Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spending the Winter at Jockey Hollow

Spending the Winter at Jockey Hollow
Written by NJ Historian

The winter of 1779-1780 was the worst in over one hundred years. For the approximately 10,000 to 12,000 troops in the Continental Army in Morristown, New Jersey, it was especially difficult. The bitter cold combined with the lack of adequate food, shoes, and supplies, tested the will and abilities of many men. Was continuing to fight in the American Revolution worth it? Would the men be able to endure and survive until the springtime? The winter at Morristown was one of the most difficult periods for these troops and the continued suffering weighed heavily on General George Washington from his headquarters at the Ford Mansion in Morristown. Today, Jockey Hollow in Morristown National Historical Park remains very much as it did in 1780, with open fields and forest. The troops who endured the long winter at Morristown are forever remembered and their encampment sites remained preserved, an honor to these men who fought for freedom and the American cause over 230 years ago.

General George Washington chose Morristown, New Jersey for his winter encampment in 1779-1780. The area now known as Jockey Hollow in Morristown was ideal. It was thirty-one miles from New York City, which would give him adequate time to prepare a defense against the British. The Watchung Mountains and the Great Swamp to the east provided a natural defense, along with the Ramapo Hills to the north. The countryside was heavily wooded and few roads existed, making it relatively easy to protect entrances to the area.

While most people tend to think the winter at Valley Forge in 1777-1778 was a bad winter, in reality it was just an average winter. The following winter at Middlebrook, 1778-1779, was mild. Weather historians agree that the Morristown winter of 1779-1780 was the worst winter of the eighteenth century. According to David Ludlam's book Early American Winters, 1604 to 1820, twenty-eight separate snow storms hit Morristown during the winter of 1779-1780.

At Valley Forge, the army's inexperience was their main problem. For most of the soldiers at Valley Forge it was their first winter camp with the army. The camp layout and hut construction at Valley Forge was not up to the standards later used at Morristown. At Valley Forge, the men lived in damp conditions and did not properly take care of camp sanitation, resulting in sickness and death. However, by the winter of 1779-1780, most of the soldiers had learned from their mistakes and had grown accustomed to the harsh military lifestyle.

Interior of a solders' hut at Jockey Hollow.
There was already a foot of snow on the ground at Jockey Hollow when the Army arrived in December. Continental Army Surgeon James Thacher wrote in his diary: "The weather for several days has been remarkably cold and stormy. On the 3rd instance, we experienced one of the most tremendous snowstorms ever remembered; no man could endure its violence many minutes without danger to his life. ... When the storm subsided, the snow was from four to six feet deep, obscuring the very traces of the roads by covering fences that lined them. "

To illustrate the extreme low temperatures, General Johann de Kalb wrote: " cold that the ink freezes on my pen, while I am sitting close to the fire. The roads are piled with snow until, at some places they are elevated twelve feet above their ordinary level." 

Private Joseph Plumb Martin reported in his memoirs  "We are absolutely, literally starved. I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except for a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood. I saw several men roast their old shoes and eat them, and I was afterward informed by one of the officer's waiters, that some of the officers killed a favorite little dog that belonged to one of them."

Interpretation of building the huts at Jockey Hollow. Source: National Park Service (NPS)
Because of these snowy conditions, the roads were impassible and no supplies could be brought to the troops. The Continental Army was in danger of starvation. A warm spell reached the area in mid-March, but by the end of the month, more snow fell and on April 1, 1780, another ten inches fell that day. Despite the extreme cold and near-starvation, only about one hundred died at Morristown’s 1779-1780 encampment.

Upon arriving at Jockey Hollow, Washington ordered that his army build a “log-house city.” But when soldiers first arrived in Jockey Hollow for their winter encampment, no log houses were yet built, and they had no choice but to sleep out in the open in the snow. Because of the weather, the task of cutting down the forest and constructing the huts was slow. Throughout most of December, the men slept under tents or with no covering at all. By Christmas, most of the enlisted men were in the huts, but the last huts for officers were not completed until as late as February of 1780. It took between two and three weeks for the soldiers to build their huts. Once complete, there were approximately 1,000 to 1,200 log structures throughout Jockey Hollow. The soldiers' huts were built eight in a row and three or four rows deep for each regiment. Eight infantry brigades occupied the site for seven months. In all, nine hundred acres of Jockey Hollow timber, notched together and chinked with clay, made the army’s winter quarters. Boards, slabs, or hand-split shingles were used to cover their simple gable roofs. Each soldiers' hut was uniform in its construction, approximately 14 feet wide by fifteen or sixteen feet long. The bunks were made of wood and each hut, designed to house twelve soldiers, included a fireplace and chimney at one end, and a door on the front. Windows were not cut in these huts until the spring. The officers' cabins were generally larger and varied in their design and construction. They would have housed only two to four officers and had two fireplaces and chimneys, and two or more doors and windows.

 Contemporary sketch of the Stark's Brigade camp in Jockey Hollow during the winter of 1779-1780. Source: NPS
Originally, the huts were meant to be used just for the winter of 1779-1780. However, some huts were used as a hospital after the army left in June 1780. During the winter of 1780-1781 some of the huts from Hand’s Brigade, the Connecticut Line and the Maryland Line were reused by Pennsylvania and New Jersey soldiers. When the New Jersey Brigade returned to Jockey Hollow for the winter of 1781-1782 they had to build new huts because the old huts were gone or unusable. Many of the huts constructed by the Continental Army were either torn down by the local farmers for their own use or eventually deteriorated over time. Farmers who had lost large amounts of timber due to the encampment wanted the huts for their boards, nails and wood that could be used for construction, fencing or fuel.

