Morristown National Historical Park

Location: Morristown, New Jersey

Webpage: National Park

General Description:  Following victories at Trenton and Princeton in the fall and as winter of 1779-1780, approached General Washington looked for a place for the winter encampment that would protect the Continental Congress and keep an eye on the British in New York City, yet was far enough away and protected to defend against any British attacks.  He choose to winter at Morristown, New Jersey due to it’s proximity to both Philadelphia and New York City yet protected by the Watchung Mountains and swamps to the east and the Ramapo Hills that ran north to the Hudson Highlands leaving only a couple of passes that were easily defended.  The area around Morristown was heavily wooded and should have been an excellent location.  However, the citizens living in the area were by now war weary and did not appreciate the Continental Army after their experience three years earlier when they wintered in the same approximate location.  Food was already in short supply and other supplies such as clothing and shoes were critically short.  On top of these underlying problems, the winter of 1779-1780 was the worst in recorded history.  Snowstorms began in October and did not end until February.  For the only time in recorded history all of the saltwater inlets from North Carolina through New England were frozen.  Temperatures during January did not get above freezing with at least two snowstorms every month from October through February.  On January 3, the encampment experienced a blizzard that was the worst anyone had ever encountered.  Combine this with chronic shortages of food and clothing and the Continental Army threatened to mutiny.  Individual units of the army made its way to Morristown from the first week in December until the end of the month.  Their location was southwest of Morristown in a wooded hollow known as Jockey Hollow.  Learning from previous experience they laid out the camp in precise lines and the individual huts had to meet a minimum standard before they were occupied.  Due to the weather the construction of huts was slow, many living in tents into January.  Eventually 600 acres would be cleared for the huts and firewood.  With the rivers frozen, roads impassable, and local supplies not available starvation was a major concern.  All this led to a minor revolt in February when the Connecticut Continental Line refused to return to their huts.  The revolt was quickly put down and largely disregarded.  General Washington’s headquarters was at the Ford Mansion in Morristown, about 5 miles away where he attempted to secure food and remain in contact with other units in the field.  Today the National Historic Park includes the Ford Mansion, Jockey Hollow, and Fort Nonsense which was constructed three years earlier during their previous winter encampment at Morristown.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center is within Washington’s Headquarters Museum which is itself an historic building built in the 1930s.  It houses an excellent museum about the winter spent at Morristown and a movie where actors portray the living conditions the army had to endure.  This is also the location where you get the free tickets for tours of the Ford Mansion, 75 yards away.

WashingtonHeadquartersMuseum

2) The Ford Mansion was the home of the Ford family, built in 1774 and rented by General Washington to use as his winter headquarters.  The Ford family was moved to two rooms in the house, with the rest taken up by Washington and his staff.  In addition, he had a larger temporary kitchen constructed and huts for the Washington Guards.  The Ford Mansion has been restored to approximate the conditions during the winter of 1779.  They have done a great job in locating period pieces to create his offices and living quarters in the house, along with the two rooms used by the Ford family.

FordMansion WashingtonOffice

3) From the Ford Mansion it is a short drive to the hilltop where you find the remains of Fort Nonsense, built in 1777 to protect Morristown over the winter while the soldiers were staying in homes in the town.  While the derivation of the name it is not known, it is believe to be from the soldiers that felt it was constructed primarily to keep them out of mischief.  It consisted of trenches, raised embankments, and a guardhouse for 30 men.  Archeologists have located the footprint of the fort which is laid out in stone.  It is also the location of one of the watchfires that General Washington had constructed and manned all along the ridge around New York City to warn of any British movements.

FortRidiculous

4) Again it is a short drive to Jokey Hollow, the location of the winter encampment.  There is another Visitor Center in the center of the hollow that contains a cut-open wooden hut so you can look down into it and see how it would have been laid out.  By this point, they had learned how to construct a 12-man hut and they had to conform to one of two designs with either the chimney opposite the door or on a side-wall.

JockeyHollowVC InsideHut

5) There is a relatively short drive around Jockey Hollow with a few stops where you can see an old farm and barn that occupied the site at the time and a few reconstructed huts.  There is also a walking trail around and through the site that is a favorite for local residents.

OldFarm

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