The Middlebrook Winter Encampment

of Washington's Army

December, 1778 to June 1779

In 1778, following the battle of Monmouth, Washington took the American Army north to the New York Highlands to guard the Hudson River against the British Army which had moved back into New York City.
When winter approached, he had to decide where to place his troops for the winter. In the 18th Century, troops did not often campaign during the winter, due to the difficulties of travel and supply.
The main portion of the army he decided to place in New Jersey, near the village of Middlebrook in Somerset County, where they could move to protect New Jersey, threaten New York and Staten Island, and quickly re-enforce the Highlands. The New Jersey Brigade would be stationed separately near Elizabethtown, guarding the coast. Another brigade would be stationed at Danbury, Connecticut, where they could quickly defend the Highlands, or move south towards the north end of Manhattan island.

Middlebrook, New Jersey. Middlebrook? Can't find it on the map? Its not there. It has been absorbed by the town of Bound Brook. It was a small village north west of Bound Brook, about where Thompson Avenue and Route 28 meet. The encampment was north of the village, around the gap into the hills which Chimney Rock Road runs through. Today it is just east of the junction of Routes 22 and 287.

The Main army, consisting of the Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania Brigades, with the Delaware regiment, the artillery Corps, and the artisans and attached support units, were along the base of the Watchung Mountains. Here they were protected from some of the weather, had a good supply of trees for construction and firewood, and were supported by a generally patriotic population, with an active militia. The population of Somerset County was 10,000 at the time. They could not support the 4 to 8 thousand men that would be stationed there without the other states support, but they could ease the problems of supply that were sure to occur. (Remember that in forming a new country, the Americans had to also form all the necessary support functions of a government, and they had no experience in large scale supplying of an army. They went through several models of procurement during the revolution, trying to improve the supply chain. Britain had problems, but was able to supply the money to overcome them. Graft was considered one of the perks of doing government business at the time.)

Washington was familiar with the area. He had marched past it after the Battle of Princeton on his way to Morristown, in 1777. Late in the spring of 1777 he moved onto the mountain above the pass, with troops forward on the slopes to defend the approaches. On the night of June 13-14, 1777 Cornwallis moved out of New Brunswick hoping to draw Washington out into the open flat land for battle. Washington sent the militia, re-enforced with some Continentals, to harass the enemy, but did not leave his secure position, and by the end of June they retreated to Staten Island to prepare for the sea trip to capture Philadelphia.

The Virginia troops were posted just west of the gap where Middlebrook creek flows out of the mountains, at Chimney Rock. The Virginia position extended along today's Foothill Road. The Maryland Brigade was posted east of the gap, past Vossler Avenue almost to Mountain Avenue. The Pennsylvania Brigade were posted south, at Weston, in today's Manville. Several miles north west along the ridge, at Pluckemin, the Artillery Corps was stationed, with an extensive academy/barracks construction (See the Lillie drawing below). Bound Brook held the slaughter pens. Washington had his Headquarters in what is now Somerville (then the area was just called Raritan, including both the presents towns of Somerville and Raritan, which were not quite villages yet. The HQ is now a state owned museum.) The post office for the camp was on the property of what is now the Somerset Court House, the artificers camp (which made and repaired equipment for the army, was along Old York Road in Finderne, and the horse corral was in Bridgewater, a mile or so south of Pluckemin. The Quartermaster General, Nathaniel Greene had his headquarters at the Van Veghten home near the bridge over the Raritan south of the camp. Today it is the home of the Somerset County Historical Society. The higher ranking officers stayed in every available house in the area.

Redoubts in the Valley behind the front Mountain protected the rear and flanks of the cantonment. One still exists, on West Circle Drive, off Spring Run Road, a mile west of Martinsville. Other fortifications guarded the front and flanks before the encampment. Many of these had been built when the army camped here in the spring of 1777, when General Cornwallis lead the British out of New Brunswick as far as Hillsborough, hoping for Washington to come down out of the mountains where he could be dealt with.

The troops began to arrive at the end of November and into December of 1778. They lived in tents while they built huts to live in, finishing in mid January. Only tools and boards for the bunk beds were provided, and a very few expensive nails. There was no glass for windows, or iron for hinges. They built along the lower slopes, using the wooded hills as their supply depot. Each hut was 16X14 and had walls 7 foot tall. The tools they needed were issued by the Quartermaster Department. Deputy Quartermaster Jacob Weiss made frequent requests from Middlebrook for tools, including this request on Deck.16th:

Broad Axes, Adzes Claw or Carpenter's Hammers, 12 or 15 Cross cut Saws with cross cut and Hand Saw Files and also Saw Setts, 10 or 12 Saddles with the prices or distinguishing whose Merchandize, About 2 Tun Barr Iron as wrote for including that for Mr. How, 10 or 12 Barrs Steel suitable for new Steeling Axes &c.-And a good Stove with pipes agreeable to dimensions

Washington had standardized the hut size as 16 feet by 14 feet, with 7 foot tall walls and a peaked roof, with one fire place and chimney.


