Head of Elk: American Revolutionary War: 1778

Source numbers are hyperlinked to a list of references provided at the end of this page.

1777/8
    The winter after the battle of Brandywine, the
  British occupied Philadelphia, and it is a well-
  established fact that some of the disaffected and
  mercenary citizens of the county, some of whom were
  indicted for the offense, were in the habit of
  smuggling provisions to them. ... The invasion of
  the county greatly demoralized the people. The new
  government was, at this time, only an experiment,
  and its ultimate success was doubtful; consequently
  the ill-disposed and lawless part of the citizens
  took advantage of the weakness of the civil
  authorities and did pretty much as they pleased.[1]

1778
    Colonel Hollingsworth, who took an active part
  in the campaign under Washington, previous to and
  after the battle of Brandywine, thinking he could
  serve his country better by doing so, returned home
  previous to March, 1778, and from that time to the
  close of the war acted as general agent for the
  authorities of Maryland and the Continental
  Congress. He not only purchased supplies of all
  kinds for the use of the army when in the field,
  but was frequently called upon to provide supplies
  for large detachments of troops that passed through
  the county. The great thoroughfare between the
  North and the South at that time led from
  Christiana Bridge to Elkton, and when it was
  practicable, this route was followed. At other
  times the armies were obliged to march, in which
  case they crossed the Susquehanna River, and upon
  one occasion at least, a requisition was made upon
  him for all the boats he could procure, in order
  to ferry a large detachment over that river from
  Perryville to Havre de Grace. Such was the
  exigency of the case, and the scarcity of boats,
  that he was instructed to procure boards with
  which rafts were to be constructed and attached to
  the gunwales of the boats he was able to procure,
  in order that a speedy passage of the river might
  be safely effected. Owing to the scarcity of money,
  the Legislature enacted that taxes might be paid
  in wheat, beef, cattle, and other things needed by
  the army. [1]

1778-02-16
    The following two letters give a particular insight into the privations endured by the Continental Army during the winter of 1777/78:

To Henry Hollingsworth Esquire.*
  Sir: I am under the painful necessity of informing you that the Situation of the Army is most critical and alarming for want & Provision, especially of the meal kind. The Troops have not had Supplies of the latter for four days and many of them have been longer without. I have sent Captn Lee to forward from the Head of Elk and Dover, all the Provisions, that may be at either of those places, as expeditiously as possible, and I must entreat you, Sir, to give all the assistance, in your power, to promote this very important and interesting work.
  I am, Sir, Your most Obedt Servt:
  G Washington.
  Valley Forge  16th Feby 1778.
P.S. I need not mention to you the Delicacy of this Subject and the propriety of Secrecy. [2]

Transcriber's note: Colonel Henry Hollingsworth, of Cecil County, was the Deputy Quartermaster General.

To B General Smallwood.  Wilmington.
  Dear Sir: The distress of this Army for want of Provisions, is perhaps beyond any thing you can conceive; and unless we strain every nerve to procure immediate relief, a general meeting and dispersion is to be dreaded. Our nearest magazines are at Dover and the Head of Elk; and it is absolutely necessary by a vigorous effort, to push on all the provisions at these places for the present subsistence of the Troops. I have intrusted this important business to the zealous activity of Capt Lee; whom I have empowered to impress the number of Waggons requisite for the purpose. He will probably stand in need of some assistants acquainted with the Neighbouring Country, to facilitate and dispatch the business. I imagine you can furnish him with proper persons for the purpose; officers in the Maryland and Delaware Troops. Every aid you can possibly afford him is demanded by the exigency of the occasion.
  I am Dear Sir yrs
  G Washington.
  Head Qurs  Valley Forge  Feby 16th 1778.
P.S. I do not know in what manner the Troops under your command have hitherto been supplied with provisions; but as you are in an abundant Country, I shall imagine you might furnish yourself from the resources of it, without the help of the magazines above mentioned, no part of which can, without detriment, be spared from the use of this Camp. [2]

... Transcriber's note: This letter was followed by a letter of instruction to Capt Henry Lee.

