcast, Connie, who runs a brothel in Philadelphia that services many British officers during their occupation of the city, views the presence of both the redcoats and the patriots in the area as just another challenge that she has to conquer to survive, until a series of events causes her to put family ties above all else. Their paths converge, along with many other people’s, at Valley Forge, where General George Washington’s Continental Army, a young nation, and the fascinating characters in the book are forced to confront the reality and the aftermath of war, revolution, and freedom as they grow and become the meaning of Valley Forge.

You can read more about these momentous six days in my article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Encampment at Gulph Mills , in the Journal of the American Revolution , my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness


Day 6, Dec. 18, 1777 — George Washington’s Army celebrates the new nation’s first Thanksgiving at Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills and prepares to set up camp at Valley Forge

   On December 18, 1777, General George Washington’s army celebrated the first national Thanksgiving in Gulph Mills and on Rebel Hill.  The celebration caused a one day delay in the army’s march to Valley Forge, which General Washington had decided a day earlier, was to be where the army would make its winter quarters.

The purpose of the Thanksgiving, according to the November 1, 1777 proclamation of the Continental Congress, was for “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise” and  “to inspire our Commanders both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE…”

Reverend Israel Evans, chaplin to General Poor’s New Hampshire brigade, preached at least one of the Thanksgiving sermons.  The text of his sermon was printed by Lancaster, Pa. printer, Francis Bailey, who is credited with being the first printer to name, in print, Gen. Washington as “the Father of His Country.”   General Washington received a copy of this Thanksgiving sermon on March 12, 1778.  The next day, he wrote this thank you note to Mr. Evans:


Head Qrs. Valley-forge, March 13, 1778.

Revd. Sir: Your favor of the 17th. Ulto., inclosing the discourse which you delivered on the 18th. of December; the day set a part for a general thanksgiving; to Genl. Poors Brigade, never came to my hands till yesterday.    I have read this performance with equal attention and pleasure, and at the same time that I admire, and feel the force of the reasoning which you have displayed through the whole, it is more especially incumbent upon me to thank you for the honorable, but partial mention you have made of my character; and to assure you, that it will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavours to inculcate a due sense of the dependance we ought to place in that all wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends; and moreover, to assure you, that with respect and regard, I am, etc.”

This first national Thanksgiving celebration was nothing like the Thanksgiving celebrations that we know today with abundant food and comfort.  The 11,000 soldiers in Washington’s Army still had very little food and very little comfort, although conditions had improved for some over the last few days.

Their diaries explain:

Dr. Algibence Waldo writes, “Universal Thanksgiving – a Roasted pig at Night. God be thanked for my health which I have pretty well recovered. How much better should I feel, were I assured my family were in health. But the same good Being who graciously preserves me, is able to preserve them and bring me to the ardently wish’d for enjoyment of them again.”

Jospeh Plumb Martin, a private from Massachusetts, wrote about the first Thanksgiving in his 1830 book, A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Danger and Suffering of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation.  (His diaries have since been republished under the title, “Private Yankee Doodle”, i.e. as edited by George F. Scheer and published by Little, Brown, and Co., 1962.)

Martin writes, “While we lay here there was a Continental Thanksgiving ordered by Congress, and as the army had all the cause in the world to be particularly thankful, if not for being well off, at least that it was no worse, we were ordered to participate in it.  We had nothing to eat for two or three days previous, except what hte trees aof the fields and forests afforded us.  But we must now have what Congress said, a sumptuous Thanksgiving to close the year of high living we had now nearly even brought to a close.  Well, to add something extraordinary to our present stock of provisions, our contry, every mindful of its suffering army, opened her sympathizing heart so wide, upon this occasion, as to give us something to make the world stare.  And what do you think it was, dear reader?  Guess.  You cannot guess, be you as much of a Yankee as you will.  I will tell you; it gave each anevery man half a gill [note:  a gill is about four ounces] of rice and a tablespoonful of vinegar!!

