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Encounters 12, A Declaration and Guts

February 27, 2017

Martha may have heard the parade, gunfire, and the public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8 from the window of her Philadelphia residence, but George in New York read his copy to troops on July 9. When the British fleet arrived under the command of Admiral Lord Richard Howe, several skirmishes ensued. Washington’s army was outnumbered, and they lost the Battle of Long Island, pulling back and losing one battle after another. Martha returned to Mount Vernon.

In a surprise move, Washington crossed the Delaware River to attack foreign troops in Trenton and Princeton. After those encouraging victories, he settled into winter camp  at Morristown, New Jersey, requesting Martha to join him. Soon other wives arrived, gathering around Martha. They enjoyed the obvious fondness the Washingtons had for each other. Martha called him her “old man,” and if he were not listening she “humanized” him by pulling on his coat to attract his attention. He would look down from his “great height” and smile at his “worthy lady.”

That fall Martha traveled south again to be with Nelly at the birth of her second granddaughter, Martha, called Patty, on December 31, 1777. George again summoned Martha to camp at Valley Forge, a bleak and desolate area 20 miles from Philadelphia where the British were enjoying Tory hospitality.

With desertions, Valley Forge could have been the undoing of the Continental Army, but instead became the making of it. Martha’s presence inspired fortitude, wrote a French officer accompanying the German soldier, Baron Von Steuben who arrived at Valley Forge to drill Washington’s amateur soldiers into a cohesive professional army. Steuben’s training provided activity and amusement to the cold, bored and dispirited soldiers, while Martha and the other ladies knitted socks and sweaters and sewed clothing for them.

A third granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis, was born in March, 1779. In May news of an alliance with the French king reached Washington, and in June Martha went home to see her new granddaughter. The British abandoned Philadelphia, pursued by Washington through New Jersey to New York. For the remaining years of the war Martha joined her husband at his winter camps, but returned to Mount Vernon each spring.

On April 30, 1781 George Washington Parke Custis, called Wash, was born, and that September on his way to Yorktown, George Washington visited his home at Mount Vernon for the first time in six years to meet Jack and Nelly’s four children, including his namesake Wash. When he returned to his troops, Martha’s only son Jack went along.          (to be contd.)




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