1778-03
    Colonel Hollingsworth, who took an active part
  in the campaign under Washington, previous to and
  after the battle of Brandywine, thinking he could
  serve his country better by doing so, returned home
  some time previous to March, 1778, and from that
  time to the close of the war acted as general agent
  for the authorities of Maryland and the Continental
  Congress. He not only purchased supplies of all
  kinds for the use of the army when in the field, but
  was frequently called upon to provide supplies for
  large detachments of troops that passed through the
  county. The great thoroughfare between the North
  and South at that time led from Christiana Bridge
  to Elkton, and when it was practicable, this route
  was followed. At other times the armies were obliged
  to march, in which case they crossed the Susquehanna
  River, and upon one occasion at least, a requisition
  was made upon him for all the boats he could procure,
  in order to ferry a large detachment over that river
  from Perry ville to Havre de Grace. Such was the
  exigency of the case, and the scarcity of boats, that
  he was instructed to procure boards with which rafts
  were to be constructed and attached to the gunwales
  of the boats he was able to procure, in order that a
  speedy passage of the river might be safely effected.
  Owing to the scarcity of money, the Legislature
  enacted that taxes might be paid in wheat, beef,
  cattle, and other things needed by the army. Colonel
  Hollingsworth had charge of the manufacture of much
  of this wheat, and supervised a large extent of
  country, including much of the northern part of the
  Peninsula and Harford County. The bran and other offal
  derived from the wheat was fed to the beef cattle.[1]

1778-03-21
    Washington received a letter from John Chaloner, Deputy Commissary of Purchases, explaining that removal of the public Stores at the Head of Elk and Middle Town were greatly impeded, owing to the laws of the State of Maryland, which permitted the procurement of waggons solely for the removal of the baggage of marching Troops. Citing the example of Governor Livingston, of Jersey, Washington appealed Thomas Johnson, Governor, to "lay this matter before your Legislature and endeavour to procure an amendment to the law, whereby a mode may be fallen upon, to obtain a sufficient number of Waggons to bring forward the Stores at the places above mentioned and in the Neighbourhood of them." [2]

1778-03-31
    
Washington directed Major General Greene, Quarter Master General, to procure and store large quantities of gran and hay at several Magazines, including "200,000 Bushels of Grain and as much Hay as can be procured within 40 Miles of the Camp, to be fixed at different posts from the Head of Elk to Camp." [2]

1778-04 to -07
    Though the pacific principles of the Friends
  [Quakers] forbade them to engage in hostilities,
  they had no objections to taking care of the sick
  and wounded soldiers, and with the view of affording
  them an opportunity of doing so, a detachment of
  General Smallroad's division of the American army
  took possession of the Brick Meeting-house, in April,
  1778, and converted it into a hospital for the use of
  the sick and wounded soldiers who were disabled in the
  campaign of that year in northern New Jersey. The
  meeting-house was used for a hospital for about three
  months, the Friends meanwhile worshiping in a Friend's
  barn. The Friends treated the soldiers in the hospital
  with much kindness, and furnished them with blankets
  and other things that contributed to their comfort,
  and washed and mended their clothes. During the time
  the meeting-house was used for a hospital, many of the
  inmates died and were buried in the graveyard that
  surrounds it. A well-defined depression in the earth's
  surface is all that marks the site of their sepulcher.[1]

1778-04-13
    Because "considerable quantities of Provision" lay at the Head of Elk and Charles Town which would be exposed, if Troops were removed suddenly from Wilmington, Washington directed Brigadier General Smallwood to "send off what Baggage and Stores you conveniently can, and wait my further orders for marching." [2]

1778-05-16
    The following letter is interesting for two, very different reasons. First, it alludes to a mysterious, but "agreeable present," granted by the State of Virginia to Washington. Second, Washington celebrated the newly formed alliance with France. [2]