After we had made sure of this extraordinary superabundant donation, we were ordered out to attend a meeting and hear a sermon delivered upon the happy occasion.  We accordingly went, fo we could not help it.  I heard a sermon, a ‘thanksgiving sermon’, what sort of one I do not know now, nor did I at the time I heard it.  I had something else to think upon.  My belly put me in remembrance of the fine Thanksgiving dinner I was to partake of when I could get it.  Well, we had got through the services of the day and had nothing to do but to return in good order to our tents and fare as we could.  As we returend to our camp, we passed by our commissary’s quarters.  All his stores, consisting of a barrel about two-thirds full of hocks of fresh beef, stood directl in our way, but there was a sentinel guarding even that.

However, one of my messmates purloined a piece of it, four or five pounds perhaps.  I was exceeding glad to see him take it; I thoguht it mught help to eke out our Thanksgiving supper, but alas!  How soon my expectations were blasted!  The sentinel saw him have it as soon as I did and obliged him to return it ot the barel again.  So I had nothing esle to do but to go home and meke out my supper as susual, upon a leg of nothing and no turnips.

The army was now not only starved but naked.  The greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all otehr clothing, especially blankets…I was to endure this inconvenience (moccassins made of cowhide) or to go barefoot, as hundredso f mycompanions had to, till they might be tracked by their blood upon the rough frozen ground.

The army continued at and near the Gulf for some days, after which we marched for teh Valley Forge in order to take up winter quarters.  We were now in a truly forlorn condition–no clothing, no provisions and as disheartned as need be.”

General Washington’s orders for that day largely focus on setting up the camp at Valley Forge, where the army will march to on December 19.  (The first part of his orders focus on military discipline–court martials.)  His is particularly focused on the procedure for “hutting”–building the huts where the army will spend the winter. His very specific orders follow, including an award of $12 for a soldier in each regiment who finishes his hut first, and an award of $100 for any officer or soldier who comes up with a covering for the huts that is cheaper and quicker made than boards, which are in short supply.

“GENERAL ORDERS Head Quarters, at the Gulph, December 18, 1777

The Major Generals and officers commanding divisions, are to appoint an active field officer in and for each of their respective brigades, to superintend the business of hurting, agreeably to the directions they shall receive; and in addition to these, the commanding officer of each regiment is to appoint an officer to oversee the building of huts for his own regiment; which officer is to take his orders from the field officer of the brigade he belongs to, who is to mark out the precise spot, that every hut, for officers and soldiers, is to be placed on, that uniformity and order may be observed.

An exact return of all the tools, now in the hands of every regiment, is to be made immediately to the Qr. Mr. General, who, with the Adjutant General, is to see that they, together with those in store, are duly and justly allotted to the regimental overseers of the work; who are to keep an account of the men’s names, into whose hands they are placed, that they may be accountable for them. The Superintendents and Overseers are to be exempt from all other duty, and will moreover be allowed for their trouble.

The Colonels, or commanding officers of regiments, with their Captains, are immediately to cause their men to be divided into squads of twelve, and see that each squad have their proportion of tools, and set about a hut for themselves: And as an encouragement to industry and art, the General promises to reward the party in each regiment, which finishes their hut in the quickest, and most workmanlike manner, with twelve dollars. And as there is reason to believe, that boards, for covering, may be found scarce and difficult to be got; He offers One hundred dollars to any officer or soldier, who in the opinion of three Gentlemen, he shall appoint as judges, shall substitute some other covering, that may be cheaper and quicker made, and will in every respect answer the end.

The Soldier’s huts are to be of the following dimensions, viz: fourteen by sixteen each, sides, ends and roofs made with logs, and the roof made tight with split slabs, or in some other way; the sides made tight with clay, fire-place made of wood and secured with clay on the inside eighteen inches thick, this fireplace to be in the rear of the hut; the door to be in the end next the street; the doors to be made of split oak-slabs, unless boards can be procured. Side-walls to be six and a half feet high. The officers huts to form a line in the rear of the troops, one hut to be allowed to each General Officer, one to the Staff of each brigade, one to the field officers of each regiment, one to the Staff of each regiment, one to the commissioned officers of two companies, and one to every twelve non-commissioned officers and soldiers.


The army and baggage are to march to morrow in the time and manner alreadydirected in the orders of the 15th. instant, Genl. Sullivan’s division excepted, which is to remain on its present ground ’till further orders.”

Thanksgiving now over, it’s on to Day 7 and Valley Forge….

