PENNYPACKER’S MILLS, DAWESFIELD, AND EMLEN HOUSE, NEAR PHILADELPHIA
During the closing months of 1777, one of the darkest times of the Revolution, Washington made famous by his occupancy three houses, all located within a few miles of Philadelphia. The first of these, Pennypacker’s Mills, is the only building used by the Commanderin-Chief during the war that is still in the hands of the family that owned it when he was there.
Pennypacker’s Mills is delightfully situated in the angle formed by the union of the two forks of the Perkiomen, the largest tributary of the Schuylkill. Hans Joest Heijt, who built the grist mill and house on the land in 1720, sold the property in 1730 to John Pauling. He was succeeded in 1757 by Peter Pannebecker. His son Samuel was the owner of the house by the creek when, on September 26, 1777, Washington reached the Mills.
The orderly book of the following days and letters written from the house shed light on the events of the stay here.
On the day he reached the Mills, Washington wrote to William Henry at Lancaster :
” You are hereby authorized to impress all the Blankets, Shoes, Stockings, and other Articles of Clothing that can be spared by the Inhabitants of the County of Lancaster, for the Use of the Continental Army, paying for the same at reasonable Rates or giving Certificates.”
The entry in the orderly book on September 28 read :
” The Commander-in-Chief has the happiness again to congratulate the army on the success of the Americans to the Northward. On the 19th inst. an engagement took place between General Burgoyne’s army and the left wing of ours, under General Gates. The battle began at 10 o’clock, and lasted till nightour troops fighting with the greatest bravery, not giving an inch of ground. . . . To celebrate this success the General orders that at 4 o’clock this afternoon all the troops be paraded and served with a gill of rum per man, and that at the same time there be discharges of 13 pieces of artillery from the park.”
On the same day there was a council of war. It was found that there were in camp, fit for duty, 5,472 men. The whole army in all the camps then contained about eight thousand Continental troops and three thousand militia.
Next day Washington wrote :
” I shall move the Army four or five miles lower down to-day from whence we may reconnoitre and fix upon a proper situation, at such distance from the Enemy, as will entitle us to make an attack, should we see a proper opening, or stand upon the defensive till we obtain further reinforcements. . . . ”
Later in the day the army marched to Skippack, within about twenty-five miles of Philadelphia. The next stage in the advance was Methacton Hill, and from there the army began to move, on October 3, at seven o’clock in the evening, to the attack on the British at Germantown.
After the battle of Germantown Washington wrote to the President of Congress :
” In the midst of the most promising appearances, when everything gave the most flattering hopes of victory, the troops began suddenly to retreat, and entirely left the field, in spite of every effort that could be made to rally them.”
The Commander’s marvellous ability to handle men was shown by the entry made in his orderly book the next day, when he was back at Pennypacker’s Mills. Instead of reprimanding the soldiers for their strange retreat, he ” returned thanks to the generals and other officers and men concerned in the attack on the enemy’s left wing, for their spirit and bravery, shown in drawing the enemy from field to field, and although . . . they finally retreated, they nevertheless see that the enemy is not proof against a vigorous attack, and may be put to flight when boldly pursued.”
The good results of this message were evident from the letter of a soldier written from the Mills on October 6. He said :
“Our excellent General Washington . . . intends soon to try another bout with them. All our men are in good spirits and I think grow fonder of fighting the more they have of it.”
To the joy of the soldiers the word was given on October 8 to march toward Philadelphia. In three short stages the army arrived, on October 21, at Whit-pain, where Washington took up his headquarters in the house of James Morris, Dawesfield. From here messages were sent that tied his men still closer to him. On October 24 he issued a proclamation of full pardon to deserters who should return before a specified date, and next day he congratulated the troops on the victory at Red Bank.
The chief event of the stay at Dawesfield was the court-martial convened October 30, to try Brigadier-General Wayne, at his own request, on the charge that his negligence was responsible for the defeat at Paoli, September 20. The verdict was that ” he did every-thing that could be expected from an active, brave, and vigilant officer, under the orders he then had.”
Three days after the trial the army moved to White-marsh, near the junction of the Skippack and Bethlehem roads. There Washington lived at Emlen House, of which Lossing says, ” At the time of the Revolution it was a sort of baronial hall in size and character, where its wealthy owner dispensed hospitality to all who came under its roof.”
The house was modernized in 1854, but it still retains many of the original features. Among these is the moat at the side of the house.
Washington followed the example of the owner of the house by welcoming guests, in spite of the handicaps mentioned in the orderly book on November 7:
“Since . . . the middle of September last, he [the General] has been without his baggage, and on that account is unable to receive company in the manner he could wish. He nevertheless desires the Generals, Field Officers and Brigadier-Major of the day, to dine with him in the future, at three o’clock in the after-noon.”
It was from Emlen House that Washington gave the first intimation that he knew of the infamous attempts to discredit and displace him which later became known as the ” Conway Cabal.” To General Conway himself he wrote saying that he had heard of Conway’s letter to General Gates in which he had said, ” Heaven has been determined to save your country, or a weak
General and bad counsellors would have ruined it.”
A few glimpses of the awful condition of privation
that were to prevail that winter at Valley Forge were given on November 22:
” The Commander-in-Chief offers a reward of ten dollars to any person, who shall, by nine o’clock on Monday morning, produce the best. substitute for shoes, made of raw hide.”
The movement to Valley Forge was begun on December 1. The army went by way of ” Sweeds” Ford (Norristown), where, as the quaint diary of Albigence Waldo says:
“A Bridge of Waggons made across the Schuylkill last night consisted of 36 waggons, with a bridge of Rails between each. Sun SetWe are order’d to march over the River. The Army were ’till Sun Rise crossing the Riversome at the Waggon Bridge, & some at the Raft Bridge below. Cold and Uncomfortable.”