New Jersey history is ripe with stories that we have long since forgotten. George Washington crossing the Delaware River, to the dismay of the British, is not a story we’d forget. However, we tend to forget the distinct historical sites that our state was founded on, and the Morristown National Historical Park is very well one of those places. Read on for more about this important place in our country’s history.
Washington’s Revolutionary War Encampment
George Washington first passed through Morristown, New Jersey, in 1773. Accompanied by his stepson John Parke Curtis, they traveled through on their way to Basking Ridge for a visit with William Alexander, also known as Lord Stirling. Stirling would become a major general in Washington’s Continental Army.
When Washington’s army won the Battles of Trenton in December 1776 and Princeton in January 1777, they headed nearby to Morristown. It was a harsh winter, so the troops remained in the area for spring. At the time, Morristown had an important lumber industry, and the town was a center for local farmers and iron miners. There was a church, courthouse, cemetery, a handful of shops, a pub, and around fifty homes. While the troops hunkered down, Washington utilized Arnold’s Tavern on the Green as his headquarters. It served as a central location for Morristown society and allowed Washington to be in contact with the townspeople. When word spread of health epidemics in the area in 1777, Washington ordered his militia to be inoculated against smallpox. Cleanliness and order became the priority, but despite this, conditions grew so bad for the troops that many attempted mutiny.
Two years later, the troops returned, building a new encampment on Jockey Hollow’s 1500-acre forestland. The winter of 1779 was “intensely cold and freezing,” according to Washington, who was then accompanied by his wife, Martha. The famous general and first President was given shelter at the Ford Mansion, owned by Colonel Jacob Ford, Jr. and his wife, Theodosia. Built in 1774, the Georgian-style mansion became Washington’s official headquarters and allowed them considerable luxury after the harrowing journey of war. There, Washington spent his time trying to meet the needs of his militia, who were sick, weak, and poorly funded.
Benedict Arnold was court-martialed in Morristown on December 23rd, 1779. Then, on May 10th, 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in town with news of French support — a critical turn in the Revolutionary War.
Morristown National Historical Park
This region and the historical sites that make up the park were established in 1933 as the country’s first National Historical Park. Washington’s Headquarters Museum is the most well known, located next door to the Ford Mansion. Though small, this museum is well loved by visitors, gives you a good overview of events, and houses pieces from both the war and the Washingtons.
The Ford Mansion was the winter home of George Washington while he was encamped here the second time. Please remember that tours are given at varying times of the day in different seasons.
The other historical area to visit is Jockey Hollow, a Continental Army encampment site. There are numerous hikes, cabins, sample troop shelters, and informational markers explaining the area. The Wick House is a historic farmhouse in Jockey Hollow since the 1750s. Henry Wick was the largest landowner around Morristown in 1779 and allowed the army to camp on his farmland.
There are also two other sites in the historic park, Fort Nonsense, which overlooks the area and remains of earthworks, and NJ Brigade Encampment Area.
Visiting the Park Today
Jockey Hollow is open from morning to sunset and is free for visitors. The Washington Headquarters Museum has seasonal hours, so check online for openings.