Pins on the Map: George Washington Slept Here

As you shiver in the cold today during what The Weather Channel is predicting could be the coldest winter on record for decades in North America, reflect on the 1780 snowstorm that hit George Washington’s army at Jockey Hollow in Morristown, NJ, now a National Park that commemorates the Continental Army’s winter encampment (December 1779 – June 1780). Here the soldiers survived the tail end of what historians and paleoclimatologists dub, “the little ice age”.  

The NOAA Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) and the National Climatic Data Center, U.S. Department of Commerce,  use tree rings dating, remote sensing, GIS and other Geoscience data tools to collect, preserve, and analyze the Nation’s historical climate and weather data . This data contributes to ongoing research on the timeline of the “little ice age” determined by NASA and The Hudson River Foundation to be from the early 1400’s to late 1800’s in the New York region, of which the Revolutionary War is one of many points in a long timeline.

I grew up in the beautiful Highlands of New Jersey, otherwise known as the historic “George Washington Slept Here” region, where the life, actions, and decisions of George Washington that determined the outcome of the Revolutionary War are proudly celebrated and relived through education and historical events, taking a prominent place in the planning of the 2013 – 2019  New Jersey Comprehensive Statewide Historic Preservation Plan.  From the Christmas Day tradition of watching Washington crossing the Delaware, a school visit to a reenactment site, or watching a documentary on the bridge bearing his name, we are suffused in all aspects of George Washington: First President of the United States, General, Surveyor, and Cartographer.

Today, sitting here in my cold, wet socks after shoveling snow, I reflect on the fact that for many years it was believed Valley Forge, the site where Washington’s men camped the first winter (1777-1778), was the coldest on record because over three thousand men died “shivering in the snow” and it is the most famous site of the Revolutionary War. However, historians, climatologists, and geoscientists have determined that it was a normal winter for the time period and that inexperience and disease caused many of the deaths. Often referred to as the “crucible of experience” that shaped the Continental Army, this bitter lesson shaped Washington’s decision to camp at Jockey Hollow near Morristown in 1779 for it’s proximity to New York, access to natural resources and food, and strategic location. It makes me wonder if George Washington’s men thanked his experience as a surveyor and cartographer, and his decision to create an office of Geographer to the Continental Army, among other skills that improved their survival during the most brutal winter known to mankind.

I also mentally thank my teachers and and community for giving me the insight that local knowledge and geo-literacy are an education that keeps on giving long after our school years are over and makes 2013 Geography Awareness Week come full circle for me. They instilled in me the interest to support my local national parks, museums, and events. As Frank LaFone would say, “Well played, geography, well played”.


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