Morristown, the Ford Mansion, Washington's Headquarters

Morristown and the Revolutionary War

It was cold and raining in Morristown when we visited the site of the Continental Army’s winter encampment. In late October, the weather helped give us the perspective of what the soldiers had to deal with.

We were visiting the area as part of ourautumn trip. We included the history tour of a few sites in Manhattan and those in Morristown, for our daughter. She likes history, and she recently learned about the Revolutionary War. It proved to be a great field trip of sorts for her. She wanted to see sites where it all happened, giving her a better perspective of the events.

The “Military Capital of the American Revolution”

Historians refer to Morristown as the “military capital of the American Revolution” for its role in the fight for Independence.

George Washington traveled through Morristown before the Revolutionary War and he remembered it when he was choosing the place for his troops to spend the winter. He thought the town had a great strategic location. The Watchung Mountains and the Great Swamp protected it from the British Army. It was also between New York and Philadelphia, both important cities even then.

The skills and trades of the residents also contributed to this choice. Morristown supported enough local industries to provide weapons and food for the army.

During the first year, Washington had his headquarters at the Morristown Greens. But the second year he moved it all to Jockey Hollow. This was the place where his troops spent the harsh winter from December 1779 to June 1780.

Jockey Hollow

Because of the proximity to our hotel, we started our Historical Morristown tour in Jockey Hollow. Part of theMorristown National Historical Park, it commemorates the Continental Army’s struggles during the harshest winter of the Revolutionary War.

Also known as Wick House, Jockey Hollow was the Wick family estate. But during the winter of 1779 and 1780 it housed the entire Continental Army.

It was cold and rainy when we visited, though the woods were beautiful. In late fall, the trees were all dressed in yellow, brown, orange and red. Quiet and peaceful now, I couldn’t imagine the troops living there, especially during a harsh winter.

We started our Jockey Hollow Tour at the Visitor Center. The open barrack on exhibit gave us a good idea of what they looked like in the day.

Inside a soldier's barrack at Jockey Hollow, NJ
The exhibit in the museum shows the inside a soldier’s barrack at Jockey Hollow.

The trail to the Wick House and Garden was short, but we still got wet and cold. We didn’t spend much time there, since we couldn‘t enter the house. Still, it was nice to see it.

Morristown. Jockey Hollow - the Wick House
The Wick House in Jockey Hollow. In the autumn rain.

Flowers were still in bloom in the garden. As I admired them, I thought of the significance of the place. According to some accounts, this was the place where Lafayette told Washington about the French sending troops to help his Army.

The Garden of the Wick House at Jockey Hollow, NJ
The garden where according to legend (or true story) Lafayette told Washington the good news about the French Troops

We drove through the surrounding woods, and stopped a few times to admire the fall leaves.

Driving through Jockey Hollow in the Fall
Driving through Jockey Hollow in the rain

Then we got to the barracks. Though replicas, in their setting they gave us the idea of how the soldiers spent their winter. Twelve of them shared a hut about the size of one of our rooms. Inside they had a fireplace, a few bunks and a table.

Morristown, NJ: Jockey Hollow soldiers barracks
The soldiers’ barracks in Jockey Hollow. Though replicas, they give you an idea of what the real ones were like.

I read that by the end of the winter, they had built about 1,200 huts in Jockey Hollow. As large as the estate is, it must have been crowded.

The Ford Mansion

From Jockey Hollow we drove over to the center of Morristown, to see Washington’s Headquarters.

The Ford Mansion served as his Headquarters during the 1779-1780 winter encampment. But it wasn’t the first time the Ford family hosted his troops. During the 1777 encampment they housed 35 soldiers for about two weeks. When Washington returned to Morristown in 1779, the family offered their mansion once again. This time Washington used it as his Headquarters.

Morristown, the Ford Mansion, Washington's Headquarters
The Ford Mansion, Washington’s Headquarters during the winter of 1779-1780

By then, Colonel Jacob Ford, had died. His widow, Theodosia Ford and her children offered to host the General and his military “family”.

The Ford family included four children, ranging in age from 8 to 17. They only kept two rooms for themselves and their servants. George Washington with his wife, Martha, their servants, slaves, and his camp-aides lived in the rest of the mansion.

They have a tour of the Mansion, but we couldn’t wait for it. Instead, we visited the Museum, across the lawn.

Washington’s Headquarters Museum

TheWashington Headquarters Museumin Morristown was one of the first museums built by the National Park Service. It has more exhibits than I expected, and we took a long time to get through everything.

Washington's Headquarters Museum in Morristown, NJ
Washington’s Headquarters Museum

Though the collection focuses on the period of Washington’s encampment in Morristown, it extends beyond that period.

As we entered, we started with the Military Gallery where we learned about the weapons used in the Revolutionary War, and other historical facts.

I stumbled by accident almost on the Pamphlets and Protest Gallery, but I spent more time there than the rest of my family. I love old, cursive hand-written documents. It brings the person who wrote it closer, gives me the impression I know them. If you look at some people’s handwriting, you can learn about the person they were. Besides, I enjoy handwritten documents. During that age it wasn’t only the words, but their form that added to their importance. But I had not time to examine everyone’s handwriting.

Moving on, we walked downstairs into the Discover History Center, a great place for kids and adults alike to understand the real history.

The American Style Gallery brought the everyday lives of Revolutionary-era wealthy families into focus, presenting household objects, and furnishings.

The Schuyler-Hamilton House

A few blocks from the Ford Mansion and the museum, we drove by the house Eliza Schuyler lived in when Hamilton was courting her. (I wanted to say dating but in those days I don’t think it was even a term.)

Built in 1760, the house still stands. Dr. Jabez Campfield, a surgeon who served in the Revolutionary war, bought it in 1765. He lived there, with his wife, Sarah Ward, from 1765 until 1821. During the winter of 1779-80 the house was also home to Dr Cochran, assigned to General Washington, and his wife, Eliza’s aunt.

She knew Eliza had met Hamilton in the summer of 1779 and she liked him. So when Mrs. Cochran learned that Alexander Hamilton was living a few blocks from her house, in the Ford Mansion, as General Washington’s aid, she invited her niece, Eliza, to spend the winter at her house. Hamilton courted Eliza for the rest of the winter, and they got married in April, at Eliza’s home, in Albany, NY.

The Schuyler-Hamilton House in Morristown
The Schuyler-Hamilton House in Morristown

In 1932 the Morristown Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution bought the house and renamed it in honor of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton.

They only open theSchuyler-Hamilton housefor tours on Sundays and since we visited on a Saturday, we couldn’t enter, but stopped for a few minutes to look at the old house where the famous love story took place.

Morristown Is a Great Place to Learn about American History

I learned a lot about American history during this trip. Visiting the places where it happened really brings it alive. We did it for our daughter, who learned about it in school, and she enjoyed the fact she was walking in the same places that some historical figures she learned about were.

We only had time to visit a few sites, but there is more in Morristown relating to the Revolutionary War.

Other places to see I didn’t cover are Fort Nonsense, also part of the Morristown National Historical Park; or Arnold’s Tavern, in the center of the town, by the Greens. While we drove by the Greens, we didn’t stop since it was raining and it’s really a park you’d enjoy if you could walk around.

Other than its historical importance, Morristown is just a town in New Jersey, not much different from any others. It is still a good place to stay if you plan to visit the area, because of its proximity to New York City, the Newark airport and Pennsylvania, specifically the Delaware Water Gap. But if you want to see Revolutionary War sites, Morristown is a great destination.

Morristown and the Revolutionary War

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