Martha Washington Slept Here: John Penn House in Philadelphia #history #Pennsylvania #AmericanRevolution #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

Let’s continue with the series on Martha Washington Slept Here by visiting Philadelphia. Following the pivotal capture of Lt. General Earl Cornwallis at Yorktown in September 1781, George Washington became concerned about a “relaxation” of intensity in pursuit of winning the American Revolution. He wrote many letters to officials and officers encouraging diligence and actively pursuing the enemy until a cessation of fighting could be treated. He didn’t want the country, least not the army, to let their guard down and reverse the tide.

One personal casualty of Yorktown was young John Parke Custis, 26 years old, who died in early November 1781. Jacky, as he was nicknamed, was Martha Washington’s youngest child from her previous marriage. He left behind a wife and four children after dying from camp fever.

After burying her son, Martha did not want to stay at Mount Vernon while George headed north to Philadelphia for the winter at Congress’ request. When they arrived on November 27, 1781, in that city, they set up housekeeping at 242 South 3rd Street. This red brick home had been built by John Penn, the last Colonial governor of the state in 1766. Another important figure followed who lived in the house, Benjamin Chew, the final Colonial Chief Justice. When the Washingtons stayed in the house, it had been lent to them by the Spanish diplomat, Francisco Rondon. The original house has long since been torn down, but another lovely home has taken its place. As a result, I don’t really know much about what the house featured when Martha stayed in it. It was apparently a three-story house which may have had a kind of turret to one side. You can see a picture of it here, the one in the background to the right, which was taken from The City of Philadelphia as it appeared in the Year 1800.

It is interesting to me that in the compilation of Martha Washington’s papers, there are no letters from or to her during the period of October 1781 to October 1782. The last letter is one in October 1781 from her son, writing to her from the encampment outside of Yorktown. Without any first hand account of her experience it is a matter of conjecture that she likely did similar things during her stay in the by then familiar city. They had friends who lived there as well as army colleagues because they had been there before. How much they attended parties or balls while in mourning for Jacky is also a matter of conjecture. Perhaps George felt an obligation to attend but Martha did not? Or maybe she did accompany him.

In case you’ve missed the earlier posts, so far I’ve covered these camps:

The first winter headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1775.

The second winter headquarters in Morristown, NJ, in 1776.

Then Valley Forge in 1777-78.

Next at Middlebrook from 1778-79.

Next at Morristown, NJ from 1779-1780. 

Next in New Windsor, NY from 1780-1781.

I can only try imagine how sad Martha and George must have felt that winter. Despite the very wonderful news of the success at Yorktown, Martha had buried all four of her children and her first husband. Jacky’s wife was faced with raising four children on her own. However, George and Martha essentially adopted two of them to help out with raising them.

Until next time, when we’ll venture back to Newburgh, NY, happy 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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