Skippack Historical Society

Dambly, B. Witman. "Washington's Headquarters at Skippack." Circa 1936. Rpt. in the Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pa. April 1940. Vol. II: #2.

For this research, Dambly interviewed two sons of William Johnson who owned this farm (then 45 acres), and died at Skippack, July 17, 1897. They were: Charles H. Johnson of Bridgeport, aged 78, and Joseph Johnson of Royersford, aged 74. He also interviewed "Miss Edith Fryer, of Bridgeport, aged daughter of Barney Fryer who was also an owner of the former Joseph Smith homestead."

Editors of Acanthus Group. "Structures Report- Gerhard Indenhofen Farmstead" for the Skippack Historical Society, 1996: 12. Quoting the "The Papers of General Nathanial Greene." January 1777 - October 1778. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. Vol. II: 171.

Heckler, James Y. "History of Skippack." 1896. Rpt. in the Montgomery Transcript. By ed. B. Whitman Dambly. Skippack: Dambly, 1896. Beginning Jul. 3, 1896: Vol. IX. No 2-10.

Revolutionary War


Researched and written by Mike Dickey
Historian, Skippack Historical Society

The encampment of an army that included some 11,000 Continental soldiers and Militia would have covered quite a large area of land. For comparison, the Valley Forge Park office informs that most all of its +3,300 acres was used in the encampment of Washington's army, December 1777 to June 1778. Approximately, the army was spread from Forty Foot Rd. and Kober Rd., south towards Thompson Rd. and Mayhall Rd., as the "Papers of General Nathanial Greene" states the belief that troops were also encamped near the Mennonite church until October 2nd, on the west side of the Skippack Creek. (qtd in Acanthus Group, Papers, 12) As Forty Foot Rd. is not too far from the creek, it is almost definite that the encampment included land to the west side of that road.

During encampments, it is reasonable to believe that the army set up camp away from the creek, so as not to contaminate their water supply. With 11,000 troops, undoubtedly there were sick and wounded among them. Land where the encampments took place can also contain graves of soldiers, long forgotten and unmarked. For example, graves of soldiers are found at the site of the Pennypacker's Mill encampment.

As mentioned in a previous section, the Joseph Smith house was noted as being Washington's headquarters at Skippack. The Smith farm was located along the east side of Skippack Creek, between Skippack Pike and Hedrick Rd. However, a long time tradition in this area believes that the "Palmer house" was used as his headquarters. It is most probable that it did play some role in the encampment. Below, will be evidence that the headquarters house was more likely on the neighboring Joseph Smith farm to the east of the Palmer property, across the Skippack Creek and also owned by the Park.

Map of Probable Location of the Skippack Encampment

The highlighted area shows the approximate area that Washington's Army encamped in the Fall of 1777. The red line and arrow represent the movement of the troops southeast along the Skippack Road into Skippack from Pennypacker Mills. The blue line and arrow represent the movement of the troops back northwest after the Battle of Germantown. (Map created by Bradley S. DeForest.)

Heatherington House (2003)The Palmer property was located along Forty Foot Rd., on the west side of the Skippack Creek, bordered by the road and the creek. The home is known as the "Palmer house" by locals because of the family's residency through much of the 1900's. The house is yet standing but has fallen into neglect. It is owned by the Evansburg State Park, listed as the "Heatherington house".


The Palmer house has its origins from the first settlers, Dirick and William Renberg (brothers). The Rembergs purchased 300 acres from Mathias Van Bebber in 1706. Heckler writes, "on November 1, 1721, the Renbergs sold to George Merckle (Markley), a plantation of 150 acres". A plantation applied to land that was planted or plantable, inferring that a dwelling was in existence. The land extended eastward from Forty Foot Rd. Heckler states that Merckle later "sold off all his land excepting a small farm of 20 acres with the tenement, and made his will dated May 10, 1762." It is believed that the tenement was situated at the farm's edge, being a corner boundary, at NE corner of Forty Foot Rd. & 73. It was originally a stone house of one room downstairs with a room above. (Torn down for a dentist office.)

The original Renberg or Merckle farmhouse appears to have had two rooms downstairs and two above, as noted on a past inspection by the writer, and confirmed by Mary Gehman who was a Palmer and grew up in this house. The house has an addition to the northern gable end that may have doubled its size. Author James Heckler refers to a date stone "D. & H. A.", David & Helena Allebach, owners from 1798 to 1836. At the time of Washington's encampment, the farm was owned by Jacob Godshalk of Lower Salford who purchased the farm of 22 acres, on March 1, 1774. His will was dated October 22, 1781, selling it to his only son Godshalk Godshalk. (Heckler)

Located in close proximity, this Palmer house and the Joseph Smith house were in plain view and earshot of the other. Given the number of Generals on Washington's staff, the Palmer house most likely played host to one or more of them.

The Palmer family had noted the Revolutionary artifacts found on their property, including a sword. The items found here further indicate and support the location of the encampment along the western side of the Skippack Creek.

To give further support to Washington's headquarters at Skippack, we review the 1936 writings of B. Witman Dambly, an older, long time resident and publisher of the former Skippack newspaper, the "Montgomery Transcript". Here, the use of the Joseph Smith home is discussed.

