Monday, August 6, 2012

Belcher at Camp

The Belcher Journal is maddeningly disheveled, as at times its author appears to have been as well - with pages missing or all out of order and some entries lacking a date or other readily identifiable notation.  Larry and I, as co-curators of the Belcher archive, have been trying to piece together the portion of the Journal that deals with The Philadelphia Campaign and Valley Forge with little success.   After months of eye-straining late night scholarship, we were rewarded only with a couple of brief accounts near the end of the Winter encampment in April and May of 1778 when Belcher served most grudgingly in Von Steuben's Model Company and on a visit to the home of the vivacious Sally Wister.

Now we have one more fragmentary account to share, which because of certain obscure geographic references we feel confident can be placed at some time in January, 1778 at Valley Forge.  Belcher reveals several details not previously know from any firsthand account of the activities in camp during that crucial winter when the army stayed in the field rather than dispersing as was usual at the end of a single campaign.  It emerged, so most historians would have it, from that icy crucible a formidable, professional fighting force, with much credit is given to von Steuben for the results.  

Perhaps, but if what Belcher says is true, there were other "change agents" at work, so typically marginalized in the conventional narrative, who now thanks to the Belcher document will have their due. 

"Ye New year is but a few days on - am most unwell & melancholic / wrote my letter home but No thing arrived with ye Post from that quarter /  Did stand gard by Gulph Mills with naught to cover my nakit feet but a length of macreme Cloath fashiond  by my own por Hand / The camp counselors at This place incorrigibly cheerful of aspect, esp. Miss Pennypacker who despite our Privations is seemingly possessd with spirit enuf to rout a company of Grenadiers all on her own at Tug-a-War.

Did receive a sliver in my finger from an ash splint in Basket weaving class that discomfits me some / Tomorrow ye Jersey Brigade is to muster on Parade for to play at Capture ye Flag at Redoubt No. 9 hard by the Skull Kill/ shall visit ye Infirmary for a nurse's note with regard to my injury rather than take part in that foolishness.  Next year would prefer a different Camp, mayhap at Middle Brook closer to home wair much good is said of the Programme and accommodations."

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