Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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The British Attack Philadelphia
Fighting in the Revolutionary War lasted eight years; for two years (June 1776 to June 1778) Philadelphia was the main military objective of the British.

Montgomery and Bucks Counties
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George Washington in Philadelphia
Philadelphia remains slightly miffed that Washington was so enthusiastic about moving the nation's capital next to his home on the Potomac. The fact remains that the era of Washington's eminence was Philadelphia's era; for thirty years Washington and Philadelphia dominated affairs.

Chester County, Pennsylvania
Chester was an original county of Pennsylvania, one of the largest until Dauphin, Lancaster and Delaware counties were split off. Because the boundaries mainly did not follow rivers or other natural dividers, translating verbal boundaries into actual lines was highly contentious.

Lumpers, Splitters and Technicians: The Framers of the American Constitution
Half a dozen distinguished colonists came to believe the thirteen American colonies could not survive unless they banded together. Eight years of bitter experiences during the Revolutionary War had taught them they must unite. We might call them lumpers.

Rebel Hill

The Schuylkill River, hence Schuylkill Expressway and also Amtrak, all take a big bend westward about ten miles from Philadelphia. They are making a detour around a big hill or minor mountain, tending to position the sun in the eyes of many commuters at certain hours of the day. Real estate developers are apparently responsible for naming the place Rebel Hill, and it's getting pretty crowded with houses. The Rebel they had in mind was George Washington.

Rebel Hill

The father of our country was in retreat from the battle of Germantown, having crossed the river at Matson's Ford, then following Matsonford Road over and beyond the big hill, and pausing for water at the spring in the gulch formed by Gulch Creek, now more decorously called Gulph Creek. The creek tumbles down the side of a long ridge forming the south side of the Great Valley; the gulch or gulf is really a crevasse in that ridge, which in a sense makes Rebel Hill just a split-off extension of that ridge. Consequently, the gulch makes a water-level route from the Schuylkill to Valley Forge, which anyone would take to get there in a hurry. Valley Forge is a misleading term; it's a hill in the middle of the Great Valley, as the center of an angel food cake tin, and was thus defensible in all directions. The cleft in the southern ridge is where you would normally travel to get to the base of the bastion of Valley Forge.

Old Gulph Road

So, everyone still takes that route, following Montgomery Avenue after it turns into South Gulph Road, but before it turns into North Gulph Road. The road up along the southern ridge is called Old Gulph Road, while the newer extension from the river is called New Gulph Road. All of these winding roads are compressed within the narrow defile beside Gulph Creek, reachable by splashing through the fords in the creek, although that is discouraged after ice forms in the winter. And, yes, a new road has come in at a restored old farmhouse, called New Gulph Road. The restoration has created a fancy restaurant, which somehow forgets that at the time we are talking about, it was the headquarters of (Major) Aaron Burr. The giant highway cloverleaf ahead on South Gulph Road tends to obscure the fact that it was the direct road to Valley Forge, now further obscured by lots of shopping center. If you persist and keep a lookout for the street signs, you will eventually get to the Memorial Arch, log cabins and National Park Service facilities of Valley Forge.

Valley Forge

Back in the gulch, however, is the spring where Washington's troops refreshed their canteens. Just beyond it is a great big rock, much mentioned in memoirs of the episode. Around 1950, the highway engineers decided to blast this rock out of the way of widening a road that badly needs widening. The Daughters of the American Revolution saved the day. Creating a giant fuss, the DAR succeeded in limiting the engineers to chiseling the bottom of the rock away. A gentleman in his eighties recently remarked he had driven past that rock thousands of times, and always wondered what it was there for. Now he knows.

Originally published: Thursday, October 21, 2010; most-recently modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2019

I grew up on Rebel Hill (DeHaven Street) and I think that some of your "facts" are not too well researched. Rebel Hill was called that long before any real estate developers ever set their eyes on it. I lived there in the 1950s and it had been called Rebel Hill for at least a century before that. In fact, it was originally called that by the British General Lord Cornwallis in a report to his superiors. George Washington did indeed cross the Schuylkill River at Matson's Ford, but the army quickly turned back across the river when a large British force was spotted in the vicinity of present-day West Conshohocken. The army then traveled up the river and crossed again at Swedesford (modern-day Norristown). They arrived at the Gulph (an old word for a gap in the hills - where you came up with gulch is a mystery to me) on September 13. They camped there for 6 days, departing for Valley Forge on September 19. General Washington wrote several letters to the Continental Congress from his headquarters at the "Gulph" (not the Gulch) during that encampment. In a report to his superiors, Lord Cornwallis described the hill as "the rebel hill" because he didn't know of any other name for the hill and he was referring to the fact that the "rebels" (George Washington's army) were camped there. It was a descriptive name. Aaron Burr's headquarters, during and after that time was the house you described, which was the home of my 5X great uncle, Jonathan Sturgis. If you are going to write descriptions that you pass off as "history" you need to research what you are writing about. Otherwise you are passing off mistruths as fact.
Posted by: John Hagan   |   Dec 29, 2016 2:58 AM