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Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: October 1939 Volume 2 Number 4, Pages 104–106
The Stone Chimney Picket
On the third anniversary of the founding of the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club, it is fitting that we should place a marker on one of the many places of historical significance, by which we are surrounded, and from which we draw inspiration. On this spot one hundred and sixty-two years ago was established one of the picket posts,or guard houses, which formed a link in a chain of similar posts which surrounded the main camp of the American Army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78. The two roads that intersect at this place, New Centerville by name, are the Swedesford Road, running east and west, and the Baptist or Welsh Line Road, running north and south. Both of these roads had been in use for over seventy-five years before the encampment. The sentinels patrolled the Swedesford Road. The next post on the west was at Reese's Corner, where today the road crosses over the Chester Valley Railroad about one-half mile west of New Centerville. A sentinel would patrol, from this post, to a point one-half the distance to tho next post, where he would meet a sentinel from that post. After meeting they would about face and then each patrol to his post, then back to the meeting place. This patrolling was continuous, night and day, along the chain of sentinel posts surrounding tho main camp. On one of the maps in the July, 1939, issue of the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club Quarterly (Page 67) is shown the location of several of these picket posts.
Many years before the encampment there had been a house here. It had burned down and only a stone chimney and fireplace was left standing when the troops wintered at Valley Forge. The men used fence posts, boughs, and corn fodder to make a lean-to against the old chimney. Fires were built in the fireplace. This makeshift served as a shelter for the sentinels off duty.
Also this post was used as a market place by the country people to sell their produce to the soldiers at the encampment. From General Weedon's orderly book, which was a record of events at Valley Forge, we quote as follows under date of February 8, 1778:
"Tomorrow being the day appointed for opening the market at the Stone Chimney Pickett, the army is desired to take notice of the same. Markets will be held at the same place every Monday and Thursday; on the east side of the Schuylkill, near the North Bridge, every Tuesday and Friday; near the Adj. Gen'l office every Wednesday and Saturday."
So we may picture in our minds the activity here during the six months of the encampment from December, 1777, to June, 1778. Always back and forth the sentinels paced through the long winter, which fortunately was a mild one. There are records to the effect that the Delaware River did not freeze over that winter. Back and forth the sentinels paced as winter retreated and the warmth and magic of spring spread over the Great Valley of the Welsh Tract. Pacing back and forth the sentinels watched the great apple orchards covering the hill sides to the south burst forth in a glory of flower and perfume. And no doubt his heart lifted up in the new joy and ever-renewing courage of spring. And his renewed hope was not based only on the inspiration of the season, but upon his knowledge of what had been accomplished in the camp that he was guarding. There he knew, great hearted, far-sighted men, overcoming their obstacles, were welding themselves into a well organized, well supplied, mobile and effective army, which was to be the instrument to set a crown of freedom on this new land.
That is the real message of Valley Forge.
"We can never forget what they did here." "They set a crown of freedom on this new land."
Valley Forge was the center of the American lines. As the sentinels paced back and forth here, other men, far-flung, kept watch for any attempt of the English to march out from Philadelphia. At Rebel Hill, at Gulph Mills, at Camp Hill, at Ithan, at Signal Hill, at the Bryn Mawr Hills, at Darby, and at Wilmington were the outposts of the American army. They waited and watched for a chance to "Burgoyne Howe" as General Wayne said.
As back and forth the sentinel paced here one day in June, word came in from the far-flung outposts that the enemy was likely to evacuate the city and retreat to New York. So probably the Stone Chimney Sentinel Post was abandoned about June 8. The American Army then moved out of camp and maneuvered for ten days; then on the eighteenth and nineteenth of June, word came that the English were retreating across New Jersey. Then the American army marched across Sullivan's Bridge and away in pursuit.
On a monument at Ticonderoga, the very heart of the great eastern gateway, dedicated to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War, are these words:
"And here were men coequal with their fate Who did great things unconscious they were great."
Well could these words be inscribed here. Back and forth the sentinel paced. Dull, monotonous work, no doubt, he thought at times. Perhaps he grumbled, quarreled with his comrades — just human — cold and wet sometimes — just an ordinary man, unconscious he was great, but in a deeper sense, and I think he must have known it, just a sentinel pacing his post, but
"Coequal with his fate, doing great things, unconscious he was great."
As he paces, perhaps he thinks about the day a year before when General Washington read to the army the Declaration of Independence. It said that all men had inalienable rights.
One was LIFE.
One was LIBERTY.
One was the PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY.
Later it was written into the Constitution of the nation that the sentinel helped to found, that no citizen should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
In that constitution were written the safeguards of those rights.
Little did he dream, however, that 162 years afterward, in Prussia, the nation so friendly to George Washington and the colonists, so friendly that taverns were named King of Prussia in appreciation, Nazi police would walk into the home of a prominent citizen and compel him to accompany them, and that a month later his family, which in the meantime had heard nothing of him, would receive a box of ashes with the word traitor written on it. His liberty was taken; his property was confiscated; his life was taken; no hand was raised to help him. Little did the sentry think that there would be many such cases in civilized nations 162 years later. Today property is confiscated, liberty is exchanged for the concentration camp, for life, torture and death without justice or jury. This is the picture we see today in parts of Europe, 162 years afterward.
SO WE SET OUR MARKER.
FOR HERE —
THEY HASTENED TO SET A CROWN OF FREEDOM ON THIS NEW LAND.
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