This is the type of hut built. This photo was taken by me at Jockey Hollow, Morristown, NJ, where the army spent the winter of 1780/81, now a National Park.

Dr. James Thatcher described the Middlebrook encampment like this:

"February 3/.-Having continued to live under cover of canvas-tents most of the winter, we have suffered extremely from exposure to cold and storms. Our soldiers have been employed six or eight weeks in constructing log huts, which at length are completed, and both officers and soldiers are now under comfortable covering for the remainder of the winter. Log houses are constructed with the trunks of trees cut into various lengths, according to the size intended, and are firm]y connected by notches cut at their extremities in the manner of dovetailing. The vacancies between the logs are filled in with plastering consisting of mud and clay. The roof is formed of similar pieces of timber, and covered with hewn slabs. The chimney, situated at one end of the house, is made of similar but smaller timber, and both the inner and the outer side are covered with clay plaster, to defend the wood against the fire. The door and windows are formed by sawing away a part of the logs of a proper size, and move on wooden hinges. In this manner have our soldiers, without nails, and a]most without tools, except the axe and saw, provided for their officers and for themselves comfortable and convenient quarters, with little or no expense to the public. The huts are arranged in strait lines, forming a regular, uniform, compact village. The officers' huts are situated in front of the line, according to their rank, the kitchens in the rear, and the whole is similar in form to a tent encampment. The ground for a considerable distance in front of the soldiers' line of huts is cleared of wood, stumps and rubbish, and is every morning swept clean for the purpose of a parade-ground and roll-call for the respective regiments. line officers' huts are in general divided into two apartments, and are occupied by three or four officers, who compose one mess. Those for the soldiers have but one room, and contain ten or twelve men, with their cabins placed one above another against the walls, and fitted with straw, and one blanket for each man."


" A South-West Perspective of the Artillery Barracks, Pluckemin, New Jersey. 1779

the Lillie drawing, held by the Morristown National Park

The winter was a very mild one. There was little snow, and it fell in late December and early January. After that it was generally above freezing, and it warmed for spring a couple of weeks earlier than usual, with the fruit trees flowering on April 1st.
During the winter, the Quarter Master General, Nathaniel Greene, managed to keep the troops fed and clothed, more or less. There were problems, and sometimes the troops were hungry, but they never starved like at Valley Forge the year before, or at Morristown later. The new French allies supplied new uniforms, brown or blue, which were distributed by lot.
The encampment was visited by the French ambassador in March, with a grand review. Washington planned and gathered supplies for the march against the Iroquois Indians in New York State during the winter, which was lead by General Sullivan in June, and included the New Jersey Brigade.
Late in May the troops began to be ordered away to new posts and campaigns. In the first week of June, the last troops left.
The huts remained abandoned. On October 27th, 1779, Colonel Simcoe of the Queens Rangers, a mounted dragoon troop, lead a raid into the county. At Van Veghtens Bridge (where todays bridge over the Raritan crosses into Manville, he burned some barges and pontoon boats left there by the army, and wanted to burn some of the huts, but didn't get around to it. He wanted to draw out the militia, to trap them near New Brunswick with a second force of infantry there. After he burned the Dutch Reformed church and Court House at Millstone ( then called simply Somerset Court House), he took a wrong turn and was ambushed himself and captured when his horse was shot and fell on him.
That was the end of the war for the encampment. Eventually the huts were used by the locals as firewood. Today much of the encampment ground lies under Routes 22 and 287. A few acres are preserved as a park by the Washington Camp Ground Association, along Middlebrook Road in Bridgewater, just north of Bound Brook. The Artillery Park had an extensive archeological dig, and it is hoped that the hundreds of thousands of artifacts find their way into displays soon. ( I have heard only rumors). Some of the remaining land is scarcely developed and some is owned by the county Park System, including much of the land used in the first, spring encampment of 1777.
Unfortunately the area is not marked with any historical markers, which is a disgrace to New Jersey's history. Even the locals that drive by every day don't know about the army that stayed there. Further development of the remaining grounds are planned.

For further information, see "Middlebrook, The American's Eagle's Nest" by Carl Prince, an 88 page booklet available from the Somerset County Historical Society (908-218-1281)



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I recommend also Captain John Outwater's Co. of Bergen county Militia web page.


Web pages written and created by Glenn Valis. last revision 12/20/01. All rights reserved