J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Peering into “the Gulf”

On Thanksgiving I quoted Pvt. Joseph Plumb Martin’s description of his regiment’s holiday in December 1777. At the time those soldiers were passing through an area he called “the Gulf.” I decided to plumb that depth and find out more.

This area is currently know as Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania. A large part of the Continental Army camped there for a week starting on 13 Dec 1777 before they moved on to Valley Forge for the winter. So the Gulph Mills encampment got relegated to a footnote.

But the local civic association is happy to promote local history:
Records do not tell just where Washington’s headquarters were as some of his letters were dated “Headquarters Gulph Mill,” others “near the gulph” and one to the Board of War was dated “Headquarters Gulph Creek, 14th December, 1777.” It is thought the Headquarters were the Hughs home at the Walnut Grove Farm, now a part of the Gulph Mills golf course.

General Lafayette’s Headquarters was at the site where the Mary MacFarland Cutler home stood. The Mary Cutler home was torn down to build the Gulph Mills approach to the Expressway. Part of the landscaping of the home can be observed today.
One landmark that does survive is the “hanging rock.” After some proposals to run a highway over it, it’s now on the registry of historic places.

Sheilah Vance wrote a day-by-day series on the encampment, starting here. As a taste, here’s surgeon Albigence Waldo in his diary on 16 December:
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…
After the army moved into Valley Forge on 19 December, Gulph Mills became an advanced position, occasionally commanded by Col. Aaron Burr.

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