Colo­nial Army’s time at Perkiomen farm to be de­tailed in Sept. 26 talk

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

PERKIOMEN» Alan Keyser got a lot more than he bar­gained for when he pur­chased an old Goschen­hop­pen Church regis­ter from a book dealer a few years ago.

Tucked in the back, were the hand­writ­ten pages of a mem­ory.

The mem­o­ries were 69 years old and be­long to Maria Kee­ley, who wrote them down in 1846 at the age of 83.

She had been 14 years old when Ge­orge Washington and his sol­diers came to stay at her fa­ther’s farm off Town­ship Line Road, mak­ing this lit­er­ally a “Washington slept here” story.

She re­mem­bered the sol­diers, and the gen­eral who be­came the fa­ther of a coun­try.

And you can hear all about Kee­ley’s mem­o­ries at a spe­cial pro­gram at the Perkiomen Town­ship Build­ing at 1 Trappe Road on Tues­day, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.

That’s when Keyser, a mem­ber of the Goschen­hop­pen His­to­ri­ans, will give a talk on Washington’s time in Perkiomen on prop­erty that is now owned by the town­ship, ac­cord­ing to long­time Su­per­vi­sor Richard Kratz, a self-de­scribed lo­cal his­tory junkie who ar­ranged for Keyser’s talk.

Washington vis­ited the Kee­ley farm twice in 1777.

As Michael Sny­der wrote in the Nov. 8, 2004 edi­tion of The Mer­cury, the Bri­tish had sailed into Ch­e­sa­peake Bay in Au­gust of 1777 and landed 18,000 troops that were to march north to take Philadel­phia, the colo­nial cap­i­tal.

On Sept. 11, Washington’s troops tried to block the Bri­tish ad­vance at the Bat­tle of Brandy­wine. Thinks didn’t go too well for the Ameri-- cans.

Five days later, Washington tried again in Ch­ester County, near what is now the in­ter­sec­tion of Route 202 and Route 30 near Ex­ton, but heavy rain dif­fused the bat­tle.

So Washington marched his troops to War­wick Fur­nace, to re­place sod­den am­mu­ni­tion, then east along what is now Route 23 to try to in­ter­cept the Bri­tish, who had reached Tredyf­frin Town­ship, just three miles out­side Val­ley Forge.

Washington was try­ing to pre­vent the Bri­tish from cross­ing the Schuylkill, and thus threaten Philadel­phia, but he also wanted to pro­tect the forges and fur­naces fur­ther up the val­ley and a sig­nif­i­cant store of sup­plies in Read­ing.

The Con­ti­nen­tals crossed the Schuylkill at Parker’s Ford and then marched up Lin­field Road to what is now Ridge Pike, forded Perkiomen Creek and then spread out to sev­eral lo­ca­tions to try and scout where the Bri­tish would try to cross the Schuylkill.

But on Sept. 21, Bri­tish

Com­man­der Wil­liam Howe fooled Washington with a feint north, send­ing his troops tomake it look like he would cross at Phoenixville.

Washington’s counter move was to move upstream into what is later known as Camp Potts­grove, which brought Washington to the farm of Henry Kee­ley on Sept. 22, where Maria Kee­ley’s re­mem­brance be­gins.

“He stayed overnight, and in the morn­ing he got up right away and went to Camp Potts­grove,” Keyser said, ref­er­enc­ing Kee­ley’s mem­oir.

Washington’s head­quar­ters at Camp Potts grove was the home of Henry Antes on Colo­nial Road, a build­ing that still stands and is the cen­ter­piece of the an­nual Goshen­hop­pen Folk Fes­ti­val ev­ery Au­gust, and where Keyser vol­un­teers as a his­toric reen­ac­tor.

Howe’s di­ver­sion worked and his en­tire force crossed into Mont­gomery County be­tween Phoenixville and Val­ley Forge on Sept. 23, and on Sept. 26, they had marched into Philadel­phia, tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the city.

The same day the Bri­tish marched into the fledg­ling na­tion’s cap­i­tal, Washington re­turned to the Kee­ley farm and it was here, Keyser said, that some be­lieve the plan­ning for the up­com­ing Bat­tle of Ger­man­town was be­gun.

“When he met with the other com­man­ders at Pen­ny­packer’s Mill a few days later, much of the plan was al­ready worked out,” Keyser said.

While there, the sol­diers did what hun­gry sol­diers do in an en­camp­ment, they took what they needed, in­clud­ing Pen­ny­packer’s grain, and chick­ens and eggs.

How­ever, Kratz said there is a story, not con­firmed through any doc­u­ments, of Washington sit­ting with his foot braced against the door to the Kee­ley’s farm­house, mak­ing sure ev­ery bag of grain taken was ac­counted for and the farmer was then paid, al­though with the less valu­able Con­ti­nen­tal currency.

The Bat­tle of Ger­man­town was fought on Oct. 4, 1777 and was a sur­prise at­tack on Howe’s en­camp­ment of troops there. How­ever, Washington’s army could not ex­e­cute “his com­plex bat­tle plan” and the Bri­tish drove the Amer­i­cans off and in­flicted twice as many ca­su­al­ties as they re­ceived, ac­cord­ing to His­tory.com.

Many of those wounded were re­turned to Kee­ley’s farm and are buried in un­marked graves in the ceme­tery on Lim­er­ick Road, just out­side Sch­wenksville, and now over­seen jointly by the Hei­del­berg United Church of Christ and Jerusalem Lutheran Church.

Nearly 100 graves marked only with small stones are ad­ja­cent to a small mon­u­ment placed there in 1927 by the Val­ley Forge Chap­ter of the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.

It was the ca­sual men­tion of Amer­i­can graves from the Bat­tle of Ger­man­town at Pen­ny­packer Mills which sparked Katz’s in­ter­est in lo­cal his­tory, and he’s been hooked ever since, he said.

Around the cor­ner from the ceme­tery, off Town­ship Line Road, is what’s left of the 150-acre Kee­ley Farm.

The 150-acre farm was founded in 1724 by Valen­tine Kee­ley, an im­mi­grant from Ger­many, said Katz and the land for the ceme­tery, and the wooden church that once stood there and­was used as a hos­pi­tal af­ter the Bat­tle of Ger­man­town, was do­nated by him.

An­other do­na­tion, this one in the early 1980s, re­sulted in the town­ship tak­ing pos­ses­sion of a 19-acre par­cel and 10 years ago, an­other 16 acres was do­nated and is where, Katz and Keyser sus­pect, Kee­ley’s orig­i­nal farm­house once stood.

For­ays by arche­ol­ogy stu­dents from Kutz­town Univer­sity, who used ground­pen­e­trat­ing radar to search for the home’s foun­da­tions, have not yet yielded any re­sults, but Katz said they­have not yet checked the area of the par­cel where Keyser sus­pects the foun­da­tion may lie.

In the mean­time, Katz re­mains fas­ci­nated by lo­cal his­tory andthe idea that key mo­ments of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion hap­pened here in the Schuylkill Val­ley — a fas­ci­na­tion he hopes peo­ple will share by at­tend­ing Keyser’s Sept .26 pre­sen­ta­tion.


Perkiomen Town­ship Su­per­vi­sor Richard Kratz points to the spot on land do­nated to the town­ship where he and Alan Keyser be­lieve the old Kee­ley farm house once stood.

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