Is this really Washington's tent?

July 7, 2008 6:42:33 AM PDT
Historians are questioning whether a tent long displayed at Valley Forge as the one George Washington occupied was actually used by the future president.

Some historians now suspect that the tent - actually the 21-by-13-foot roof and one side panel - was not the one that sheltered Washington during the winter encampment of 1777-78, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

Evidence uncovered during preservation work on the tent strongly suggests that it is one Washington picked up shortly after leaving Valley Forge that June, said Dona McDermott, a National Park Service archivist who works at Valley Forge.

According to a bill from Philadelphia merchant Plunket Fleeson, the material for a set of tents made for Washington in 1775 was red-striped ticking, linen fabric with a distinctive weave, McDermott said.

It was assumed that a Fleeson-made tent was displayed at Valley Forge, but the forensic work showed that the fabric had thin blue lines.

The order for that tent was placed during the winter encampment, according to a letter book belonging to James Abeel, who was in charge of all camp equipment and quartermaster stores at Valley Forge.

That tent, and others ordered at the same time, were delivered in June 1778, according to Abeel's records.

"It is clear that the surviving pieces were not the ones used at Valley Forge during the encampment," McDermott said.

But R. Scott Stephenson, curator of the collection owned by the American Revolution Center, which includes the tent, is reserving judgment.

"The research is very much a work in progress," he said. "It suggests that it may have been constructed during the encampment winter, but this is all very tentative. It is very early to be making definitive statements."

McDermott said Washington used the tent in 1781 at Yorktown, Va., where the British surrender effectively ended the war.

The tent was carefully dismantled in October 2003 and taken to Williamsburg, Va., for the conservation work. It remains in storage and is expected to be the centerpiece of the American Revolution Center, a museum proposed for Lower Providence.

That project, on privately owned land within the congressional boundaries of Valley Forge National Historical Park, is being challenged by several residents and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer,