Historic Valley Forge

Isaac Potts

Q.I recently read a family history account that said: "As children, we heard our grand parents tell about this Holland Dutch family who came to American before the Revolutionary War. We still like to remember that the Potts family fought in the Revolution and that it was Isaac Potts who sheltered George Washington at Valley Forge, in Schuylkill Township, Chester County Pennsylvania on December 1777. Washington and his army of about 11,000 men were into winter quarters at this place and spent a severe winter. One grandmother Delilah Potts (Funk) used to say that several of the Potts brothers had iron forges and worked together. The forge in the valley was called "The Valley Forge" to distinguish it from others. This Valley Forge was only a dwelling and a forge." Can you lend any credence to this story?
Billie Potts, Seattle, Washington

A.The land which later occupied the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778 was originally part of the "Manor of Mount Joy" which was 7,800 acres of land granted to Letitia Penn Aubrey and her husband William Aubrey by her father William Penn, on October 24, 1701 for an annual rent of one beaver skin. They gradually sold off the property, selling the last 175 acres in 1730 to Daniel Walker, Stephen Evans, and Joseph Williams. This partnership soon became the "Mount Joy Forge," later becoming more commonly known as "Valley Forge." This was a complete ironworks: finery, chafery, bloomery, and a slitting mill. Pig iron was converted to billets; iron billets into bars; cast iron into wrought iron; and manufactured finished metal products. In the 1750's a sawmill was added and in 1757, the entire property was purchased by a prominent Quaker ironmaster, John Potts. He eventually added a gristmill to the property several years later.

Potts, Hackley & Potts was the firm operating the forge by 1767 — consisting of Joseph and David Potts (John Potts' sons) and their cousin, Thomas Hackley. On May 10, 1768 the forge was conveyed solely to Joseph. Isaac Potts, another son, became owner of the gristmill by 1773, and soon after built his stone house along Valley Creek near the Schuylkill River. David Potts built a summer residence himself nearby — he lived in Philadelphia — but this house was acquired by William Dewees, his brother-in-law, and Isaac Potts and William Dewees entered into a partnership owning the forge.

The forge on Valley Creek was a source of military materials with the arrival of war, and despite his being a Quaker, Dewees became a colonel in the militia and he and Isaac Potts devoted a large part of the production from the forge was for the war effort. The production of munitions from this location was cause for the British to make it a stop on their way to Philadelphia in 1777. On September 11, 1777, following the Battle of Brandywine, a contingent of British forces reached Valley Forge on September 18th. Reinforcements arrived on the 20th and that morning, they carried off the "rebel stores" and burned the forge and all the structures except the gristmill. (Which incidentally survived until 1843 when it was destroyed by fire.)

General Washington arrived at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777 with his troops. Other generals had found housing in various farms around the encampment area, and Washington found his own in the home of Isaac Potts, which he rented from its current tenant, Mrs. Deborah Hewes for a hundred pounds in Pennsylvania currency. Mrs. Hewes, whose first husband had been one of Isaac's brothers, moved in with the Dewees family.


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