The Unsolved Mystery of

Graves and Ghosts at Valley Forge

Because the traditional Valley Forge story includes images of men starving, freezing, and dying of sickness, visitors to the site in Victorian times imagined that perhaps thousands of Revolutionary soldiers lay buried there.

One area then acknowledged as a camp burying ground was south of Route 23 near the sites now known as Varnum's and Huntington's Quarters where a lone headstone marked with the initials "JW" appeared to stand among many other unmarked graves. The other supposed burial ground was within the arc made by Outer Line Drive as it winds downhill from Wayne's Woods. An 1898 letter described how this sloping ground had been eroded to reveal the knee bones of soldiers buried in a crouched position.

Both these areas were duly honored with monuments. In 1901, the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution of 1776 raised a shaft near the lonely headstone which had by then been identified with John Waterman. Still popularly called the Waterman Monument, this was really dedicated to all the soldiers "who sleep in Valley Forge." The Valley Forge chapter of the DAR erected a second monument to the dead in 1911 below the hill surmounted by Wayne's Woods.

The Victorian interest in graves naturally led to the creation of Valley Forge ghost stories. In 1895, there were reports of ghostly campfires and the spirits of Revolutionary soldiers were said to be visible on the hillsides on stormy nights.

Other graves were identified in the 1930s by the Veterans' Graves Registration Division of the WPA, though the basis for their identification is today unknown. As late as 1975, when the Veterans' Administration considered locating a cemetery at Valley Forge, it was still believed that digging new graves might disturb the unknown resting places of Revolutionary soldiers.

However, recent studies of eighteenth-century documents reveal few references to burials at Valley Forge — since soldiers who became ill in camp would have been taken to outlying hospitals. Recent archaeological investigations turned up no graves — but many offal pits, where soldiers would have buried bones and refuse from the livestock slaughtered for their rations.

Could the graves of Valley Forge hold the remains of cows and pigs?

According to National Park Service historian Joseph Lee Boyle, no substantiated human graves have ever been found in the park. It cannot even be proven that John Waterman was buried at Valley Forge, since his headstone was removed from its original position in 1939 and its original location is now unknown.

The graves and ghosts of Valley Forge remain one of the park's interesting mysteries.

Courtesy National Center for the American Revolution/Valley Forge Historical Society

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