My Trip to Valley Forge - Isaac Potts House
(Mt. Pleasant, Iowa)
Isaac Potts Home - Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
I visited Philadelphia this year, but the highlight for me was Valley Forge.
This house at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, was owned by Isaac Potts, and served as General Washington’s Headquarters during the winter of 1777-1778. While visiting here, I met a wonderful park guide, dressed as a Continental soldier, who described the house and filled in the details of the environment that terrible winter. General Washington often allowed soldiers to enter and sleep on the stairs to get out of the cold. The rooms were small. Desks and cramped quarters lacked any semblance of regality for officers. Rather this was a Quaker homestead turned into a temporary headquarters. Who would have thought it would represent such a dramatic place in our history?
It was somewhere near this house, at the edge of the woods, that Isaac Potts reportedly saw George Washington praying to God for victory on his knees, next to his spotted horse named Nelson. Potts’ letter describing that event said: “If there is anyone on this earth who the Lord will listen to - it is George Washington, and I feel a presentiment that under such a Commander there can be no doubt of our eventually establishing our independence, and that God in His providence has willed it so.” That description was reportedly the inspiration for Arnold Friberg's famous painting, “The Prayer at Valley Forge.”
Valley Forge is an incredible place to visit. The British had defeated the Continental Army at Brandywine and Germantown and had captured Philadelphia. Washington picked Valley Forge for his winter encampment - to be close enough to harass the British during the winter, yet far enough away to avoid any surprise attacks. It was 20 miles from Philadelphia.
The area is large. I drove myself through it and made many stops. They also have bus tours. A few buildings of the nearly 2000 huts which were built there recreate the encampment. As I drove about the perimeter, I noticed the high ground on the east and the occasional cannon overlooking the hillsides the British would be forced to climb if they were to pursue Washington’s troops. It was an ideal lookout.
The entire area seemed like a giant bowl. The ridges of the bowl were the high ground. Different brigades protected each section of the rim, each at the ready for the anticipated British attack. They encircled the entire area. Deep within the bowl stood Isaac Potts’ home, along with the Artillery Field, where under the direction of Brigadier General Henry Knox, the cannons were stored, repaired and used for training the firing crews – and where they could be transported to any site within the camp should the British attack. There were also General Peter Muhlenberg’s Brigade huts which protected the outer line of defense and the Grand Parade field, marked by a statue of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, where with Washington’s blessing, he rejuvenated the weary Continental Army.
I spent several hours at Isaac Potts home and the Valley Forge Park. I learned a lot during my visit - from the arrival date of the Continental Army which was December 19, 1777, to the 2000 soldiers who perished that winter, surprisingly, more due to disease than cold or starvation. A Welcome Center with videos and artifacts and maps for your self-tour are available. I really enjoyed this part of my Philadelphia trip. Just envisioning the surroundings and atmosphere made my heart flutter a bit. As I write this, Liberty is the word that most describes my visit here.
Philadelphia is an absolutely wonderful historical area. I certainly recommend it. But please, allow time to go 20 miles to Valley Forge. It may not have the architecture and bustle of the Founding Fathers’ capital, but it leaves you with a sense of awe. A sense of thankfulness, I guess I might add, for General Washington, the Continental Army, Isaac Potts'] home, Valley Forge... I will not forget this trip.