Valley Forge Stories
Many people encamped at Valley Forge and each has a unique story to tell. We hope to share with you some pieces on the individuals who gave up everything to join General Washington and fight for our independence.
Hannah (Archer) Till
Hannah Till (originally named “Long Point” by her father) was born into slavery in Kent County, Delaware to an Oneida father and African American mother. Her birth is estimated to have occurred around 1721.
By 1776, she was owned by Reverend John Mason of the Associate Reformed Church in New York, who leased her to George Washington as his personal cook. Her husband, Isaac (who was also a slave) was leased by Captain John Johnson of Bergen County, New Jersey to cook for Washington as well.
The couple had at least three children when they started working for Washington. While staying at the Valley Forge Encampment, Hannah gave birth to another son named Isaac Worley Till.
Both Hannah and Isaac had an agreement with their owners and with Washington that they could purchase their freedom, and they achieved this on October 30, 1778. After gaining her freedom, Hannah continued working for Washington as a pastry cook. She eventually also worked for Major General Marquis de Lafayette for half a year.
After the revolutionary war, the couple cooked for families in Philadelphia to earn a living. They raised at least seven children together and became members of the First African Presbyterian Church.
In March 1824 (when she was around 102 years old), John Fanning Watson interviewed her. In his book Annals of Philadelphia, he describes her as “a pious woman, possessing a sound mind and memory” (page 552). His sister, who knew Hannah and occasionally visited her, also reported that General Lafayette came to see Hannah in 1824. At the time, Hannah was in arrears for her mortgage. However, after the General’s visit, she learned that he had kindly paid off the debts for her.
At 105 years old, Hannah died of old age on December 13, 1826. She was buried at the First African Presbyterian Church, then later reinterred at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, PA. On October 3, 2015, the Pennsylvania Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Pennsylvania Brigade of the Descendants of Washington’s Army organized a ceremony honoring her and placed a marker at the cemetery in her memory.
Colonel Walter Stewart
Colonel Walter Stewart of the 13th Pennsylvania Regiment
Walter Stewart was born in Ireland in 1756 and later settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He entered the war on January 6, 1776, when he was appointed captain of Company F in the 3rd Pennsylvania battalion. In May of that year, he was promoted to major and became an aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates. Under General Gates’s command, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
On June 17, 1777, Stewart was appointed commander of the Pennsylvania State Regiment (which was renamed to the 13th Pennsylvania Regiment that November). He fought valiantly in the Philadelphia campaign at Brandywine and Germantown, then stayed with his regiment at the Valley Forge Encampment from December 1777 until June 1778.
Stewart was known for his handsome appearance (he was nicknamed “the Irish Beauty”), as well as for paying careful attention to his soldiers’ needs. In Private Yankee Doodle, a narrative of the Revolutionary War, soldier Joseph Plumb Martin describes, “This Colonel Stewart was an excellent officer much beloved and respected by the troops of the Line he belonged to” (pg 219).
After leaving the Valley Forge encampment, he was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778. A few days afterward, the 13th Pennsylvania Regiment was merged with the 2nd (since enlistments of many soldiers in the 13th expired), and Stewart was given command of this new regiment.
Later, in 1781, he married Deborah McClenahan and fought under General Anthony Wayne in the Yorktown campaign. He retired from the army on January 1, 1783, but George Washington asked him to stay as Inspector General of Northern Department. After holding the position for several months, he retired with the brevet rank of brigadier general. He went on to become a major general in the Pennsylvania militia, as well as a successful merchant.
Stewart died in June 1796 during the yellow fever epidemic and was buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (in Philadelphia).