You can read more about these momentous six days in my article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Encampment at Gulph Mills in the Journal of the American Revolution , my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness


Day 5, Dec. 17, 1777 — Gen. Washington issues inspirational orders announcing the move to Valley Forge and prepares for nation’s first Thanksgiving celebration on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills

Generals George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and Nathaniel Green (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

After weeks of debate, General Washington decided on Valley Forge as the site of the Continental Army’s winter quarters.  As hard as it is for us to believe today, armies at this time generally did not fight in the winter.  It was extremely difficult for all of the people and objects of war to move.  Armies went into winter quarters and prepared for the resumption of conflict in the spring.

Nothing that I could write about General Washington’s decision is more eloquent and moving than his General Orders for that day, which appear below in full text.

In those Orders, Washington mentions that the march to winter quarters will be delayed for a day so the Continental Army can celebrate the new nation’s first Thanksgiving.  The Continental Congress, on November 1, 1777, proclaimed that on December 18, 1777, the new nation would stop and give thanks to God for blessing the nation and the troops in their quest for independence and peace.  Again, that proclamation is eloquent, and the full text follows that of General Washington’s orders.

GENERAL ORDERS Head Quarters, at the Gulph, December 17, 1777.

The Commander-in-Chief with the highest satisfaction expresses his thanks to the officers and soldiers for the fortitude and patience with which they have sustained the fatigues of the Campaign. Altho’ in some instances we unfortunately failed, yet upon the whole Heaven hath smiled on our Arms and crowned them with signal success; and we may upon the best grounds conclude, that by a spirited continuance of the measures necessary for our defence we shall finally obtain the end of our Warfare, Independence, Liberty and Peace. These axe blessings worth contending for at every hazard. But we hazard nothing. The power of America alone, duly exerted, would have nothing to dread from the force of Britain. Yet we stand not wholly upon our ground. France yields us every aid we ask, and there are reasons to believe the period is not very distant, when she will take a more active part, by declaring war against the British Crown. Every motive therefore, irresistibly urges us, nay commands us, to a firm and manly perseverance in our opposition to our cruel oppressors, to slight difficulties, endure hardships, and contemn every danger. The General ardently wishes it were now in his power, to conduct the troops into the best winter quarters. But where are these to be found ? Should we retire to the interior parts of the State, we should find them crowded with virtuous citizens, who, sacrificing their all, have left Philadelphia, and fled thither for protection. To their distresses humanity forbids us to add. This is not all, we should leave a vast extent of fertile country to be despoiled and ravaged by the enemy, from which they would draw vast supplies, and where many of our firm friends would be exposed to all the miseries of the most insulting and wanton depredation. A train of evils might be enumerated, but these will suffice. These considerations make it indispensibly necessary for the army to take such a position, as will enable it most effectually to prevent distress and to give the most extensive security; and in that position we must make ourselves the best shelter in our power. With activity and diligence Huts may be erected that will be warm and dry. In these the troops will be compact, more secure against surprises than if in a divided state and at hand to protect the country. These cogent reasons have determined the General to take post in the neighbourhood of this camp; and influenced by them, he persuades himself, that the officers and soldiers, with one heart, and one mind, will resolve to surmount every difficulty, with a fortitude and patience, be coming their profession, and the sacred cause in which they are engaged. He himself will share in the hardship, and partake of every inconvenience.

To morrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutely to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us. The General directs that the army remain in it’s present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades. And earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensibly necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day.



November 1, 1777

FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of; And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence, but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defence and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a Measure to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise; That with one Heart and one Voice the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favour, and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD, through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole; to inspire our Commanders both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE; That it may please him to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People and the Labour of the Husbandman, that our Land may yet yield its Increase; To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand, and to prosper the Means of Religion for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.”

And it is further recommended, that servile Labour, and such Recreation as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

Extract from the Minutes,

Charles Thomson, Secr.

You can read more about these momentous six days in my article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Encampment at Gulph Mills in the Journal of the American Revolution , my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness

On to Day 6, Thanksgiving Day….


