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Mount Gulian

Mount Gulian is the Hudson Valley colonial homestead of the Verplanck family (also Planck or Ver Plancken). Between 1633 and 1638, a Dutch entrepreneur named Abraham Isaac Verplanck arrived in New Netherlands Colony (now New York & New Jersey) from Holland. He originally came to purchase land for a farming settlement and trading post. The trading post would enable him to trade Dutch goods with the local Native Americans in exchange for beaver and other furs, Indian tobacco, and trade goods that were rare in Europe. New Amsterdam was a thriving port and frontier town, filled with Dutch settlers, Indians and traders from all over Europe. Africans, both freemen and slaves, as well as French Huguenots seeking escape from religious persecution in Europe, and Jews fleeing the Inquisition in South America came to a relatively tolerant and busy New Amsterdam.

In 1783, General Von Steuben was headquartered at Mount Gulian, across the Hudson River from Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh. While at Mount Gulian “The Baron”, as he was often known, learned of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which meant total victory for the new United States and independence from England.

Often a footnote in history, Friedrich Von Steuben emerged from obscurity in Europe to become the unsung hero of the Revolutionary War, making a lasting impact on the Continental Army and American history.

Speaking virtually no English, Baron Von Steuben arrived in Newport, Rhode Island on December 1, 1777. With instructions to report to General Washington on February 23, 1778, Von Steuben arrived at the squalid encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Of the nearly 10,000 troops camped there during the winter of ‘77-’78 at least 3,000 died due to sickness, starvation, exposure and infection from earlier wounds. Von Steuben met Washington and inspected the camp. He wrote home of the extraordinarily poor conditions of the men, but also of their extreme patriotism and willingness to endure hardship for the cause of liberty. In Europe, men fought for gold and honors; in America, Von Steuben learned they fought for ideals. Von Steuben was horrified at the terrible conditions of the encampment and became aware of the “administrative incompetence, graft, war profiteering” that existed. He offered his immediate services to Washington at no pay. Washington accepted his offer of services with a General officer’s rank and pay, and Baron Friedrich Von Steuben began to reform the American Army.

Beginning immediately, Von Steuben worked as a “drill sergeant”, introduing basic training methods, marching drills, uniform commands and tactics to the farmer-soldiers. He initiated basic hygiene into the camp and instructed the men in musketry and artillery drills. Although initially ridiculed by the troops for his demanding and Prussian aristocratic manners, and lack of English (except some confused swear words), Von Steuben quickly gained fellow officers’ and Washington’s trust and respect. He wrote a simplified drillbook in French that was translated by Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s aide.

Within three months of his arrival at Valley Forge, Von Steuben was appointed the Inspector General of the Continental Army with the rank of Major General by Congress. Along with the newly appointed Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene, Von Steuben resurrected the once rag-tag army. On May 5, 1778, he prepared the troops for a military parade at Valley Forge to celebrate the news that France had decided to recognize America’s independence and would be our ally. Washington was delighted at the professional display of his troops.

Over the next two years, the Major General’s reputation grew, as he was credited with transforming the Continental Line into a trained, disciplined force which could stand up to crack British Regulars. He introduced Prussian concepts of general staff duties and European field tactics that could rival British and Hessian battle maneuvers. He taught the men to break camp quickly, fire in volley, attack en masse with bayonet and regroup or retreat in an orderly fashion. He demanded that military camps be kept sanitary and be ready for inspection, especially weapons and equipment. He also set up a system of property accountability and supply procurement for the army, which was essential in stamping out corruption and waste. On March 29, 1779 Von Steuben’s “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops” was formally accepted by Congress as the official regulations for the United States Army. The “Regulations” or “Blue Book” as it was known, was used intact by the army until the War of 1812, and it affected American drills and tactics until the Mexican War of 1846.

After Yorktown, Washington still expected renewed attacks by British forces against the Hudson Valley so he had Von Steuben move his headquarters to New York. He joined General Knox at Vail’s Gate, near West Point, in the fall of 1782. He then moved to Mount Gulian in Fishkill, opposite Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh in early 1783. Throughout this time Von Steuben was busy with the design and building of the huge New Windsor Cantonment, which eventually had 8000 soldiers and dependants living in 700 cabins. As peace negotiations dragged on into the spring, at Mount Gulian with Von Steuben presiding on May 13, 1783, the Society of the Cincinnati was formed as America’s first veterans’ fraternal organization. With news of the Peace Treaty of Paris, Von Steuben furloughed and then discharged his troops by June of 1783. In March 1784, General Baron Von Steuben was discharged from the Continental Army with honors.

Mount Gulian stood on its hill above the Hudson River for 200 years. But an arsonist’s fire destroyed it in 1931. Family members, household staff and neighbors rescued furniture, paintings, and silver from the home. The ruin, with just the stonework remaining, was left to the mercy of the woods for thirty-five years.

In 1966, Bache Bleecker, a Verplanck descendant and his wife Connie founded the Mount Gulian Society for the purpose of reconstructing the homestead.

The new-born Society immediately hired a restoration expert, Edward Litwin. He excavated the ruins of the old homestead during the summer of 1967. All that remained after the fire was a cellar choked with weeds and the rubble of handmade bricks and cut native sandstone, and remnants of stone walls, fireplaces and chimneys. To help him with the restoration, Mr. Litwin studied old photographs and consulted people who remembered Mount Gulian, although the dwelling had metamorphosed over its long life.

The Society of the Cincinnati

The Society of the Cincinnati is an organization that is as old and as venerable as our Republic. Composed of living descendants of eligible commissioned officers of the Continental Army and Navy, as well as descendants of commissioned officers of the French Army and Navy who served during the Revolutionary War, the Society has 14 branches. Each branch (State Society) is composed of descendants of officers who served in their respective original 13 States’ armed forces and one branch for France, whose help ensured our at victory in the War.

The Society of the Cincinnati was organized on May 13, 1783, at Mount Gulian, in Fishkill, New York, by Continental officers who fought in the American Revolution, including patriot General Baron Von Steuben, whose headquarters was located at Mount Gulian. The Society was the first veterans’ fraternal organization established in the United States. The Society’s original purpose was to facilitate fellowship, friendship and recognition for officer war veterans of the Continental Army. At a time when there were no “veterans benefits” the Society was also created to act as an “insurance policy” of sorts, an institution that collected funds from every member and which would remit benefits to their fellow officers in time of need. The Society also acted as a powerful organization which would lobby Congress for the back-pay and land grants promised to veteran officers of the War.

George Washington was the Society's President General from 1783 until his death in 1799. Originally a somewhat controversial organization due to its membership being limited to direct male heredity from original officer members, the Society has been active continuously since its founding in 1783, and was a model for many other fraternal organizations and lodges in America. Today, the Society is a not-for-profit organization that supports educational, cultural, and literary activities, promoting the ideals of liberty, heritage and constitutional government.

Visiting Mt. Gulian

Open 1-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri. and on Sundays for special events. Guided tours. Admission fee.

Specifics on visiting Mount Gulian were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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