I’ve talked about the first winter headquarters Martha Washington traveled to in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1775, and the second winter headquarters in Morristown, NJ, in 1776. But did you know that she also was at Valley Forge during the winter encampment there in 1777-78?
I was fortunate to have a close friend take me to visit this historic site several years ago. There is a good bit of history at the above link if you want to delve deeper into everything that occurred at this place. My aim is to talk about what my sources say Martha did over the months she stayed with George at Valley Forge.
Martha didn’t start out to join George until January 26, 1778 and she had much difficulty traveling due to bad weather and an overall bad trip. Her entourage was forced to stop at Brandywine Creek due to snow and then she had to hire a sleigh to travel the rest of the way. She didn’t arrive at camp until sometime between February 4th and 10th, so you can tell it was a long and difficult trip, encompassing 10-16 days of travel. (As a comparison, if you drove the 152 miles from Mount Vernon, Virginia to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, it would take a little more than 3 hours today.) Try to imagine riding in a coach and then a sleigh for that many days in the cold and snow. Hotels didn’t exist then, so they had to stop at taverns or welcoming houses along the way. All of this because she knew her place was at his side, to support and love him during the dangerous times they lived through. Keep in mind that if the Revolution failed, George faced charges of treason and would likely be hanged. In her own words:
“I had nothing but kindness everywhere on my journey. The travelling was pretty rough. I found snow in crossing Delaware, and at an inn on Brandywine Creek, at a ford, where I lodged, the snow was so deep in the roads in some places, that I had to leave the chariot with the innkeeper and hire a farm sleigh to bring me here. The General is well, but much worn with fatigue and anxiety. I never knew him to be so anxious as now, for the poor soldiers are without sufficient clothing and food, and many of them are barefooted. Oh how my heart pains for them.”
While she was in camp, she reportedly organized a sewing circle with the other wives in camp and even found some musicians to play a concert for George’s birthday on February 22, 1778. She did what she did best by starting the social life in the evenings with as much formality and gaiety as the camp conditions allowed, although she didn’t throw any balls, just dinner in the log cabin built onto the headquarters for dining. Again in her own words:
“The general’s head-quarters have been made more tolerable by the addition of a log-cabin to the house, built to dine in. The apartment for business is only about sixteen feet square, and has a large fireplace. The house is built of stone. The walls are very thick…”
(Note that there is some question as to the authenticity of the previous letter’s entire contents, but it is believed that the log cabin was built as a dining room.)
Spring not only brought warmer temperatures but mud. The thawing of the frozen camp led to a muddy mess, awash in sewage. In May George received word that the French government had recognized the independence of the American colonies, then states, and George declared a day of celebration. Shortly thereafter, it was time for Martha to go home to Mount Vernon, but at least the roads were better since they were no longer snow covered.
Next time I’ll talk about Middlebrook, NJ. 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.