What Really Happened At Rock Ford?

by Jim Newell, German Regt.

Thankfully, no battles occurred there during the Revolution—Lancaster was much too important for that. The Borough of Lancaster was home to the Continental Congress in 1777 after the advancing British forced the evacuation of Philadelphia and before they moved on to York, Pennsylvania. Lancaster, some 50 miles west of Philadelphia, was also critical to the war effort itself.

Lancaster's Role in the Revolution

Lancaster lay on the main route to and from Virginia and the South. Food supplies from there were distributed along the major roads to facilitate the rapid deployment of troops, particularly the movement North of the Southern troops at the start of the war. For this reason, it was also a waystation for the Hessian prisoners from Trenton in their march to confinement in Virginia.

George Ross was designated Deputy Quartermaster at Lancaster in 1777 and 1778, in charge of one of only four main supply depots in Pennsylvania. Others were at Carlisle, Head-of-Elk, and Easton. The British overran the latter two fairly early in the war. By the fall of 1777, Lancaster and Carlisle were the only remaining flour magazines in the Middle Department and the principle bread baking facility was at Lancaster during the winter of Valley Forge. The Quartermaster also produced, distributed, and stored cartridges and black powder supplies as well as clothing, blankets, and in particular, shoes.

A Continental firearms factory was also located there; however, we know little about it. We know more about the civilian gunsmith, William Henry, who was appointed by Washington in March of 1778 to replace Butler as Superintendent of Arms and Accouterments. His little shop of 14 men in Lancaster had repaired three times the number of weapons repaired by the Artillery Artificers in Pennsylvania and had made an equal number of accouterments.

Washington considered wintering there in 1777 but chose Valley Forge to be closer to the enemy. The following year, however, he wintered the Dragoons and Calvary in Lancaster because of the better forage while he kept the troops at Morristown; again to keep a closer watch on the enemy.

Edward Hand: Physician, Adjutant General, Congressman, Proprietor

But perhaps the greatest contribution made by Lancaster to the early years of this country was Edward Hand, the owner of Rock Ford Plantation. Born in Ireland and trained as a physician, Hand inlisted as a Surgeon's Mate to the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot, arriving with his unit in Philadelphia in 1767. He served with that unit at Fort Pitt, and returned to Philadelphia in 1774.

In rapid succession he resigned his commission, was discharged, set up a practice in Lancaster, and was married. Less than a year later, however, he inlisted again in the military, this time as Lt. Colonel in the famous Thompson's Rifle Regiment. When Thompson was promoted to General, Hand became a Full Colonel, then Brigadier, and finally, by Yorktown, an Adjutant General. He marched with his troops back to Philadelphia and was again discharged there.

He took active part in all of the major campaigns, while also specializing in warfare with the Indians. He was commander at his former post, Fort Pitt, during the Indian campaigns there and also commanded the Pennsylvania units on Sullivan's Campaign. From his long activities on the frontiers he became an accomplished Indian War dancer and occasionally led other officers in the dances after successful campaigns.

After the war he continued to serve his country as a member of the Continental Congress in 1784 and 1785, as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1785, as a representative to the first State Constitutional Convention in 1789, and in 1798, he was appointed Major General in the Provisional Army. He died September 3rd, 1802 "in the 58th year of his age."

What really happened at Rock Ford and Lancaster? Not much, unless you recognize that they, like many unheralded towns, had a major part in the success of the Revolution by providing the essential behind-the-scenes shelter, weapons, ammunition, shoes and clothing, and particularly food that kept the Army from collapsing altogether in some of its darkest hours.

Copyright © 1998 Jim Newell. All rights reserved.