To Governor Henry.  Virginia.
  My Dear Sir: I had the pleasure of receiving to day your letter of the 8th of April ultimo, and am much obliged to the Governor and Council for their agreeable present. It is now on its way from the Head of Elk; when it arrives, I make no doubt, but it will find us in a humour to do it all manner of justice. I rejoice with you most heartily upon our recent good news, the ratification & Public acknowledgement of our Alliance with France & our still further prospect of friendship & alliance with other foreign Powers.
  I am Dr Sir with much esteem Your most obt Servt
  G. Washington.
  Head Qurs  Valley Forge  May 16th 1778. [2]

Transcriber's note: Having been apprised of the scarcity of provisions which Washington had endured, the "agreeable present" appears to have been a "Stock of good rum, wine, Sugar, & such other Articles as his Excellency may think needful & send them on to head Quarters."  [3]

1778-05-17
    The British were expected to evacuate Philadelphia. From his post at Wilmington, General Smallwood was covering the Stores at the Head of Elk. In the event that Smallwood was required to withdraw from Wilmington, Washington appealed to Thomas Johnson, Governor of Maryland, to send 500 Militia to Head of Elk, in order to provide "a sufficient security and proper restraint upon the enemy." [2]

    In a letter to Brigadier General Smallwood, of the same date, Washington admitted that he hoped one half of the militia, requested from the State of Maryland, might be presented. To protect the Head of Elk from "the insult of Marines and Seamen who may be sent up the Bay," and "if the Stores at Elk are not very considerable," Washington thought that a guard of 200–250 Continental Troops would be sufficient. [2]

1778-05-25
    Washington directed Brigadier General Smallwood to "detach the first Brigade of Troops" under his Command, and move to a strong position in the neighbourhood of Chad's Ford, in order either "to cover the Stores at the Head of Elk in case an attempt should be formed against them, or to proceed to this camp on further orders;" also, to post "trusty persons" to keep watch at New Castle, in the event that the British undertook an expedition to destroy the Stores at the Head of Elk. [2]

1778-05-25
    Provisions Purchased & Stored by Thomas Huggins, Quarter Master, Elk Battalion:

[Format:] Of Whom Purchased, Where Stored, Items.

  • William Clark, Rock Run, 121 bls Flour
  • John Kinnard, Do., 203 bls Flour
  • Doctr Saml Bushell, Do., 500 bls Flour
  • Jacob Giles, Do. & Giles Mill, 1000 bls Flour
  • Widow Smith, Rock Run, 500 bls Flour
  • Aquilla Hall, Do. & at Halls Mile near Rush [illegible], 1000 bls Flour
  • Philip Coale, Coales Mile 3 Miles below Charles, 2000 bls Flour
  • Stephen Porter, Porters Mile Octorara, 200 bls Flour 
  • Nathan Rigby, Rigbys Mile Harford Co, 500 bls Flour
  • Samuel Thomas, Thomas's Mile Lower Ferry Susquehanna, 500 bls Flour
  • John Miller, Head No. East, 500 bls Flour
  • Elisha Roden, near Elk, 500 bls Flour
  • Rolden Jind[?] & Wm Clark, do., 500 bls Flour
  • Stored near New London Er of Bread, 148 bls Flour, 477 bls Meal, 11 Hhd Rum
  • [Notation for the last two entries:] Thon[?] Mills supply the Garrison at Wilmington.
  • [stored at:] French Town near Elk, 360 bls Bread
  • [stored at:] Elk, 493 bls Flour, 700 bls Bread, 14 bls Beef, 120 bls Indn meal, 150 Salt Bush[?], 15 Ton Wd[?] Cod Fish, 31 Hhd Rum, 1 bu Rum, 2000 Gal Whisky, 10 btr Lard
  • William Bickers, Sassafras Neck, Bay[?] of Elk, 400 bls of Flour
  • [Totals:] 9065 bls Flour, 1537 bls Bread, 14 bls Beef, 120 bls Indn meal, 150 Salt Bush[?], 15 Ton Wd[?] Cod Fish, 43 Hhd Rum, 1 bu Rum, 2000 Gal Wisky, 10 btr Lard
  • [stored at:] Charles Town nr No. East under the care of Mr. Patrick Hamilton: 358 bls Bread, 572 do. Flour, 400 bls Salt Provisions, 12 Wt Cod Fish, 9 Hhds Rum, 71 Tierces Rum, 300 Bushels Pease & Beans [2]

