The last of the war-time headquarters was in Princeton, New Jersey, or more precisely Rocky Hill, at a house known as Rockingham. According to the Rockingham site, the house was built around 1710 with two rooms and a lean-to. Judge John Berrien added on to the house in the 1760s, making the house first known as the Berrien Mansion. The original location of the house had it on a hill overlooking a river, but it has been moved several times to its current location.
George managed the final tasks of the army over several month in 1783. In fact he wrote to his nephew George Augustine Washington the following on August 18, 1783 from Newburgh: “I shall set off for Princeton tomorrow… I carry my baggage with me, it being the desire of the Congress that I should remain till the arrival of the Definitive Treaty…which…is every day expected.” He had no idea just how long he’d be cooling his heals upon his arrival, but from reading his correspondence during this period of time he became evermore antsy for the treaty to arrive so he could finally put finish to the war and go home to his beloved Mount Vernon. He had rarely visited his home over the duration of the hostilities beginning in June 1775 when he left for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Remember from last week’s post that he had to move on to this location even though Martha was still laid up with a fever back in Newburgh, NY, until she recovered in late August 1783. When she arrived at Rockingham, she found a two-story clapboard house overlooking a river. My hubby and I were fortunate to be able to tour the home with the caretaker and ask questions. Martha’s bedchamber, he said, was upstairs while George slept downstairs. I’m not sure I believe that, though, since the couple was very close and loved each other. The stairs leading to the second floor were rather narrow and steep, so I find it unlikely she’d want to have to traverse them frequently. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, but the house is furnished with reproductions of furniture and furnishings of Washington’s time spent there.
On October 31, 1783, George Washington and Congress were informed of the signing of the final treaty declaring that the American States were now independent from Britain. Can you imagine the huge sigh of relief he must have let it out at such wonderful news? He could finally go home! Only not just yet. There were a couple more details that had to be handled. It was at Rockingham that George wrote the Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States, which were delivered to the Continental Army at West Point, and probably his farewell speech he gave on his way home to Virginia.
Martha left for Mount Vernon early in November while George stayed behind. On December 4, 1783, he officially bid farewell from his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York City. Then he headed south, first stopping for a time in Philadelphia to wrap up personal and public affairs. But while he longed to be home, he understood his role in the new country’s future. In a letter to John Ewing dated December 13, 1783, from Philadelphia he wrote: “Tho the military Scene is now closed, and I am hastening with unspeakable delight to the still and placid walks of domestic Life; yet even there will my Country’s happiness be ever nearest to my heart—and, while I cherish the fond idea, I shall retain a pleasing remembrance of the able support the Public has often received from the learned Professions; whose prosperity is so essential to the preservation of the Liberties, as well as the augmentation of the happiness & glory of this extensive Empire.” Keep in mind Martha was probably anxiously awaiting him at Mount Vernon by this time.
I find it very interesting that there are no letters from Martha during this entire period. I would think she corresponded with her family and friends at least occasionally, but none are included in the compiled collection of her papers I have on hand. Was she busy with household concerns or ill? I don’t know. It’s only my speculation. I would hope that George had written to her as well, though if you recall one of the things Martha did before she died was to burn all but a few letters between her and George.
He wrote at least a dozen letters while in Philadelphia before telling George Clinton on December 15, 1783, “I am within a few Minutes of setting off for Virginia—passing thro’ Annapolis—where I shall stay two or three days only…”
He passed through Wilmington, then Baltimore, and finally stopped in Annapolis, Maryland, by the 20th of December to officially resign his commission to quash any rumors that he wanted to reign as king. One of my sources claims that Martha went to Annapolis to hear the speech. She might have as her son’s wife’s family lived in that area and she may have wanted to visit with them. But after being on the road so long, I have my doubts that she’d want to travel during December.
In George’s correspondence online his official resignation is dated December 23, 1783 in which he opens with, “The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulations to Congress & of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the Service of my Country.” In a subsequent letter he noted that the resignation went into effect at twelve that day. You can read his Address to Congress on the day of his resignation, too.
His satisfaction and relief are so apparent in every letter of his that I read it’s obvious to me he wanted nothing more than to retire to private life again. He and Martha looked forward to spending quiet days at Mount Vernon entertaining their friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Out of the public eye and safe from any further hostilities or vitriol.
And yet we all know how well that worked out, right?
In case you’ve missed the other posts, I’ve covered these sites:
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.
Back to Pennsylvania and the John Penn House in Philadelphia from 1781-1782.
Next to last war-time HQ was at Newburgh, NY during 1782-1783.
That wraps up my Martha Washington Slept Here series of the American Revolution headquarters sites.
Until next time, may your reading take you many places!
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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.