Part of an ongoing series of about the Continental Army in Morristown, New Jersey. For the first post, click here.
Across the street from the Ford Mansion, the elegant home of the Jacob Ford, Jr. and his family, and the headquarters for George Washington during the winter encampment of 1779-1780, sits a small boulder with a iron plaque plastered on the side.
Erected in 1932 by the Tempe Wicke Society Children of the American Revolution, the monument commemorates the Life Guards that served as Washington’s headquarters command during the American Revolution. Although the unit went by different names and reorganized at least twice, including once during the winter encampment at Morristown, the company, numbering approximately 150 men, would be around for the duration of the war.
In addition to serving as escort and protection of Washington, the unit also fought through the engagements around New York, the Battle of Trenton, through the various winter encampments, and saw the successful conclusion of the siege of Yorktown. On June 6, 1783 the unit was officially furloughed from service in the Continental Army, yet men on temporary assignment to the Guards escorted Washington’s baggage and papers to Mount Vernon at the end of that year.
However, even the Life Guards themselves were not immune to intrigue and mishap. One of their number, Sergeant Thomas Hickey led what was termed a mutiny in the form of plotting an assassination attempt on George Washington. Luckily, for the American cause, the plot was uncovered before planning could proceed too far, and Hickey was tried, convicted, and executed by hanging on June 28, 1776.
A much brighter spot of the Life Guards was their selection by Baron von Steuben at Valley Forge to be the model company used as the example for other Continental Army units to learn the new drill procedures. The acumen gained by the army under von Stueben during this winter would manifest itself initially in the action at Monmouth Court House in late June 1778 and continue the trend of shaping the Continentals into a well-trained military force for the next few years. The Life Guards played a major role as the model company.
Distinguished service throughout the rest of the conflict, but soldiers would be detailed into it as temporary assignments until early June 1783, when George Washington, by orders from Congress, began the disbanding of the Continental Army. Yet, one last mission awaited the men who had protected Washington during the conflict. Instead of providing the manpower around the army commander, the Life Guards would accompany his baggage home to Mount Vernon. Although the furloughs had begun in the summer of 1783, this mission brought the majority of the Life Guards back, and the trek south from New York began on November 9, 1783
On December 20, 1783, the wagons rolled up the dirt circular entryway to Mount Vernon, safely bringing home Washington’s personal belongings and vast amount of papers. Their war was over.
Five years earlier, those same-type (and maybe same) wagons rolled into a New Jersey town, still filled with Washington’s belonging, as the Continental Army looked for winter quarters. The Life Guards would winter across the street from the Ford Mansion, where Washington continued to make the plans in the town “where America survived.”