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 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…

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 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 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.

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…

The Battle of Whitemarsh, Dec. 5 – 7, 1777

Battle of Whitemarsh

A British drawing of the Battle of Whitemarsh

December was a busy time for General George Washington and the Continental Army in 1777.   On November 2, Washington moved the Continental Army into a camp in Whitemarsh, PA.  Yet, he thought that the area, about 16  miles northwest of Philadelphia along the hills between Old York Road and Bethlehem Pike, not far down the road from where there was a British occupation in Germantown and even moreencamped in Philadelphia, was vulnerable to attack by the redcoats.  He was right.

I wrote a bit about these few days of skirmishes with the redcoats, known as the Battle of Whitemarsh, in my ebook, SIX DAYS IN DECEMBER: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill December 13 – 19, 1777.  Here is the excerpt:


“The army was cold, tired, and barely clothed when they got to Rebel Hill. British General Howe had moved most of his army out of Philadelphia on Dec. 4 for one final battle before both armies went into winter quarters. Several divisions of Washington’s Continental Army skirmished with the British at the Battle of Whitemarsh on December 5 – 7. Yet, the entire Continental Army was on full alert on December 7 for an attack by Howe’s British army. On that day, General Washington “rode through every brigade of his army, delivering in person his orders respecting the manner of receiving the enemy, exhorting his troops to rely principally on the bayonet, and encouraging them by the steady firmness of his countenance, as well as by his words, to a vigorous performance of their duty.”3 Gen. Howe decided not to attack after he couldn’t draw out the Continental Army, and he ordered their retreat back to Philadelphia on Dec. 8. Gen. Washington decided that, for the winter, his army had to move farther away from Philadelphia than their current headquarters in Whitemarsh.”

3The Camp by the Old Gulph Mill, William Spohn Baker, 10-11, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (1893).”

You can read more about the Battle of Whitemarsh at the World History Project  or at one of the many Revolutionary War websites here.

I write about the Battle of Whitemarsh in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, because it was part of the Philadelphia Campaign of 177-1778.  The characters in Becoming Valley Forge answer the question of what happens when the war comes to your backyard, in this case, the backyards of those who live in Whitemarsh, Germantown, and Chestnut Hill.  I hope you’ll read about this battle in the book and let me know what you think about it.  Feel free to email me at



Remembering today’s Battle of Matson’s Ford, 12/11/1777–The Threshold to the Rebel Hill Encampment 12/13 – 19, 1777

James PotterGrowing 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?

For more about the Battle of Matson’s Ford, click here.         .


Sheilah Vance