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March 10, 2015: Jesse West-Rosenthal

Archaeology at Valley Forge
Jesse West-Rosenthal talk Photos courtesy of Stan Sarnocinski

Jesse West-Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate at Temple University, riveted the capacity audience at Washington Memorial Chapel with his enlightening show-and-tell presentation about archaeological discoveries at Valley Forge National Historical Park and the Chapel. After the talk, the audience adjourned for a reception and personal conversations with the presenter, as well as an up-close-and-personal look at some of the artifacts from Chapel digs.

Among the points made by Mr. West-Rosenthal:

  • Archaeology provides the material sources to better understand what really happened at the Valley Forge encampment.
  • The famous DuPortail map may not be contemporaneous with the 1777-78 Valley Forge encampment.
  • The village of Valley Forge was established as an industrial area in the early 1800s.
  • The Valley Forge soldiers went as far as 3 miles from camp to gather wood – and sometimes even farther.
  • Huts from the encampment reveal themselves as depressions in the ground.
  • The encampment was very defensible, with features including Mount Joy and Mount Misery and the Schuylkill River.
  • Washington ordered huts to be 14’x16’ for 12 rank and file soldiers with a split slab door and a fireplace opposite the door.
  • Steuben laid out how an encampment site was to look in his Instruction Manual (which he began writing – in French - at Valley Forge). The Manual (“Blue Book”) was used by the American Army until 1812.
  • Archaeological excavations have gone on for years at Valley Forge: -
  • 1962: Campbell excavated huts at Maxwell’s Brigade.
  • 1966: Cotter at Wayne’s Woods.
  • 1973: 13 additional huts identified. Camp uniformity was not present, for some huts had corner fireplaces. Did the soldiers purposely defy Washington’s orders? Or, because of time constraints, the winter weather, and the fact that the troops came into camp at different times, did the soldiers simply build their huts as quickly as they knew how?
  • 2000-2003: Wayne’s Woods under David Orr. This project took a broader approach to the brigade area and looked for totality – the kitchens, work areas, soldiers’ huts, officers’ huts, etc.
  • 2009-2011: National Park Service. Archaeologists looked for evidence of the dining cabin behind Washington’s Headquarters as referenced by a letter of Martha Washington. Found evidence of the former footprint of the log cabin as well as such things as a bone knife handle, 18th century redware, more refined crockery, a military-style buckle. A trash pit was also discovered. An 18th century privy, however, considered “archaeological gold,” has not yet been found in the Washington’s Headquarters area.
  • Washington Headquarters area has been inhabited from 2000 BC, even before Europeans came to America. Over 2000 objects have been found in this area, dating from 2000 BC to 1000 AD, including many spearheads.
  • 2007: Washington Memorial Chapel. Three “USA” 1777 buttons were found in the Chapel area, as was a hut with a corner fireplace. A rare piece of pipe stem was located near the chapel, too. A trash pit yielded scissors, buttons, musket lock, musket balls. Several bayonets were unearthed, some of which were used as candle holders. These soldiers were ingenious men: the sockets of British bayonets were shortened to fit French muskets. Although Washington allowed no gaming or cards, the soldiers flattened muskets balls and shaped them into wheels or dice, some with Roman Numerals on the sides.