Day 4: Dec. 16, 1777 — Tents arrive and British soldiers captured at Gulph Mills

General Washington leads his troops through the snow (19th Century engraving)

On a cold and rainy December 16, 1777, the 11,000 soldiers in George Washington’s Continental Army at Gulph Mills and Rebel Hill had one solace — tents had arrived.  They had been exposed to the snow and cold since the army arrived at the Gulph on December 12, and they had sought shelter under the rocks and trees of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills.  Food was still scarce because a food caravan headed towards them was delayed.

Once the tents arrived, General Washington’s orders for the day were short and sweet:

“GENERAL ORDERS Head. Quarters, at the Gulph, December 16, 1777.

Parole — . Countersigns — .

The tents are to be carried to the encampment of the troops, and pitched immediately.”

The day was not just one of pitching tents and trying to find comfort for some soldiers.  Apparently, a group of British soldiers were out foraging for food and ran smack into the Continental Army.  See these accounts:

From Dr. Albigence Waldo–

“December 16.  Cold Rainy Day, Baggage ordered over the Gulph of our Division, which were to march at Ten, but the baggage was order’d back and for the first time since we have been here the Tents were pitch’d, to keep the men more comfortable. Good morning Brother Soldier (says one to another) how are you? All wet I thank’e, hope you are so (says the other). The Enemy have been at Chestnut Hill Opposite to us near our last encampment the other side Schuylkill, made some Ravages, kill’d two of our Horsemen, taken some prisoners. We have done the like by them….”

And, another soldier wrote this account of December 16–“We have been for several days past posted on the mountains near the gulph mill, and [today], a party of the enemy, to the number of fourty five were surprised and made prisioners.”

While the rank and file soldiers were otherwise engaged, General Washington and his generals, in consultation with the Continental Congress, were trying to decide where the army should make its winter quarters.

But where were Washington and his generals meeting and living while they were in Gulph Mills?  No one knows for sure where General Washington actually had his headquarters, but historians believe that it was at Walnut Grove Farm, part of the John Hughes estate, now part of the Gulph Mills Golf Course.

General Sterling, also known as Lord Sterling, who was in charge of the Gulph Mills outpost, was on Rebel Hill at the home of John Rees.  And, a future President of the United States, James Monroe, was with him.  Monroe was then a lieutenant and aide to General Sterling.

General Lafayette’s headquarters were a home near what is now the Gulph Mills entrance to 476 East, and the home was destroyed to make way for the expressway.  General Nathaniel Green was at the Zimmerman Supplee home, near what is now the Gulph Mills station on SEPTA’s P & W line.  Aaron Burr was at the Jonathan Sturgis home directly at the base of Rebel Hill, which was a picket post during the Valley Forge encampment and considered one of the outer lines of the encampment, and, in more modern times, the Picket Post Restaurant (now Savona).

On to a very important Day 5…

You can read more about these momentous six days in my article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Encampment at Gulph Mills in the Journal of the American Revolution , my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness

Day 3, Dec. 15, 1777 — The Continental Army settles down at Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills

On December 15, 1777, the Continental Army has been at Gulph Mills and Rebel Hill for two days, so they are able to settle down and recoup a bit of their strength.  As Dr. Albigence Waldo, Surgeon General to the Army writes of his condition, improved as of the past two days, “Quiet. Eat Pessimmens, found myself better for their Lenient Opperation. Went to a house, poor and small, but good food within – eat too much from being so long Abstemious, thro’ want of palatables. Mankind are never truly thankfull for the Benefits of life, until they have experienc’d the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease and has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate….”

Even General Washington seems to have settled down a bit to assess the situation that his army is in and to prepare for the upcoming winter.  A chief concern was where was the army going to spend the winter.  At this time in history, armies did not fight during the winter.   They went to their winter headquarters and resumed fighting in the spring.  The British had taken over Philadelphia and its comforts as the colonies’ largest city, and they were settling into a comfortable winter there.  Many historians believe that General Washington wanted to establish winter quarters at Gulph Mills, but that he deferred to a suggestion of General Anthony Wayne, from Paoli, the only general from the area, to make the quarters further down Gulph Road in Valley Forge.  As South Carolinian Lt. Col. John Laurens, an aide-de-camp to George Washington, wrote,”The precise position is not yet fixed upon, in which our huts are to be constructed; it will probably be determined today; it must be in such a situation as to admit of a bridge of communication over the Schuylkill for the protection of the country we have just left.”

