Washington’s Winter in Morristown,
New Jersey 1779-1780

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Morristown, New Jersey
It was the winter of 1779, when the Continental Army endured the toughest elements of their lives. General George Washington led his army to the county seat of Morristown, New Jersey to prepare to fight the British troops. The Continental Army set up camp at Jockey Hollow and George Washington stayed at the Ford Mansion (instead of Arnold’s Tavern) by the Morristown Green. This was the known as Washington’s Headquarters.

If only the army knew that this would be a test of survival alone...

Washington’s Headquarters- Ford Mansion

The Ford Mansion was built by Jacob Ford Jr., a former Colonel of the war, in 1774. This was used as Washington’s Headquarters from December of 1779 to June of 1780. Washington chose Morristown to stay for the winter because of Morristown’s ability of keeping communication with the Patriots and watching British troops. Morristown was between the American capital, Philadelphia and the British encampment Manhattan. They were also experiencing transportation issues. Also, as Washington quoted he liked the “defensible terrain, important communication routes, and access to critical resources”. Washington acquired resources from the Ford’s businesses of a gunpowder mill, iron mine, etc. He lived with his wife, Martha Washington, five aides-de-camps, eighteen servants, and Theodosia and her children (Jacob Ford passed away at this time). Times were hard for the Continental Army. General Washington wrote from the Ford Mansion in a journal entry:

"... The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before. "

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General George Washington

General George Washington led his troops into Morristown to stay for the winter in December of 1779.

Morristown was considered the military capital of the American Revolution. It played a strategic part in the fight for independence. In 1777, George Washington and his ragtag Continental Army marched from their military win at Trenton and Princeton against the British to an encampment near Morristown from January to late spring. General Washington set up his headquarters at Jacob Arnold’s Tavern located near the town’s green (the Ford Mansion was chosen later on). This place was chosen because of its proximity to New York, Philadelphia and Boston, as well as its abundance of skilled workers and artisans. The Arnold Tavern became a hospital and burnt down in 1918.

Throughout the winter the troops was in dire need of supplies, food, and clothing. Washington stayed at the Ford Mansion, but was responsible of keeping his troops alive. Since Continental money was worthless, it made it harder to buy supplies and get a salary. Washington ordered farmers to sell food to the army. The lack of food caused many mutinies among at Jockey Hollow.

Washington sent numerous letters to Congress in total, stating the horrible situation the army was in. Congress was tired of hearing Washington complaining, and the situation didn’t get any better. Congress eventually sent an official in to evaluate the situation, but even he said it was horrible. Still, the Continental Army held up.

War tactics like "hit and run", "defeat and retreat", locations like the Watchung Mountains (which was a military importance), and avoiding an open field of contact were Washington's ways that kept the army protected and alive.

Washington was an excellent leader that played an immense role in the American Revolution. He was determined to keep his soldiers alive, made insolent war tactics for protection, and led the army into to a victory of freedom.

Jockey Hollow

In 1779, while Washington stayed at the Ford Mansion, 13,000 soldiers set up camp at Jockey Hollow.
The army survived the cruelest winter here; seven blizzards. Tucked up between the Watchung Mountains and the Great Swamp, Jockey Hollow provided the army with protection. With lumber cut by hand, twelve soldiers occupied 1,000 14 by 16 huts. As time went on, a smallpox epidemic spread throughout the settlement. General George Washington ordered smallpox inoculations
to the soldiers. This consisted of making a small cut in person’s arm and placing pus of the smallpox disease in it. This saved almost all of the disease-ridden soldiers.
Congress placed rations upon the soldiers. Collectively, 1 pound of beef or ¾ pounds of pork, 1 pound of salt fish, 1 pound of bread or flour, 3 pints of peas or beans, small portion of milk, rice, and spruce beer (cider), and some candles or soap. The monthly pay for a soldier was six and two-thirds dollars (paper money became worthless as the war went on). This wasn’t enough to feed 13,000 men.

As a result of the ruthless winter at Jockey Hollow, 100 men died from starvation and sickness. One thousand men deserted. Jockey Hollow was one of the largest settlements of the time.

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Colonel Nathanael Greene

Colonel Nathanael Greenewas a Quaker Continental Army officer during the American Revolution. When they experienced the inflation of paper money, Colonel Greene was furious because the soldiers wouldn't have a proper pay.

This American Revolutionary General was born from Quaker decent in Rhode Island. He was appointed brigadier general of the Rhode Island forces and sent to join the Continental Army that was fighting the British in Boston. After fighting subsequent battles near New York City, he gained the attention and respect of General George Washington. He was then assigned troops to command in New Jersey. He fought battles in Princeton, the Brandywine and Germantown. In 1778, he was appointed quartermaster general of the revolutionary army by George Washington himeself. A famous quote of his is, "We fight, get beat, and rise up to fight again.." He kept constant communication with Washington while he was encamped in Morristown. One of his journal entries states:

“The weather begins to get cold and puts us in mind of winter quarters…It therefore becoms [sic] necessary to look out for a proper place to hut the army in.”
Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene instructing a deputy in New Jersey, James Abeel, to find places that would support a winter encampment of the Continental Army directly under the command of General George Washington-Thur. November 4th, 1779

(Gen. Nathaniel Greene General Greene will arrive in Morristown on Saturday, November 20, to personally oversee the search.)

Another Letter to George Weedon from Nathanael Greene (no money for supplies- having music at the Headquarters)

Many officers note their men are hutted by Christmas. “The Army is quarterd within three Miles of this place, in the usual way of hutting. Head Quarters is in this Town, at the Widow Fords, at the great white House at the North end of the place. My quarters is at the House were Head Quarters was in ’77. (the Arnold Tavern) But there is a very different kind of Inhabitants in the place to what there was when you was here. They receive us with coldness and provide for us with reluctance. The Army is in great distress for want of Provision and forage; owing to the great Departments of the Army being kept in a starvd condition for three or four Months past for want of money…."
General Nathanael Greene to General George Weedon, December 25, 1780

Greene was the only general second to Washington and Henry Knox to fight eight years of the battle. Nathanael Greene was a loyal, ambiguous, self-sacrificing General, and very willing to serve his country.

Fort Nonsense

Fort Nonsense was a supply base secured by the Watchung Mountain range and the Great Swamp. Fort Nonsense is the highest point of the area. It was also called “The Hill” or “Kinny’s Hill”. This was Washington’s retreat place for guards just in case the British attacked. The soldiers built trenches and built a guardhouse fit for thirty men. Ironically, the British never attacked and the legend was that Washington assigned his army to build it to keep them busy. This proved not to be true. However, Washington ordered a Beacon system to be set up as a signal alarm that the British was coming. Today, this is preserved by the Morristown National Park and can be visited.

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"The Alliance"- This a statue of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Marquis De Lafayette in the center of the Green. This statue depicts the French coming in to the American Revolution.

The Great Swamp- This is the swamp that provided the Continental Army with protection.