Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter Daughters Of The American Revolution DAR Celebrates 2nd Anniversary

Ruth Davis, Regent of the Spencer Clack Chapter; Mary Cay Khiel, Regent of the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter; Emily Robinson, TSDAR Second Vice Regent; and Barbara Baker, Regent of the Samuel Doak Chapter, celebrate the Second Anniversary of the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter NSDAR at a luncheon on February 10.

Ruth Davis, Regent of the Spencer Clack Chapter; Mary Cay Khiel, Regent of the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter; Emily Robinson, TSDAR Second Vice Regent; and Barbara Baker, Regent of the Samuel Doak Chapter, celebrate the Second Anniversary of the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter NSDAR at a luncheon on February 10.

When we envision December 1777 at Valley Forge, the usual picture is one of bedraggled Continental soldiers suffering in the snow for lack of warm garments, shoes, blankets, and food and dying from diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, smallpox, and pneumonia. What we do not usually envision is the hundreds of women and children who bravely endured the same harsh conditions to be with their husbands and fathers during the winter encampment.

This was the picture on the Continental Army side, while only a few miles away, the British forces wintered in warm and comfortable homes in Philadelphia.

So began the story of “George Washington’s Other Army: The Women at Valley Forge” shared by Emily Davis Robinson, Second Vice Regent of the Tennessee Society Daughters of the American Revolution (TSDAR) at the Second Anniversary Celebration of the organization of the Martha Dandridge Washington (MDW) Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) held in Dandridge on February 10.

Robinson brought into focus the real image of the Continental Army and the women who supported the soldiers.

Before the arrival of the army, Valley Forge was a beautiful farming community. After the arrival of the Continental Army and construction of 2,000 log huts to house the 12,000 soldiers, it became one of the largest cities on the continent at that time. During that devastating winter, Washington spent much of his time writing letters to try to get private aid when the Continental Congress could not provide the food, clothing, and medicine that the army so badly needed.

But that is only half of the story of Valley Forge, according to Robinson. The other half is of the women who accompanied the army and weathered the same deprivation to support their husbands and sons in the patriot cause. Of those women, there were three groups: the Ladies, the Camp Women, and the House Help.

The Ladies were the wives of officers who wintered with the army in order to take care of the needs of their husbands. Of course, the first of these women was Martha Washington who stayed with her husband at each winter encampment during the 8 ½ years of the war. The Ladies also brought their children so that families could be together.

Although the Washingtons lived in a rented stone house belonging to Isaac Potts and not in a rude log hut as did the rest of the army, their accommodation was by no means luxurious, and 25 other people lived in the house including aides, secretaries, guards, and servants. Martha Washington ran the house, entertaining the officers’ wives and overseeing ceremonial functions. In the evenings, she brought the officers and their wives together for “charming conversation” and singing. Playing cards and dancing were frowned upon by the Continental Congress, so those activities were restricted. Charles Willson Peale, a captain from Pennsylvania and a talented artist, painted portraits of many of the officers and their wives.

The play Cato by Joseph Addison was popular that winter because it had a theme of individual liberty versus government tyranny. This too the Congress disapproved of since it took the men’s attention away from work.

George Washington celebrated his 46th birthday at Valley Forge for which Martha supervised the preparation of a “great cake,” similar to a fruitcake, which was traditionally served on her husband’s birthday. A “great cake” it was! An original recipe calls for a peck of flour, three quarters of a pound of sugar, three pounds of melted butter, and seven pounds of currants, along with other fruit and spices.

Other Ladies whose names appear in the historical record are Rebekah Cornell Biddle and Sarah Livingston Alexander.

The second group of women was the Camp Women of which there were at least 400 and children. Many followed their husbands just for survival because when a man entered the army, he gave up his job, and the only means of support for his family was his army pay. Many of the women worked for the army “on the strength” of the regiments to which their husbands belonged. Among their tasks were nursing, doing laundry, and sewing. They were paid a small amount and were required to abide by the same strict rules as their soldier husbands and lived under the same harsh conditions.

One famous Camp Woman was Mary Hayes, known as “Molly Pitcher,” although other women were sometimes given that name. Mary carried water to cool the cannons and to hydrate the men. When her husband could no longer fight, she took his weapon and continued the battle. Following the war, she received a personal pension for her service. She could have been killed when a cannonball passed between her legs, but fortunately, she was not seriously harmed.

The third group of women was called the House Help, servants of the officers. Hannah Till was General Washington’s personal cook for 7 years of the war. She was a former slave who lived to be more than 100 years old and resided in her own home in Philadelphia after the war. Margaret Thomas was a free black laundress. Elizabeth Thompson was the Washington’s housekeeper and free white woman who began working at the age of 72 in June of 1776 and served until she was 77.

As Robinson concluded her presentation, she echoed the words of Abigail Adams, “Remember the ladies!”

MDW Chapter Regent Mary Cay Khiel and Vice Regent Jane Chambers welcomed Robinson and TSDAR Chaplain Jill Jones-Lazuka. Several guests from neighboring DAR chapters also attended the anniversary celebration. The Spencer Clack Chapter was represented by Regent Ruth Davis and four other members, and the Samuel Doak Chapter was represented by Regent Barbara Baker and six additional members. Donna Hawkins Turner and her husband Randall Turner represented the William Cocke Chapter.

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014