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A Short History of Summerseat

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Few homes in America have been owned by, or occupied by such important actors of the eighteenth century as Summerseat. Summerseat was General George Washington’s Headquarters in December 1776, owned by two signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution Robert Morris and George Clymer. During General Washington’s time there, Summerseat was owned by Thomas Barclay, who would become America’s first consul overseas and who also negotiated the first treaty for the United States with a foreign nation, Morocco. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, with whom Barclay worked while in France, recommended Barclay for this position. Summerseat was built by one of America’s first self-made men, Adam Hoops, who was born on the Pennsylvania frontier about 1708, and became one of the colonies’ wealthiest men by hard work and sheer determination.

Summerseat is perhaps most famous as the Headquarters of General George Washington from December 8th to 14th, 1776. The well-known directive, “that all the boats and water crafts should be secured or destroyed.,” was issued by Washington while he was staying at Summerseat.

General Washington had not been successful in 1776; he was a defeated general, and he would no longer have an army in the new year as the enlistments of most of his hungry, rag-tag troops was over on December 31, 1776. Charles Willson Peale, the iconic painter of George Washington, camped on Summerseat’s property while General Washington was at Summerseat.
When Washington arrived at Summerseat, he wrote a letter asking General Lee to “Come to this place”, (Colvin’s Ferry, today’s Morrisville), as Washington was planning to defend Philadelphia from the British. General Lee replied to Washington, saying he thought he’d stay where he was because he couldn’t imagine that the British would attack Philadelphia.
In the fall of 1776, members of the Continental Congress were plotting against General Washington because they believed he was a failure.
Many generals rode across the land that is now MR Reiter School property and up the marble steps of Summerseat: Thomas Mifflin (future governor of Pennsylvania, Lord Stirling (William Alexander), Henry Knox, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, Cadwalader, Hugh Mercer, Israel Putman.

General Washington sent 20 letters from Summerseat.
Douglas Freeman in George Washington: A Biography wrote of Washington while he was at Summerseat, “He now had rested and conquered the confusion of mind that had plagued and paralyzed him in November.” Priscilla Roberts wrote in Summerseat, 1764-1791, “Perhaps the comfortable furnishings of Summerseat and the support by the Barclay family and servants contributed to Washington’s new-found strength of Purpose.”
We all know the story of how General Washington did not go to defend Philadelphia; he turned north and went up the river. 14 days later he changed the world with his success in Trenton on Christmas night, 1776.
General Washington sent word across the river as soon as the battle was won, to Thomas Barclay so he would know that it was safe to stay at Summerseat. General Washington also enclosed a letter for Barclay to take to Robert Morris to tell him that it was safe for Morris to stay in Philadelphia.
British General Cornwallis later said the General Washington had won the war at Trenton.
In 1781, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne held a Court of Inquiry in Summerseat’s dining room with members of the Continental Congress and found two men guilty of spying for the British. They were taken to Summerseat’s basement to await their hanging the next morning along the Delaware River.
Written by – Sharon Hughes, President, HMS

The Hearth Fired Kitchen

The hearth fired kitchen was the center of daily activity.  Colonials went to the kitchen as early as possible and started building up the fire to an optimum 400 degrees. A large iron swinging crane allowed kettles and pots to hang over the fire.  Two hundred years ago, the main meal of the day was a hot dinner served in the middle of the day around 2:00 pm. The late evening meal was known as supper and consisted of cold foods and leftovers out of the pot.  Breakfast was prepared by adding fresh peas/vegetables and oats to the pot of leftovers from the day before and heated, thus the nursery rhyme.  Even though food in pots was covered by lids and eaten throughout the day and into the next, food poisoning was avoided by using fresh food and proper heating.

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old

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Morrisville-Historic Points of Interest

Before it was Crewcorne, Covin’s Ferry, or Morrisville, the area at the falls of the Delaware River in Bucks County became the starting point for land measurement in Pennsylvania.
An outcropping of massive gray boulder is marked by a monument and bronze tablet stating that, “Near this spot stood the white oak tree that marked the starting point of the survey of the first tract of land purchased from the Indians by William Penn July 15th, 1682, on land in the Tenure of John Wood and by him called Graystones.”
Earlier the falls had been a strategic location for camps by the Lenni Lenape Indians, and in 1724 a settlement for a small group of trappers.
A major flood in 1787 carved out a creek that left an island completely separated from the Pennsylvania mainland.  Because it was at the fall line, the fast-flowing stream dropped eight feet from where it left the river to its return into the Delaware, providing a source of water-power to turn water wheels and grindstones in mills.   Adam Hoops, a Philadelphia merchant and his family established a gristmill in the mid-1700s.
Subsequently, a sawmill and other businesses were added to what was to be known as the “Delaware Works.” This was part of the property that Robert Morris acquired in 1791.  Hoops also constructed a home about a half-mile from the river.  This home, “Summerseat,” was to be early American history.
Thomas Barclay, Hoops’ son-in-law, became owner of Summerseat in 1773.  Barclay was the owner when George Washington established his headquarters at Summerseat on December 8th, 1776.
Washington had just completed a retreat across New Jersey with Sir William Howe, commander of a large force of British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries, in pursuit.  Washington commandeered boats from miles along the river to ferry his troops across, keeping the boats on the Pennsylvania side.
Washington remained at Summerseat until December 14th. It is almost certain that Washington began planning his historic attack on Trenton, which then was guarded by 1500 Hessians under Colonel Johann Rall, while still at Summerseat.
Two prominent early owners of Summerseat were Robert Morris and George Clymer, both signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Summerseat is unique in having had two signers of both documents as owners.
Morris acquired Summerseat and the surrounding acreage with the idea that the “Falls of the Delaware” would make an ideal site for the nation’s capital, being about halfway between the two major cities of the time, Philadelphia and New York.  It was also ideally situated to be reached by water, since boats could proceed up the Delaware as far as the fall line, and the stage line between Philadelphia and New York passed through the town to the ferry that crossed the river.
In more recent years the major north-south rail line and the Route 1 highway were routed through Morrisville and industry thrived, the town becoming a rubber, plastics, and tile manufacturing center.

Written by James Murray and published in the Morrisville Times, 1/28/11