BRAVO’s work on the Encampments from the Valley Forge Winter, 1777-1778


The Valley Forge encampment began when the first brigades arrived on December 19, 1777.  Having lost control of the city of Philadelphia some months earlier, combined with a loss at the Battle of Germantown, the army that entered the winter camp was surely low on morale; indeed, one in three soldiers was deemed physically unfit for duty.  General Washington persisted, despite expiring enlistments and mounting disease, both of which decimated his ranks.  However, the encampment period which exists in the minds of American public as a freezing, campfire-huddling, starving time, was in fact a time of vibrant activity and industry as the militia-turned-regulars awaited the spring and further action. 

My name is Carin Boone, and since the summer of 2007, my teams and I have been working on the landscape of Washington Memorial Chapel, a site that once housed brigades during the Continental Army’s famous encampment of December 1777- June 1778.  Through metal detecting survey and excavation, on what is now wooded acreage and cemetery, once stood log huts that housed members of an as-yet unidentified brigade; volunteers of the Continental Army who spent six months here working, playing, producing, and interacting.  It is important to note that activity would have been the rule, not the exception.  Though the conditions were certainly difficult to endure, and suffering was a constant companion, the patriots who chose to spend their winters in such conditions were dedicated to an extraordinary cause which I feel is a story worth telling and retelling; the story of the Valley Forge winter can only benefit from the information that archaeology can bring.  Because of my advisor Dr. David Orr’s previous work at Valley Forge, we knew that there had been occupation on the Chapel’s landscape during the 1777-1778 encampment; but the teams I’ve directed couldn’t have known where to begin, or have uncovered what we’ve uncovered, without the help of BRAVO.

BRAVO surveyed roughly three acres of wooded landscape between the Chapel itself and the Chapel office building, Defenders’ Gate.  The team metal detected the entire area over several sessions, both before we excavated and during field seasons.  Through their findings, BRAVO was able to render a map including every find made from each survey, including latitudes, longitudes, and topography of the landscape around the Chapel.  This map allowed us to observe patterns in the metal finds – BRAVO analysis determined where artifacts were clustering, and Dan Sivilich, BRAVO President and Battlefield Archaeologist, was able to give educated recommendations as to where to dig in order to find further artifacts (both metal and non-metal) as well as archaeological features of importance.

The methodology that BRAVO used in the survey of these three acres is very particular to sites like that of Washington Memorial Chapel.  It is a single-component site, meaning there is really only one layer of significant deposit under the surface.  This allows for the use of metal detecting survey without disturbing several layers’ worth of occupation on the site.  In addition, it means that BRAVO’s work in identifying clusters, (or alternately identifying where there are NOT artifact deposits) has proven to be a much more effective technique than previous traditional survey methods like shovel test pits which are often spaced too far apart to make an effective analysis of the landscape.

BRAVO is not just behind-the-scenes at Washington Memorial Chapel, the members have given of themselves and their time in order to educate the public about the work that they do, and how it contributes to the larger picture.  During the summer of 2009, BRAVO members participated in our Public Archaeology Day at Washington Memorial Chapel, allowing visitors to enter the field with them and observe how metal-detecting survey is done.  In addition, they allowed visitors to handle artifacts found, to learn about the total station survey equipment and how that translates into map-making.  Finally, some members brought a replica musket and replica artifacts for visitors to handle, so that they could understand perhaps what artifacts (or musket parts) might look like when they are first lost/dropped/thrown away, as opposed to the dirty, rusted pieces of metal we dig up after 230 years.  This part of our program was really well-received, and was a great benefit to our visitors!

In addition to the survey and interpretive work provided out in the field, BRAVO has contributed to this dissertation project in other ways as well.  They have donated the funds necessary to send eight iron objects for conservation at the prestigious Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Lab.  BRAVO is currently funding the conservation of such important items as uniform buttons, a belt-axe (tomahawk), two bayonets, and other various diagnostic metal artifacts found on the Chapel landscape.  This will ensure that these objects are available for display and interpretation for years to come, allowing many generations to learn from and enjoy both the archaeology and the metal-detecting survey of this project.  To that end, BRAVO is also making a monetary donation to the upcoming interpretive exhibits being installed at the Chapel.  The funds will be used for interpretive signage for the exhibits, in order to disseminate the most updated information and analysis regarding not only the artifacts found, but their associated environment and features and how they all relate to what is already known about the Valley Forge encampment. 

In short, BRAVO has had a hand in every aspect of this project, much to the benefit of the project, and we are so grateful!  Their work has been immeasurably important in the excavation of the site at Washington Memorial Chapel, and the combination of professionalism and enthusiasm among the members has made them all a pleasure to know and work with.  Thank you, Dan and BRAVO for all of your hard work!

Please note that the Washington Memorial Chapel site is a protected archaeological site.  Metal detecting and/or artifact removal are illegal and violators will be prosecuted.  Temple University and BRAVO have exclusive permission to conduct archaeological surveys at this site.


Carin Bloom Boone
Ph.D. Student, Department of Anthropology
Temple University