General Washington wrote three letters on December 15, 1777.  A chief concern that he raised was finding or foraging or just out-and-out taking food to feed his army.  Both the British and the Continental Army foraged all over the Delaware Valley area for food.  Washington’s entrance to Gulph Mills was delayed and detoured because they came upon a group of some 4,000 British soldiers led by Lord Cornwallis foraging for food in Gulph Mills.  The British successfully stole some 2,000 sheep and cattle from Gulph Mills’ farmers.  But, they must have met with resistance because Lord Cornwallis called the area “Rebel Hill” because it was full of rebels, or what we call “patriots.”

While many of those living on Rebel Hill supported the Continental Army, the army’s needs made demand on their resources.  Gulph Mills got its name because the area is a gulph between the hills, and because there were many actual mills along the Gulph Creek.  Many patriots made their livings at these various mills where such things as flour, linens, toys, and metal tools and objects were made.  For example, Jonathan Sturgis, who owned the home that served as a picket post during the Valley Forge encampment (and later became the Picket Post Restaurant, now Savona Restaurant), owned the mill directly across from his house on the Gulph Creek.


On December 10, the Continental Congress ordered Washington to forage in all of the areas surrounding his army to get food and resources from the local homes and businesses, including the mills.  His letters show that he and his army had already done that and that some locals were supportive, but some were not.  In any event, he ordered his army to go out and get the resources to support themselves.

(A letter from General Washington to his officers reporting on Congress’ resolution of December 10, 1777)

NEAR THE ENEMY [Headquarters, December 15?, 1777.]
    In Congress, December 10, 1777.

Resolved. That General Washington should for the future, endeavour as much as possible to subsist his Army from such parts of the Country as are in its vicinity and especially from such quarters, as he shall deem most likely to be subjected to the power or depredations of the Enemy, and that he issue orders for such purpose to the Commissaries and Quarter Masters belonging to the Army.

That General Washington be directed to order every kind of Stock and provisions in the Country above mentioned, which may be beneficial to the Army, or serviceable to the Enemy, to be taken from all persons without distinction, leaving such quantities only as he shall judge necessary for the maintenance of their families: The Stock and provisions so taken to be removed to places of security, under the care of proper persons to be appointed.

Extract from the proceedings of Congress.

Sir: You will perceive by the foregoing Extracts, that it is the direction of Congress, that the Army should be subsisted, as far as possible, on provisions to be drawn from such parts of the Country, as are within its vicinity and most exposed to the ravages and incursions of the Enemy. Also, that all stock and provisions which may be liable to fall into the Enemy’s hands and which would be serviceable to them, except such a part as shall be absolutely necessary for the maintenance and support of the families to which they may belong, should be removed to places of security under the care of proper persons.

You are therefore, forthwith and upon all future occasions, to comply with their views, as far as it may be in your power, and in a particular manner, you are to exert yourself to draw from the Counties of Bucks, Philadelphia and Chester every Species of provision you possibly can. You will also extend your care to such parts of Jersey, as are near the City of Philadelphia, and in like manner to the Counties in the Delaware State, and to obtain from these several places all the Supplies you can. Besides drawing provisions, you are to remove from such parts of all the before mentioned Counties as may be subject to the depredations of the Enemy, the Stock and Grain of every kind which would be Serviceable to them, to places of security under the restriction and exception above mentioned; keeping a just and exact account of the number, quantity, quality and value, and of the persons to whom they belonged, in order that the owners may be paid a reasonable and equitable compensation for the same. These duties are important and interesting, and it is expected will have your pointed attention, as a regular discharge of them will not only contribute to the more easy support of our own Troops, aid our supplies from the more interior parts of the Country, but also will distress the Enemy, and prevent that injurious and pernicious intercourse too prevalent between them and a number of disaffected Inhabitants. I am &ca.