1778-05-30
    Having directed the Commissaries to forward Stores coming up Chesapeak Bay for Head of Elk to be sent to Charles Town, Washington instructed Brig. General Smallwood to send his other Brigade to join the Continental Army, and to assign militia to protect the remaining stores at Head of Elk. Washington anticipated "the move of the Enemy every hour, and whether they go by land or Water, our Army will march Northward." [2]

1778-06-08
    Because protection of the stores at Head of Elk would be given by the militia in the neighbourhood, Washington directed Jeremiah Wadsworth, Commissary General of Purchases, to transport all the magazines in his department "without loss of time to the most convenient place for the purposes of the Army." Washington wrote a similar order to Major General Greene, "to have every thing of value in your magazines thereabouts, transported to the most convenient place for the purposes of the Army."[2]

1778-11-04
    The property of the Elk Forge Company, on account
  of the treason of John Roberts, one of the principal
  members, was also taken possession of by the commis-
  sioners, but owing to the fact that the company had
  not obtained a deed for the land, the State never
  realized anything from it. This property consisted
  of upwards of thirteen hundred acres of land, upon
  which were two forges and a "valuable grist-mill,"
  which is the old mill at this time standing near Elk
  Mills cotton factory, on the Big Elk, and sixteen
  negro slaves. This man Roberts resided before the war
  in Lower Merion Township, Philadelphia County.
    He was a member of the Society of Friends, and like
  some of his brethren in Pennsylvania, adhered to the
  royalists. He was accused of persuading people to
  enlist in the royal army, and was captured while on
  his way to the Head of Elk to "communicate information
  to a certain Mr. Galloway who had gone over to the
  enemy." During a part or all of the time that the
  British army occupied the city of Philadelphia, he
  resided there and showed much kindness to many of
  those who were politically opposed to him. He was the
  father of nine children and of a highly respectable
  family who made every exertion to save him, notwith-
  standing which he was hanged at Philadelphia,
  November 4th, 1778. [1]

1778-12-07
The Quakers (Society of Friends) of Nottingham refused to perform military duty for two reasons. First, the location of the Mason-Dixon line resulted in their being cast out of Pennsylvania into the state of Maryland. Thus, while they had become citizens of Maryland, they had lost the patents or titles to their land, which had been granted by the proprietor of Pennsylvania seventy-five years earlier. Second, the Friends were strict adherents to pacific principles. On the 7th December 1778,

    In order that they might be tried and punished for
  this, a court-martial was convened at the Head of Elk,
  on the 7th of December, 1778, at which were present.
  Colonel Stephen Hyland, lieutenant-colonel Elihu Hall
  (of Elisha), and Major Baruch Williams, the latter
  gentleman being at that time clerk of the county court.
  The records of this court-martial show that fifty-five
  persons were convicted of refusing to attend at the
  Head of Elk on the 23d of the preceding May, at which
  time they had been called into actual service by
  Charles Rumsey, the lieutenant of the county, at the
  request of the governor. The court imposed fines upon
  them, ranging from £20 to £35 each, and sentenced each
  of them to two months' imprisonment. [1]

Sources:

1.

Johnston, George. History of Cecil County, Maryland. Elkton: published by the author, 1881 (pp. 322ff). Extracts transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.

2.

United States Government. George Washington Papers, 1741–1799. Library of Congress. Online at https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwhome.html (accessed 2015-12-09 to -17). Synopsis and extracts by Alison Kilpatrick.

3.

Leibiger, Stuart. Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic. Charlottesville, and London: University Press of Virginia, 1999 (pg. 16).

Please cite your sources.

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2015. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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