Most people don’t think of Morristown, New Jersey, when they think of the Revolutionary War. I lived in the area for a year, visited the town a few times, and for the longest time I didn’t know it had such historic significance. Yet historians often refer to Morristown as the military capital of the American Revolution.
Washington chose this town as his headquarters for its strategic location between two important cities, New York City and Philadelphia. Morristown was also ideal for its sheltered position between two natural landmarks, the Watchung Mountains and the Great Swamp, and the town had enough local industry to provide food and weapons for the Continental Army.
Given its history, the town boasts numerous historic sites related to the Revolutionary War. Here are just a few of them.
1. Washington’s Headquarters Museum
Start your tour with the Washington’s Headquarters Museum, one of the first museums built by the National Park Service. It features an extensive collection of artifacts from the Revolutionary War. The building itself, completed in the 1930s and designed to resemble Washington’s Virginia home, houses multiple galleries and exhibits.
The Military Gallery showcases weapons used in the war, while the Discover History Center downstairs offers a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers who fought for freedom. The Pamphlets and Protest Gallery features handwritten documents from the war, while the American Style Gallery displays furniture, household objects, and clothing from the era.
The museum is a good jumping-off point for the Ford Mansion and Jockey Hollow, detailed later in this piece. The guided tour for the Ford Mansion -- the only way to visit the site -- begins at the Washington's Headquarters Museum.
2. Ford Mansion
After signing up for the guided tour at the museum, head over to the Ford Mansion, furnished just as it would have been in Washington’s time.
Washington used the Ford Mansion as his headquarters during the second encampment in Morristown in the winter of 1779 to 1780. This wasn’t the first time the Ford family had hosted the troops, however.
During the first encampment, when Washington had his headquarters at Arnold’s Tavern, the family hosted 35 of his soldiers for a few weeks. During this time, Jacob Ford Jr., who had built the house, died. His widow and four children offered the mansion to Washington as headquarters for his second encampment. Theodosia Ford moved into two rooms with her four children and allowed Washington to use the rest of the house, hosting him and his wife along with their aides for six months.
3. Equestrian Statue Of George Washington
Across from the Ford Mansion is an imposing equestrian statue of George Washington. The bronze statue, cast in Florence, was completed by Frederick George Richard Roth and dedicated on October 19, 1928, the anniversary of the British surrender at Yorktown.
4. Schuyler-Hamilton House
Drive about a mile east on Morris Street and turn onto Olyphant Drive to visit the Schuyler-Hamilton House, built in 1760 and still standing. This is the place where Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton fell in love.
The house belonged to Dr. Jabez Campfield, a surgeon in the Revolutionary War. During the encampment of 1789 to 1780, Dr. John Cochran and his wife, General Schuyler’s sister, shared the house with him. Mrs. Cochran knew that her niece, Eliza, had met and been impressed with Alexander Hamilton, so she invited Eliza to spend the winter with them. The house ultimately became the site of the young couple’s courtship.
The Schuyler-Hamilton House is a museum now, open only on the weekends for tours.
5. Morristown Green
Return to Morris Street and continue east for about 1.5 miles to the Morristown Green. This is where Washington and his troops spent their first encampment from the winter of 1777 to the spring of 1778. During that time, the place became a center of military and political activity.
Buildings that stood there at the time became the officers’ headquarters, army hospitals, and a military storehouse. Today the green is a park, with plaques scattered throughout describing the buildings that stood here at the time of the Revolutionary War. A monument marks the site of the old courthouse and jail.
Two groups of statues stand out in the park. The Alliance, a group of life-size statues of Washington, Hamilton, and Lafayette, commemorates the moment Lafayette informed Washington and Hamilton that the French army would offer support to the colonists. Patriot’s Farewell depicts a soldier saying goodbye to his wife and son.
6. Arnold’s Tavern Site
Across from the green, stop by the site of Arnold’s Tavern, Washington’s headquarters, where the general occupied the rooms on the second floor. The owner, Jacob Arnold, was a captain of a light cavalry in the Revolutionary War, and he lent his tavern to Washington for use as headquarters.
The tavern is no longer there, but a plaque marks the site where it once stood.
7. Upper Redoubt (Fort Nonsense)
Continue east, following Washington Street and then Court Street, to the Upper Redoubt, also known as Fort Nonsense.
Washington’s troops built the Upper Redoubt, an enclosed, defensive fort made from earthworks, at the top of the hill during the winter of 1777. Washington had the fort built as a safeguard, an observation and alarm post in case of a British attack. He also planned on using it as a retreat if needed.
However, the British didn’t attack Morristown, and the colonists never used the fort. Because of this, some speculated that Washington had it built to keep his men busy, and by the early 1800s people had started calling the redoubt “Fort Nonsense.” Though not based on fact, the name stuck.
8. Artillery Park Site
From Fort Nonsense, return to Washington Street and drive about a mile to Burnham Park.
By the parking lot on the north side you’ll find the Artillery Park Site, marked by a flag, a historic sign, and a boulder monument. This is the site where the artillery brigade under the command of General Henry Knox encamped during the winter of 1779 to 1780.
On the west side of the park by the lake you’ll find the Artillery Horses Pasture Site Monument marked by a plaque.
9. Statue Of Thomas Paine
Across the pond, on the southeast side of Burnham Park, stands the statue of Thomas Paine, author of the pamphlet Common Sense, among others.
An important figure in the Revolutionary War, Paine helped turn public opinion in the colonies toward independence. He joined the army in 1776 and acted as an aide to General Nathanael Greene, but he is better remembered as a war correspondent, publishing his accounts in The Pennsylvania Journal. He wrote a series of pamphlets known as The American Crisis during the army’s retreat across New Jersey from Fort Lee.
His statue in Burnham Park was created by Georg J. Lober and dedicated in 1950; it shows Paine writing on a drumhead. A closer look reveals the opening lines of The American Crisis on the paper draped over the drumhead.
10. Jockey Hollow
From Burnham Park, drive 4 miles outside of town to Jockey Hollow, the old Wick family estate and farm. The 1,400-acre farm housed the entire Continental Army during the harsh winter of 1779 to 1780. A forest covered most of the farm, and the army ended up cutting down about 600 acres of trees to build 1,200 barracks.
Today the forest is back, offering a pleasant nature walk and several sites on the old farm.
The visitor center is a good starting point at which to learn about the area. Here, you can watch a 20-minute film called Morristown: Where America Survived about the 1779-1780 winter encampment. The main attractions, though, are the replica barracks, which are furnished to give visitors an idea of what it was like to live in them.
A short trail from the visitor center leads to the Wick House and its garden, used as headquarters by Major General Arthur St. Clair during the encampment. Depending on the time, you might be able to see the interior.
After stopping there, drive or walk over to the replica barracks. Entering them will transport you to one of the toughest times in American military history. If you visit on a cold November day like we did, you’ll get a feel for the misery the Continental Army endured.
Where To Stop For Lunch
In keeping with the historical theme of your trip, stop for lunch at George + Martha’s before heading out to Jockey Hollow. A casual dining spot, the restaurant is decorated with paintings and drawings of George and Martha Washington and offers old-fashioned and modern American fare.