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Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site at Newburgh

Frequently overlooked in the great sweep of history as being the central battleground of the American Revolution, the Hudson Valley determined the success or failure of the Colonial States in their quest for independence from Great Britain. Strategically, the Hudson River was the only navigable river into the interior of the continent and its location empowered whoever controlled it to either allow or prevent commerce between the northern Colonies and those in the south. Should the British have been able to gain control of the Hudson, the outcome of the war would surely have been different.

And the British spent great time, effort and resources attempting to gain control of the mighty Hudson River just so they could control the commercial trade routes between north and south. Their first act in the war was to take Manhattan and drive General Washington and his continental troups north chasing them up to White Plains and forcing them across the river. In a massive effort, they then descended south from Canada under the command of Gen. Burguoyne, down through Lake Champlain, down the Hudson battling the colonists at every turn. Finally at Saratoga, Burguoyne lost his momentum and was defeated and captured, bringing the battle over the northern Hudson to a close.

Throughout the war, various fortifications and sites in Orange County were pivotal in the efforts of Washington and his troops to stay the British and prevent them from coming up into the Hudson Valley. Chief among these locations was West Point, site of the major fortifications along the Hudson and commanded by Benedict Arnold. Washington himself spent more time in the Hudson Valley and Orange County than any other location in the colonies during the war years. And as the war drew to a close, it was Orange County that Washington chose as his last staging ground for his troops and his entorage to insure the British didn't attempt a run up the Hudson before the final treaties could be signed.

Orange County is rich in Revolutionary sites ranging from the mundane of camp life for enlisted men right up Washington's final residence prior to his resigning from the Continental Army. As individual places, they do not overwhelm the visitor with their grandeur or the role they played in the struggle for independence. Collectively, they should overwhelm the visitor in significance to their daily lives and how different America would be today were it not for the foresight, diligence and sacrifice made to hold and defend these places in Orange County.

Washington's Headquarters

In this modest even then antique stone Dutch farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River, General George Washington established his final Field Command Headquarters after his glorious campaign defeating Cornwallis. He quickly returned to the Hudson Valley after Yorktown because the primary British stronghold in America, Manhattan, still contained tens of thousands of British troops and a harbor full of British Frigates and Battleships.

The central command of the British Forces was housed and maintained in Manhattan, making the necessity of keeping them trapped in Manhattan vital in forcing the final resolution to the war. The defeat of Cornwallis may have been the final turning point of the war making the defeat of the British inevitable, but it was General Washington and his campaign of containment and pressure exerted from Orange County and his headquarters in Newburgh that finally brought the war to its conclusion.

None of Washington's military headquarters during the War for Independence is of greater historical significance than the Hasbrouck House at Newburgh. Arriving at Newburgh on April 1, 1782, the Commander in Chief remained at the Hasbrouck House, save for occasional brief absences, until August 19, 1783. This was a longer period than Washington spent at any other headquarters. More importantly, Washington drafted three memorable documents at his Newburgh headquarters. In these he reaffirmed the fundamental principle of subordination of the Military Establishment to civilian control and helped lay the foundation for the Nation's orderly transition from war to peace. The first document was Washington's vehement rejection of the suggestion that the new Nation become a monarchy, with Washington at its head. The second was his address in the "Temple" at the nearby New Windsor army encampment (see p. 215) on March 15, 1783. Here he effectively quelled an incipient movement provoked by the so-called Newburgh Addresses, looking toward the coercion of Congress by the Army to secure settlement of officers' claims against the Government prior to demobilization. Washington's third notable act at Newburgh was drafting an oft-quoted circular letter to the Governors of the States, in which he outlined his views on the future development of the Nation. These views were elaborated around four cardinal points: "An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head," "A sacred regard to public justice," "The adoption of a proper peace establishment," and a "pacific and friendly disposition among the peoples of the United States which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community."

Washington brought his armies along with him back to Orange County and there they and he encamped for 18 long months while the Treaty of Paris was crafted and finally signed. From here, Washington left for New Windsor to address his troops and bid them farewell, and it was from here that he left for Manhattain where he resigned his commission and retired back into private life as a plain citizen.

Located at Washington's Headquarters is a museum filled with artifacts and information about Washington, his stay in Orange County and the course of the Revolution through the Hudson Valley. Events are held regularily to commemorate Washington and his wife Martha. Birthdays are celebrated and historical moments are commemorated in fun filled family friendly entertainments.

Washington's Headquarters is now located in a fairly tough section of Newburgh, so a certain amount of care is required when you plan your visit. Park close and make sure to lock your car not leaving anything of value obviously visible. The neighborhood is safe enough, but its general run down appearance might cause you some alarm. Common sense precautions are sufficient.

Site History

Newburgh was first settled by Europeans in the winter of 1708-1709 by a party of 53 refugees from the war-torn Rhine region of Germany. In 1750, Jonathan Hasbrouck, a gristmill operator, built his house at the fringe of the Newburgh settlement. This house is the one used by Washington as his headquarters between April 1782 and August 1783 and is the only mid-18th century building remaining in the East End Historic District.

This Headquarters was used by Washington between the last battle at Yorktown and the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty. He stayed here 16 1/2 months, making it the headquarters — out of 125 total — at which he stayed the longest. He shared the quarters with staff, servants, slaves from his home, and his wife Martha.

On April 19, 1783, General Washington's order for a "cessation of hostilities" was announced from his headquarters in Newburgh. Washington's purpose here was to maintain a strong army after the British surrender while planning to disband it at the signing of the peace treaty. During this period Washington wrote letters to each of the 13 state legislatures setting forth his ideas for the federal government. These Circular Letters, which were reprinted at that time throughout the states and in London, eventually influenced the development of the U.S. Constitution.

The Newburgh Address is also associated with a renowned episode in Washington's career in which he defused the mutinous feelings of some troops who were discouraged by Congress's turnaround regarding pension promises. At a meeting to discuss the issue, Washington stood up to respond to the anonymous letter of complaint and said as he began his remarks, "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but blind in the service of my country." It is an often-cited example of Washington's ability to lead by his own example.

It is here that Washington initiated the Badge of Military Merit, to recognize unusual acts of gallantry by soldiers below the rank of officer (previously, only officers had been eligible for honors). The badge itself eventually died out but was revived in 1932 as the Purple Heart, which bears Washington's profile and crest.

The Headquarters site, purchased by the State of New York in 1850, is the first publicly operated historic site in the United States (Mount Vernon is the second). A few of the items still in the Hasbrouck House are things that George Washington really used — a desk, a chair, and the Purple Heart. Most of the articles are replicas. When he moved out of the house, he took most of the things with him.

The Museum Building, built in 1910, houses Washington's expense book and a collection of his original papers including a letter to Member of Congress William Duer informing him that Washington was still having trouble getting supplies for his troops and expressing the wish that appropriations would be forthcoming. Also there are the papers of Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering, which reveal administrative details of the military.

The Tower of Victory was erected in the 1980s to commemorate Washington's order to cease hostilities and the peace that resulted. The project to build the tower was chaired by Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln.

Visiting Washington's Headquarters

Mid-Apr. thru Oct., Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m. Also open Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. 7/1 - 9/6, open Mondays, 10 - 5.

Specifics on visiting Washington's Headquarters State Historic site at Newburgh were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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