To the President of Congress

December 15. (attached to General Washington’s letter dated December 14)

Your Favor of the 11th Current,24 with its Inclosure came to hand Yesterday. Congress seem to have taken for granted a Fact, that is really not so. All the Forage for the Army has been constantly drawn from Bucks and Philadelphia Counties and those parts most contiguous to the City, insomuch that it was nearly exhausted and intirely so in the Country below our Camp. From these too, were obtained all the Supplies of flour that circumstances would admit of. The Millers, in most instances, were unwilling to grind, either from their disaffection or from motives of fear. This made the supplies less than they otherwise might have been, and the Quantity which was drawn from thence, was little besides what the Guards, placed at the Mills, compelled them to manufacture. As to Stock, I do not know that much was had from thence, nor do I know that any considerable supply could have been had. I confess, I have felt myself greatly embarrassed with respect to a vigorous exercise of Military power. An Ill placed humanity perhaps and a reluctance to give distress may have restrained me too far. But these were not all. I have been well aware of the prevalent jealousy of military power, and that this has been considered as an

[Note:This letter was one of December 12, a copy of which is entered in the “President’s Letter Book” in the Papers of the Continental Congress . The resolve alluded to is that (December 10) directing the removal of all stock and provisions beyond the reach of the enemy. ]

Evil much to be apprehended even by the best and most sensible among us. Under this Idea, I have been cautious and wished to avoid as much as possible any Act that might improve it. However Congress may be assured, that no exertions of mine as far as circumstances will admit shall be wanting to provide our own Troops with Supplies on the one hand, and to prevent the Enemy from them on the other. At the same time they must be apprized, that many Obstacles have arisen to render the former more precarious and difficult than they usually were from a change in the Commissary’s department at a very critical and interesting period. I should be happy, if the Civil Authority in the Several States thro’ the recommendations of Congress, or their own mere will, seeing the necessity of supporting the Army, would always adopt the most spirited measures, suited to the end. The people at large are governed much by Custom. To Acts of Legislation or Civil Authority they have been ever taught to yield a willing obedience without reasoning about their propriety. On those of Military power, whether immediate or derived originally from another Source, they have ever looked with a jealous and suspicious Eye.

To GOVERNOR JONATHAN TRUMBULL Head Quarters, Gulf Mill, December 15, 1777.

Sir: I have the honor of yours of the 2d Instt. I am much obliged for the attention you have paid to my requests thro’ Genl. Putnam, and I shall ever acknowledge the readiness with which you have Always afforded any assistance from your State, when demanded immediately by myself. I was never consulted in the least upon the Rhode Island expedition, and I cannot therefore pretend to say who were or who were not to blame; but it undoubtedly cost the Public, an enormous sum to little or no purpose.

I observe by the Copy of your letter to Congress, that your State had fallen upon means to supply your troops with Cloathing, I must earnestly beg that it may be sent on to Camp as fast as it is collected. To cover the Country more effectually we shall be obliged to lay in a Manner in the Field the whole Winter, and except the Men are warmly clad they must suffer much.

Among the troops of your State there are 363 drafts whose time of Service will expire with this Month. This deduction, with the former deficiency of the Regiments, will reduce them exceedingly low and as I have represented this Matter to Congress very fully I hope they have before this time urged to the States the necessity which there is of filling their Regiments this Winter. But lest they should not have done it, I beg leave to urge the matter to your immediate consideration. Recruits for the War ought by all means, to be obtained if possible; but if that cannot be done, drafts for one year at least should be called out without delay; and I hope that as many as are now upon the point of going home, will be immediately reinstated. We must expect to loose a considerable number of Men by sickness and otherways, in the course of the Winter and if we cannot take the field in the Spring with a superior or at least an equal force with the Enemy, we shall have laboured thro’ the preceeding Campaigns to little purpose.

You can read more about these momentous six days in my article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Encampment at Gulph Mills , in the Journal of the American Revolution , my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness

On to Day 4…

Day 2 – 12/14/1777 — Hardship plagues the Continental Army at Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills

On December 14, 1777, the condition of the 11,000 members of the Continental Army at Gulph Mills and Rebel Hill was one of extreme hardship.  The soldier’s tents were not to arrive for two more days.  There was little, if any food.

