The second winter camp that Martha Washington went to was in Morristown, New Jersey. Last week I talked about the first winter headquarters she traveled to in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1775. George Washington established his winter camp headquarters in Morristown twice: the first time in January 1777 and the second in December 1779. The 1777 headquarters was in the Arnold Tavern downtown.
According to Philip Hoffman in his 1903 History of “The Arnold Tavern,” Morristown, N.J.: and many incidents connected with General Washington’s stay in this place, as his headquarters in winter of: with views of historic buildings and places of Revolutionary interest “The building stood on a commanding position, facing the ‘Green,’ on which were situated the court house and jail, on the northeast corner in front of the present U.S. Hotel. On the other side of the road, and almost directly in front of the present parsonage, stood the old Presbyterian meetinghouse, afterwards utilized as a hospital for the sick and wounded soldiers. This ‘Tavern’ building stood on the same spot for about 150 years, and until 1886 when it was bought by Mrs. Julia Keese Colles, a patriotic lady of Morristown, as a genuine Revolutionary relic, and for its preservation, it was removed to another part of the town, where it now stands as the main portion of All Souls’ Hospital, having been much changed in outward appearance and enlarged.”
You may notice that I skipped 1776. Why didn’t she go to him that year? George was a bit busy that fall and early winter fighting and defeating the British at Trenton and Princeton. So he didn’t set up his winter camp until January 1777. That winter was brutal, too. The soldiers had little to eat and suffered from the cold and snow and mud by turns. George spent much of his time writing letters of importance with regard to the need for sustenance for his troops, for new recruits to add to and bolster his army, and other such weighty topics.
But George developed a quinsy sore throat, “a malady to which the General was subject, and of which he finally died.” (He didn’t die in 1777, of course, but in 1797.) Still everyone feared he might die and so they sent for Martha who arrived at the Arnold Tavern on March 15, 1777. The tavern was quite a large place. Hoffman describes the building in his book:
“This large and commodious building was the principal hotel of the place…It was an imposing structure, three stories in height, divided by a wide hall running through the centre, with a front and back parlor on the south side, and barroom and dining room and kitchen on the other. A broad and winding stairway gave an easy ascent to the second floor. Washington slept in the second story, in the front room, over the bar-room; the room adjoining and back of it was used as his dressing room.
“Back of that, and over the dining room and kitchen, was a commodious ball room, in which the Assembly balls were held, and there the army Masonic lodge held its meeting during the time that Washington made his headquarters in this building, in the winter of 1777, and also again in the winter of 1780. Bed chambers filled up the rest of the house, five of which were in the third story.”
Of course, where George slept so did Martha, so we know she slept on the second story and would have probably enjoyed the view of the bustling town Green out her window. I do wish the building was still standing, but after it was relocated to become part of the All Souls Hospital, it was eventually replaced with newer structures. Today there stands an historic site marker at the original location of Arnold Tavern, though, should you want to go pay a visit.
Next time I’ll talk about Valley Forge. Thanks for reading!
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Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband…no matter what the dangerous future may hold.
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