Today, five replicated soldiers’ huts are positioned on Sugar Loaf Hill. The first replica huts were built in the 1930s, following archaeological investigations. The huts were rebuilt a second time in the 1960s. These huts help demonstrate the simple and bare-bone living conditions that the troops faced after marching in the deep snow without shoes, using only cloth bandages to protect their hands and feet from frostbite.

The Wick Farm
In 1746, Nathan Cooper, of Roxbury (Chester) Township, and Henry Wick, “of Suffolk County, Long Island,” jointly bought 1,114 acres on the Passaic River known as the Dick Tract. Two years later, in 1748, Cooper released his half to Henry Wick. Between then and 1750, Henry Wick, an emigrant from Bridgehampton, Long Island, built the simple, one-and-a-half story frame home that would later serve as headquarters for Major General Arthur St. Clair during the encampment of 1779-1780. Locally, the house was referred to as Wick Hall, which can be explained by the fact that most of the homes in Morris County during this period were constructed of logs but this house was of frame construction and larger than most. Eventually, through subsequent purchases, the Wick property grew to over 1,400 acres.

Wick House, 1934, prior to restoration. Source: HABS
The Wick home is known as an integral lean-to, meaning that a lean-to off the rear of the home was part of the home's original construction and not a later addition or separate structure. This construction permitted the use of continuous rafters between the roof ridge and the eaves of the lean-to, thus providing a long, sloping roof of uniform pitch. This type of construction was common in New England and Long Island. It developed from the original one-room form of a house with a chimney constructed across one end. As the family grew, a second room would be built on the opposite end of the chimney, and eventually a room was added across the back of the home, containing a kitchen in the center with small bedrooms at either end. Oftentimes, the roof was also raised, allowing a full second floor. The rear addition, covered by a lean-to roof, produced the familiar "salt box" house with a long sloping rear roof. The Wick house exemplifies this evolved style of architecture, minus the second floor addition. The Wick House only contains an attic and not a full second story. On the exterior of the house, the front is covered in shingles, which has its origins in Dutch architecture, and the sides and rear is clapboard. This was a common type of exterior application found in southwestern Connecticut, Long Island and the Hudson River area.

Henry Wick, the owner of the house, served as Captain of a Morris County cavalry company during the war. He was involved in at least one sharp fight, though he was frequently detailed as guard for Governor Livingston and the Privy Council.

During the winter of 1776-1777, Major Joseph Bloomfield was quartered at the Wick House. During the encampment of 1779-1780, Major General Arthur St. Clair, then commander of the Pennsylvania Line, used the house as his headquarters. General St. Clair and two aides rented two rooms to serve as their office, dining room and bedrooms.

At the time of the encampment, the house was inhabited by Temperance (Tempe) Wick and her mother, Mary Cooper Wick. According to legend, in January, 1781, Tempe Wick was sent to get her brother-in-law, Dr. Leddel, to attend to her sick mother. Upon returning on her horse, several soldiers stopped her and told her that they needed the horse. Tempe escaped from the soldiers and returned to the house. Legend recounts that she hid the horse in a bedroom using a feather bed to muffle the sound of the horse's hooves. The soldiers eventually came looking for the horse and searched the barn and the woods surrounding the home, unable to find it. One version of this fabled tale states that the horse was kept in the house for three days, and yet another version says three weeks!

Henry Wick died on December 21, 1780 at Morristown, followed by his wife, seven years later, on July 7, 1787.

In 1933, Jockey Hollow and the Wick House were acquired by the National Park Service as America's first national historical park. The Wick House was examined and restored as part of the interpretation plan to recreate the Colonial atmosphere of the old Wick Farm, with its garden, barnyard, orchard, and cultivated fields. The home had been altered since the Revolutionary War. In 1934, the exterior walls were stripped and the original window fenestration was determined by studying the framing. Inside, most of the flooring had been replaced and what little may have been original, was severely compromised. Old flooring from homes in the area was installed. The plastered walls and ceilings were not original and were removed. By removing the floorboards in the attic, evidence of soot demonstrated that no plaster covered the ceilings throughout the house. In the kitchen, vertical sheathing was found behind the plaster, indicating the original walls that separated the rooms. 

Interior of the Wick House.
The chimney and fireplaces were altered in 1848, as indicated by a plaque above the oven door, giving architects and historians the task of recreating the fireplaces that would have once existed in the two front rooms. Historians were able to determine that each room in fact had a fireplace by the smoke stains on the ceilings. Using the existing bricks and brick from ruins of the nineteenth century Thompson house, located in the park, the fireplace in each room was reconstructed and the kitchen fireplace was made more shallow with a deep oven in the center. This arrangement was typical and consistent of houses from this period.

The work to restore the Wick House and build the new National Park was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was a program developed by President Roosevelt in 1933 to put unemployed men to work and preserve the nation's natural and cultural treasures. In Jockey Hollow, the men built many of the trails, performed extensive archeology around the soldiers' huts, Wick Farm, and Guerin House. They also constructed the tour road, Wick House garden and replanted the apple orchard at the Wick House. The Wick House was restored through their assistance and that of "Local Experienced Men." The experienced townspeople were hired by the camp to provide training to the young men in their respective fields, such as masonry or woodworking. Because of the willingness of these men, many of the features visitors enjoy in the the park today were constructed or rehabilitated through their hard work.

As you walk through Jockey Hollow and Morristown National Historical Park today, remember the soldiers who suffered the long winters and over 150 years later, the young men who helped commemorate our forefathers and the soldiers of the Revolutionary War. 

Additional photos of my trip to Jockey Hollow on Pinterest

Jockey Hollow Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

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