Dr. Albigence Waldo, Surgeon General to the Continental Army and a member of a Connecticut Brigade wrote, “Prisoners and Deserters are continually coming in. The Army which has been surprisingly healthy hitherto, now begins to grow sickly from the continued fatigues they have suffered this Campaign. Yet they still show a spirit of Alacrity and Contentment not to be expected from so young Troops. I am sick and discontented–out of home–poor food–hard lodging–weather cold, fatigue–nasty clothes. What sweet felicities I have left at home — a charming wife — pretty children — good cooking all agreeable — all harmonious.  Nasty Cloaths – nasty Cookery – Vomit half my time – smoak’d out my senses – the Devil’s in’t – I can’t Endure it – Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze -Here all Confusion – smoke and Cold – hunger and filthyness – A pox on my bad luck. There comes a bowl of beef soup – full of burnt leaves and dirt, sickish enough to make a Hector spue – away with it Boys – I’ll live like the Chameleon upon Air. Poh! Poh! crys Patience within me – you talk like a fool. Your being sick Covers you mind with a Melancholic Gloom, which makes every thing about you appear gloomy.   See the poor Soldier, when in health – with what cheerfulness he meets his foes and encounters every hardship – if barefoot, he labours thro’ the Mud and Cold with a Song in his mouth extolling War and Washington – if his food be bad, he eats it notwithstanding with seeming content – blesses God for a good Stomach and Whistles it into digestion. But harkee!  Patience, a moment:  there comes a soldier — his worn out shoes, his legs nearly naked from the remains of an only pair of stockings.  His breeches not enough to cover his nakedness, his shirt hanging in strings, his hair dishelveled, his face meagre, his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken and discouraged.  He comes and cries with an air of wretchedness and despair: — ‘I am sick, my feet lame, my legs are sore, my body covered with a tormenting itch, my clothes are worn out, my constitution broken.  I fail fast and all the reward I shall get is — ‘Poor Will is dead!’  People who live at home in Luxury and Ease, quietly possessing their habitation, Enjoying their Wives and families in Peace; have but a very faint idea of the unpleasing sensations, and continual Anxiety the Man endures who is in Camp, and is the husband and parent of an agreeable family.  These same People are willing we should suffer every thing for their Benefit and advantage, and yet are the first to Condemn us for not doing more!!”

General Washington continues to issue orders to help get his troops settled.  And, he writes to the President of Congress about the army’s movement in to “the Gulph” and the army’s December 11 skirmishes with the British in Whitemarsh and the Gulph.

From General George Washington:

GENERAL ORDERS Head Quarters, at the Gulph, December 14, 1777.

Parole Raritan. Countersigns Schuylkill, Delaware.

The regiments of horse are to draw provisions of any issuing Commissary, lying most convenient to them, upon proper returns therefor.

Such of the baggage as is not absolutely necessary for the troops, and all the Commissarys and others stores, are to remain on this side of the gulph.


Head Quarters near the Gulph, December 14, 1777.

On Thursday morning we marched from our Old Encampment and intended to pass the Schuylkill at Madisons Ford [Matson’s Ford],where a Bridge had been laid across the River. When the first Division and a part of the Second had passed, they found a body of the Enemy, consisting, from the best accounts we have been able to obtain, of Four Thousand Men, under Lord Cornwallis possessing themselves of the Heights on both sides of the Road leading from the River and the defile called the Gulph, which I presume, are well known to some part of your Honble. Body. This unexpected Event obliged such of our Troops, as had crossed to repass and prevented our getting over till the succeeding night. This Manoeuvre on the part of the Enemy, was not in consequence of any information they had of our movement, but was designed to secure the pass whilst they were foraging in the Neighbouring Country; they were met in their advance, by General Potter with part of the Pennsylvania Militia, who behaved with bravery and gave them every possible opposition, till they were obliged to retreat from their superior numbers. Had we been an Hour sooner, or had had the least information of the measure, I am persuaded we should have given his Lordship a fortunate stroke or obliged him to have returned, without effecting his purpose, or drawn out all Genl Howe’s force to have supported him. Our first intelligence was that it was all out. He collected a good deal of Forage and returned to the City, the Night we passed the River. No discrimination marked his proceedings. All property, whether Friends or Foes that came in their way was seized and carried off.

On to Day 3…

Read more about these momentous six days in my 11/19 article in the Journal of the American Revolution, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Gulph Mills Encampment , or my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness







Six Days in December begins — Day 1, 12/13/1777–The Rebel Hill Encampment with George Washington and the Continental Army Begins

Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, early 1900s.

