Historic Valley Forge

Shad

Q.Where can I find info on whether the spring run of shad up Valley Creek was an important source of food for Washington's army?
Edward Howey, Denver, PA

A.According to tradition, the encamped army was on the brink of starvation, and the emaciated soldiers, delerious with hunger, went foraging along the banks of the Schuylkill River for anything at all to eat, with dim hopes of finding a few grubs, snails or mussels. Suddenly the water seemed to be boiling with frenzied activity, and their unbeliviving eyes beheld more fish than they could count. The early arival of the springtime shad run provided a bountiful feast for the starving army. The humble shad may even have turned the tide of history.

So the legend runs. Unfortunately, there isn't any evidence that this dramatic incident ever actually happened . . . but it could have. Shad spend most of their time in the Atlantic Ocean, but enormous schools of them will swim up rivers to spawn in the springtime. The description of the sudden appearance of thousands of fish is consisetent with the life cycle of the American shad, which still spawn regularly in the Schuylkill every spring. Several archival resources mention cured and fresh fish as an important food source for the continental army. In a letter dated 23 March 1778 Horatio Gates writes to Henry Hollinsworth and specifically mentions shad — but not a run "saving" the soldiers at Valley Forge.