From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

“George Washing­ton slept here.”

No other state – besides Virginia, of course – claims a closer connection to the life and times of George Washington than Pennsylvania. Travels during his extraordinary military and political careers took him to dozens of settlements and sites across the Commonwealth. Many of these places survive and offer vivid reminders of the presence of such a towering figure in our nation’s history.

Unfortunately, many of Washington’s experiences in Pennsylvania were not happy occasions. As a young man, a force of French and Indians routed his troops at Fort Necessity in July 1754. Just one year later, he was one of the few to survive the defeat of General Edward Braddock, a grisly massacre hallmarking the bitter French and Indian War. Throughout his life, he maintained a strong interest in western Pennsylvania and became one of the region’s largest landowners.

During the American Revolution, he used his base along the Delaware River in upper Bucks County to launch a successful surprise attack against Hessian forces in Trenton on Christmas night, 1776, and gave new life to the patriot cause. The following year, however, he suffered major losses in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and a tremendous blow when the British occupied Philadelphia. His winter encampment at Valley Forge was, perhaps, the lowest point in America’s struggle for independence.

The story of how Washington and his officers reorganized the army at Valley Forge and ultimately prevailed over the British is well known. In gratitude for his leadership, Pennsylvania dedicated a new county and town in his honor in 1781. Washington Academy opened six years later and became Washington and Jefferson College.

In the 1780s and 1790s, Philadelphia served as the setting for Washington to exercise his formidable political skills, presiding over the Constitutional Convention and then serving as the nation’s first president. His response in 1794 to the Whiskey Rebellion in our western counties offered a demonstration of his concept of a strong central government.

This year museums and historic sites throughout the Keystone State and the United States are observing the bicenten­nial of Washington’s death with exhibits and public programs. At the annual reenactment of his Crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will mark the occasion with a memorial ceremony. We will also unveil a state historical marker near the site of the Zion Lutheran Church in Philadel­phia, where Congressman Henry Lee of Virginia spoke at Washington’s funeral service on December 26, 1799, with a stirring tribute, “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen … such was the man for whom our nation mourns.”

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director