Today is Day 1 of the Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill, December 13 – 19, 1777.  That’s the day that 10,000 members of the Continental Army descended on and encamped at Rebel Hill, in Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania, some eight miles away from Valley Forge.  The army stayed there until December 19, 1777, when they marched to Valley Forge.  Those six days have largely been overlooked, so in 2011, I set out to change that.  I grew up on Rebel Hill, and I felt that it was time that Rebel Hill’s amazing history was told and retold.

So, in 2012, I published an e-book titled, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill, December 13 – 19, 1777.     It’s available on Amazon by clicking  here.    I also talk about those six days in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, from the perspective of the people who lived on Rebel Hill and woke up one day to find 10,000 soldiers on their hill.  The novel, which covers The Philadelphia Campaign, from the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777 through the Valley Forge Encampment, answers the question–what happens when the war comes to your back yard? You can read more about it here.  And you can also read all about those six days in my 11/5/19 article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Gulph Mills Encampment  in the Journal of the American Revolution.

I’ll be blogging about these six days up through December 19.  I will provide day-by-day coverage to the important activity that occurred during those six days, including the army’s celebration of the first Thanksgiving as a new nation and Gen. Washington’s decision to move to Valley Forge for the army’s winter quarters. These six days are the thrilling story about the threshold to Valley Forge and what happened when the war came to the backyard of the residents of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills.

So, here we go…

Late in the evening of December 12, 1777, in a blinding snowstorm, General George Washington and 10-11,000 of his hungry, tired, and barely-clothed Continental Army, spent from a December 5 -7 encounter with the British during the Battle of Whitemarsh and a Dec. 11 skirmish known as the Battle of Matson’s Ford, started the march from Swedes Ford, in Norristown, to Gulph Mills. One soldier writes, “We are ordered to march over the river. It snows–I’m sick–eat nothing–no whiskey–no baggage–Lord-Lord-Lord–. Till sunrise crossing the river cold and uncomfortable.”

At 3 a.m. on December 13, 1777, Washington and his army marched into Gulph Mills, where Rebel Hill is located. “…at 3 a.m. encamped near the Gulph where we remained without tents or blankets in the midst of a severe snow storm.”

Several historians believe that Washington was going to make Gulph Mills the Continental Army’s winter headquarters because if he had decided on Valley Forge, it would have been easier to march his tired army straight to Valley Forge, rather than detour them several miles to Gulph Mills. Some of the letters from members of the army bear that out.  Soldier Timothy Pickering wrote, “the great difficulty is to fix a proper station for winter quarters. Nothing else prevents our going into them…it is a point not absolutely determined.”

Because of their elevation, Rebel Hill and the hills of Gulph Mills provided an advantageous view for miles around. The army could have easily seen the British advancing from Philadelphia to the east, where the British had established winter headquarters. Also, Rebel Hill gave the army great access to the Schuylkill River, particularly the crossing points of Matson’s Ford and Swede’s Ford. Finally, Rebel Hill was friendly territory–it is believed to have gotten its name because the people who lived there were definitely rebels and patriots supporting the Continental Army.

In any event, General Washington had to get his army, which had no tents to shield them from the elements, settled. He issued these orders:

GENERAL ORDERS December 13, 1777.

Head-Quarters, at the Gulph,

Parole Carlisle. Countersigns Potsgrove, White Marsh.

The officers are without delay to examine the arms and accoutrements of their men, and see that they are put in good order.

Provisions are to be drawn, and cooked for to morrow and next day. A gill of Whiskey is to be issued immediately to each officer, soldier, and waggoner.

The weather being likely to be fair, the tents are not to be pitched. But the axes in the waggons are to be sent for, without delay, that the men may make fires and hut themselves for the ensuing night in the most comfortable manner.

The army is to be ready to march precisely at four o’clock to morrow morning.

An officer from each regiment is to be sent forthwith to the encampment on the other side Schuylkill, to search that and the houses for all stragglers, and bring them up to their corps. All the waggons not yet over are also to be sent for and got over as soon as possible.

Mr. Archibald Read is appointed paymaster to the 8th. Pennsylvania regiment, and is to be respected as such.

On to Day 2…