History of Morris County
Morris County – Three Hundred Years that Shaped America
Early supporters of the cause of liberty, New Jerseyans were witnesses to over 200 Revolutionary War skirmishes as the French, British and American armies traversed the state numerous times. Morristown, the county seat of Morris County, is known as the “Military Capital of the Revolution”, having hosted General George Washington and the Continental Army during two winter encampments, in 1777 and 1779-80. Washington hoped to mount an attack that could end the Revolutionary War or march onward and away from the Redcoats in January 1777.
He and his troops had just booted the British out of Princeton earlier that month. Washington mulled the idea of launching an attack on New Brunswick, delivering a knockout blow to the main British supply depot only 19 miles away. But his 3,000 weary soldiers had been fighting for 40 hours, and they were cold, exhausted and famished. A little rest and regrouping sounded good. So they marched onward and on Monday, Jan. 6, 1777, about 5 p.m., they entered Morristown, putting the rustic village on the map.
Two winters later he returned with 12,000 troops, who built a log cabin city a couple of miles down the road in Jockey Hollow. Washington chose this time to stay at the grand Ford Mansion. During these two winters, the army rested, repaired its artillery, and restocked its munitions. Local iron mines, furnaces, and forges fabricated guns and musket balls for the army, and secretly and unlawfully produced gunpowder. The soldiers were drilled and the generals planned their spring campaigns.
Historians feel that the Continental Army benefited greatly from its two winter stays in Morristown, where the safety of the surrounding mountains provided a haven from the British for the army to strengthen itself. And it was rich in natural resources like water and forests, and came with a patriotic population that helped feed and clothe the army. Now, more than 230 years later, those winter stays are not only a source of pride in hip Morristown, they help fuel the local economy through tourism. Morristown’ is nationally known as the country’s first National Historical Park with the Ford Mansion, Fort Nonsense and Jockey Hollow which draws some 350,000 annual visitors.
Many prominent American Revolutionary figures visited Morristown during the two winters, including most of Washington’s generals. Alexander Hamilton and Martha Washington accompanied the General to Morristown. The Marquis de Lafayette came to Morristown with the news that the French would be supporting the American army with money, ships and soldiers, thus ensuring American victory. Benedict Arnold was court-martialed in a Morristown tavern, and shortly after this humiliation, he began formulating his plot to aid the British by handing over West Point, becoming the notorious American traitor he is known in history for being.