Mr. Dambly gives us an accounting from descendents of the Joseph Smith family about revolutionary times. He wrote,

"Before I was born, a Johnson family, sturdy people, known for their native intelligence and patriotism, lived on the 45 acre farm on Skippack Road where stands the 24th milestone (near Kerr Rd). I first learned to know the Johnsons after their removal from that farm. Elizabeth, married to a Fuss and later to a Hallman, was born on that farm February 1, 1820 and died at Lansdale, in 1917. Her parents had told her that the children went from their house, through their own field, to Skippack Road where the milestone stands, to see the soldiers going up and down the road. Elizabeth and other members of the Johnson family agreed that on one occasion several sick soldiers were lying on the bank at the roadside near the milestone. Here, an old lane leads to the farm buildings. (this lane is partially visible today, only the section near where it meets Skippack Pike, being lined with a stand of trees) The patriotic mother (a Johnson) came out to the road with soup and other food for the sick men. Another version is that the Johnson family took the sick soldiers to their house and nursed them until well enough to join the rest of the army." (Dambly)

Dambly explains that the rest of the story was discovered as a result of a celebration in 1927, the year of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Germantown. A member of a society in Germantown asked, "Who was Joseph Smith?" Here, the Montgomery Transcript used its columns to ask the same question of its readers. An answer was received by Robert B. Souder of Souderton whose father, Jacob G., used to farm part of the of the headquarters farm up until the early 1920's. Mr. Souder had a number of old papers including a draft of a farm owned by Joseph Smith prior to the Revolution. The draft was made in 1775 for Joseph Smith by David Schultz, a Schwenkfelder from East Greenville area, who was a widely known and respected surveyor. The draft is of a farm having 127 acres and one set of buildings. "The tract had a frontage of more than 4000 feet on Skippack Road…it had a uniform depth of 1280 feet." The farm must have extended from the center of the Skippack Creek towards the township line near Cedars, and possibly included parts of the south side of Skippack Pike, given the 7 property owners of the farm after being divided. Names include Bean, Wilkie, Cassel, Kerr, Kulp, Speller, and Kulka. At the time of his writing, the owner was Francis F. Kulp, of a farm reduced to 45 acres. Dambly writes that "a public road (Kerr Rd.) has been cut through the farm from Skippack Road, near the milestone, in an easterly direction to the Towamencin line. The length of this cross-road is about ¼ of a mile." The map of 1893 shows the owner as "W.J. Fuss, 46 acres" which extended to Kerr Rd., and "John P. Detwiler, 39 acres" on the east side of Kerr Rd.

It is likely that Joseph Smith purchased his 127 acres from George Merckle (Markley) prior to 1762. The Merckle farm of 150 acres extended east from Forty Foot Rd. Merckle had sold off land from his farm, ending up with 20 acres, house and tenement, as Heckler indicated.

"The 1766 assessor's list of Skippack Township contains the name of Joseph Smith, Sr., tailor. His children were Jacob, Henry, Joseph, Katherine, and John. Joseph Smith, Sr. died August 8, 1782 at age 76 years, and is buried at the Lower Skippack Mennonite cemetery." (Dambly)

Joseph Smith had two sons enlisted in the war. Dambly suggests "this may be the reason for Washington choosing the Smith home as his headquarters. (He probably felt assured that the Smith family was in support of the Revolution, not every family was in favor of it.) Joseph's son, John Smith, was captain of a company of militia from the region of Skippack. Captain Smith was killed or wounded in the Battle of Germantown. His other son, Joseph, served in the regiment of the Pennsylvania artillery commanded by Colonel John Fyre, and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Germantown."

Dambly wrote that the Joseph Smith house was of stone, "plastered during the recollection of the oldest residents…there was a date stone, covered over. From several sources, I have it that the house was built between 1700 and 1800. All agree that it is the same house that stood when Washington was there. Descendants of the two former owners of the farm inform me that the house had one-story frame addition; that this frame part was moved about a hundred feet and placed over a walled-up spring and that Washington occupied that springhouse as well. In another location, not far from the house, stood a log house that is still well remembered by the oldest residents with whom I recently spoke." He also mentions the close proximity to the creek as being favorable to Washington. (It had been thought by others that Washington may have favored his headquarters to be on the opposite side of a creek from his army. At Pennypacker's Mill it is argued that the headquarters house was on the west side of the Perkiomen Creek, while his army camped at Pennypacker's on the east side.)

Dambly includes this supporting data from "Washington's account books, as annotated by John C. Fitzpatrick, Assistant Chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, a trustworthy source, furnishing the link that connects the entire story and removes all doubt of its authenticity. These records say that on October 2, 1777, Washington paid Joseph Smith 2 pounds and 15 shillings 'for use of house and trouble caused' while quartered there. Under the same date, there is the record of an additional payment made to Joseph Smith of 11 pounds, 19 shillings and 6 pence for sundries - evidently supplies of various kinds." At this time, we can not say if there are more entries related to the Skippack encampment that might include other houses, etc. Dambly mentioned that Washington died three years short of time allotted to man, and twenty-two years after the army encamped at Skippack.

He adds, "the headquarters tract was marked by three signs and a flag when the pilgrimage was made during the Germantown Anniversary celebration, October 1, 1927."

The headquarters home on the Joseph Smith farm was included in the purchase of Evansburg State Park. It was demolished in the mid 1970's.

Ruins of a stone structure on the Joseph Smith Farm (2003)

This is a photo taken in Evansburg State Park of a stone foundation wall of a structure located on the property once known as the Joseph Smith Farm. It appears to be the barn which was located near the house.

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