On a cold and rainy December 16, 1777, the 11,000 soldiers in George Washington’s Continental Army at Gulph Mills and Rebel Hill had one solace — tents had arrived. They had been exposed to the snow and cold since the army arrived at the Gulph on December 12, and they had sought shelter under the rocks and trees of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills. Food was still scarce because a food caravan headed towards them was delayed.
Once the tents arrived, General Washington’s orders for the day were short and sweet:
“GENERAL ORDERS Head. Quarters, at the Gulph, December 16, 1777.
Parole — . Countersigns — .
The tents are to be carried to the encampment of the troops, and pitched immediately.”
The day was not just one of pitching tents and trying to find comfort for some soldiers. Apparently, a group of British soldiers were out foraging for food and ran smack into the Continental Army. See these accounts:
From Dr. Albigence Waldo–
“December 16. Cold Rainy Day, Baggage ordered over the Gulph of our Division, which were to march at Ten, but the baggage was order’d back and for the first time since we have been here the Tents were pitch’d, to keep the men more comfortable. Good morning Brother Soldier (says one to another) how are you? All wet I thank’e, hope you are so (says the other). The Enemy have been at Chestnut Hill Opposite to us near our last encampment the other side Schuylkill, made some Ravages, kill’d two of our Horsemen, taken some prisoners. We have done the like by them….”
And, another soldier wrote this account of December 16–“We have been for several days past posted on the mountains near the gulph mill, and [today], a party of the enemy, to the number of fourty five were surprised and made prisioners.”
While the rank and file soldiers were otherwise engaged, General Washington and his generals, in consultation with the Continental Congress, were trying to decide where the army should make its winter quarters.
But where were Washington and his generals meeting and living while they were in Gulph Mills? No one knows for sure where General Washington actually had his headquarters, but historians believe that it was at Walnut Grove Farm, part of the John Hughes estate, now part of the Gulph Mills Golf Course.
General Sterling, also known as Lord Sterling, who was in charge of the Gulph Mills outpost, was on Rebel Hill at the home of John Rees. And, a future President of the United States, James Monroe, was with him. Monroe was then a lieutenant and aide to General Sterling.
General Lafayette’s headquarters were a home near what is now the Gulph Mills entrance to 476 East, and the home was destroyed to make way for the expressway. General Nathaniel Green was at the Zimmerman Supplee home, near what is now the Gulph Mills station on SEPTA’s P & W line. Aaron Burr was at the Jonathan Sturgis home directly at the base of Rebel Hill, which was a picket post during the Valley Forge encampment and considered one of the outer lines of the encampment, and, in more modern times, the Picket Post Restaurant (now Savona).
On to a very important Day 5…