Archive for the ‘Valley Forge’ Category

“Ninteenth Century Fantasy vs Eighteenth Century Reality”

Nancy K. Loane, the author of the book Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment (see previous post) has an essay in the appendix called “Making the Myth of Martha Washington.” It deals with the untruths and inaccuracies which over time have grown up around Martha Washington and the role she played as the wife of George Washington, particularly in the winter encampments of the Continental Army, both at Valley Forge and elsewhere. At issue is whether Mrs. Washington personally met with and gave solace and assistance to ordinary soldiers. Part of the problem is due to the fact that Martha destroyed almost all of her correspondence with her husband and there is little in her correspondence with others that confirms such contact. Those who have attributed such a role to her have depended on the writings of others, on oral histories which are suspect, or, indeed, have made up stories out of whole cloth. Examining various sources that make reference to such a role for Martha, Ms. Loane can find not one that is credible. The clincher for the author is that “the concept of the benevolent lady out among the poor and suffering soldiers belongs to the Romantic nineteenth century not the tradition-bound eighteenth century.”

As for Martha Washington’s appearance, I did like the impression Elizabeth Schuyler (she became the wife of Alexander Hamilton) had of her at Morristown, where Martha’s main contacts were the wives of other generals and her husband’s aides.

She received [my aunt and me] so kindly, kissing us both, for the general and papa were very warm friends. She was then nearly fifty years old, but was still handsome. She was quite short; a plump little woman with dark brown eyes, her hair a little frosty, and very plainly dressed for such a grand lady as I considered her. She wore a plain, brown gown of homespun stuff, a large white handkerchief, a neat cap,and her plain gold wedding ring, which she had worn for more than twenty years. She was always my ideal of a true woman.

Schuyler’s description is in Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment, page 190, taken from Hugh Howard, Houses of the Founding Fathers (New York: Artisan, 2007), page 147. The portrait of Martha Washington is by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.

posted May 1st, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Patriots,Primary sources,Valley Forge,Washington, Martha

“Following the Drum”

Although the book Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment was published in 2009, I just recently discovered it. For shame! Written by Nancy K. Loane who is a former seasonal ranger at Valley Forge National Historical Park, it describes the women, of high social status, middling, and low, who spent time at Valley Forge in 1777-1778 and at other winter encampments. Women whose names you are likely to recognize—Martha Washington, Catherine Greene, Lucy Knox, Rebekah Biddle, Lady Stirling, and Alice Shippen—receive considerable attention, in part, because there is a good deal of source material available: documents, diaries, and letters. But there are also chapters devoted to the women of Washington’s “family,”—his slaves, servants, and spies—as well as to camp followers, many of whom were wives of serving soldiers. Mostly they washed, cooked, did laundry, nursed the ill and wounded, and cared for children and babies, with only grudging recognition and little recompense. Ms. Loane provides many details about their roles and the hardships they endured. Very readable, the book is well researched and documented. You can see a video of Ms. Loane talking about the book on C-SPAN.

posted April 28th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Camp followers,Valley Forge,Washington, Martha

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