Before West Point, there was the Pluckemin Encampment


Research Notes:
May 2005


Notable References: The Dig, Henry Knox Artillery, Henry Knox had some innovative ideas for improving the artillery. At Pluckemin, he put many of his theories to practice. The camp itself was an impressive site that attracted spectators from miles around. In addition to barracks for the enlisted men and separate quarters for the officers, the camp included an Armour’s shop, a complete military forge and a laboratory. The most significant innovation, however, was the establishment of the first military academy in the country for the training of artillery and engineering officers, therefore becoming the forerunner to the Academy at West Point. The barracks, buildings and academy at the Pluckemin encampment disappeared shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War. Since then, most of the site has been intensively developed. But in the late 1970s, the non-profit Pluckemin Archaeological Project sponsored a dig which recovered thousands of artifacts. Much was learned about the Revolution from the project .

On the slopes of the Second Watchung Mountain was the first artillery academy. Twelve acres of land owned by Allan-Deane, a Johns-Manville subsidiary. Sponsored by the Pluckemin Archaeological Project.

Drawing to the right -Provided by the Clarence Dillon Library – Drawing by Captain John Lillie, Commander of the 12th Company, 3rd Regiment (Crane’s Massachusetts) Continental Artillery in early 1779. The “Academy” the center structure topped with a cupola, contained a lecture room, arched and plastered ceilings (Sheppard Kollock- a journalist from that time).

The Great Anniversary in Pluckemin– (John W. Barber, and Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey, pages 441-442)

“The anniversary of our alliance with France was celebrated on the 18th ultimo, at Pluckemin, at a very elegant entertainment and display of fireworks, given by General Knox, and the officers of the corps of artillery. It was postponed to this late day on account of his Excellency General Washington’s absence from camp. General Washington, the principal officers of the army, Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Greene, Mrs. Knox, and the ladies and gentlemen, fro a large circuit around the camp, were of the company. Besides these, there was a vast concourse of spectators from every part of the Jerseys.

The barracks of the artillery are at a small distance from Pluckemin, on a piece of rising ground, which shows them to great advantage. The entertainment and ball were held at the academy of the Park. About 4 0’clock in the afternoon, the celebration of the ALLIANCE was announced by the discharge of thirteen cannon, when the company assembled in the academy to a very elegant dinner. The room was spacious, and the tables very prettily disposed, both as to prospect and convenience. The festivity was universal, and the toasts descriptive of the happy event, which had given certainty to your liberties, empire, and independence. In the evening was exhibited a very fine set of fireworks, conducted by Col. Stevens, arranges on the point of a temple, one hundred feet in length, and proportionally high. The temple show THIRTEEN arches, each displaying an illuminated painting. The center arch was ornamented with a pediment, larger than any of the other(s); and the whole edifice supported by a colonnade of the Corinthian order.

The illuminated paintings were disposed in the following order.

  • The 1st arch, on the right, represented the commencement of hostilities at Lexington, with this inscription: ‘The scene opened.”
  • 2nd – British Clemency. Represented in the burning of Charlestown, Falmouth, Norfolk, and Kingston.
  • 3rd – The separation of America from Britain. A magnificent arch broken in the centre, with this motto: ‘By your tyranny to the people of America you have separated the wide arch of an extended empire.’
  • 4th – Britain represented as a decaying empire, by a barren country, broken arches, fallen spires, ships deserting its shores, birds of prey hovering over it’s moldering cities, and a gloomy setting sun. Motto: ‘The Babylonian spires are sunk, Achaia, Rome, and Egypt mouldered down; Time shakes the stable tyranny of thrones, And tottering empires crush by their own weight.’
  • 5th – America represented as a rising empire. Prospect of a fertile country, harbors and rivers covered with ships, new canals opening, cities arising amist woods, splendid sun emerging from a bright horizon. Motto: ‘New worlds are still emerging from the deep, The old descending in their turns to rise.’
  • 6th – A grand illuminated representation of LOUIS the sixteenth. The encourager of letters, the supporter of the rights of humanity, thally and friend of the American people.
  • 7th The centre arch. The Father in Congress. Motto: ‘Nil desperandum reipublicae.’
  • 8th The American Philosopher and Ambassador extracting lightning from the Clouds.
  • 9th The battle near Saratoga, 7th Oct., 1777.
  • 10th – The Convention of Saratoga.
  • 11th – A representation of the sea-fight, of Ushant, between count D’Orvilliers and Admiral Keppie.
  • 12th – Warren, Montgomery, Mercer, Wooster, nash, and a crowd of heroes who have fallen in the American contest, in Elysium, receiving the thanks and praises of Brutus, Cato, and those spirits who in all ages have gloriously struggles against tyrants and tyranny. Motto:’ Those who shed their blood in such a cause shall live in and reign forever.’
  • 13th – Represented peace, with all her train of blessings. Her right hand displaying an olive branch; at her feet lay the honors of harvest; the background was filled with flourishing cities; ports crowded with ships, and other emblems of an extensive empire and unrestrained commerce.

When the fireworks were finished, the company returned to the academy, and concluded the celebration by a very splendid ball. The whole was conducted in a style and manner that reflects great honor on the taste of the managers.

The news announced to congress from the Spanish branch of the house of Bourbon, arriving at the moment of celebration, nothing could have so opportunely increased the good- humor of the company, or added to those animated expressions of pleasure which arose on the occasion.


Notable Players for this story:Clifford Sekel- Writer
Dutzie Robbie – Local Historian
Anne O’Brien – Bedminster Historian (Deceased)
Ellen Vreeland – (President J.Vanderveer House)
Mark Gladstone – Reference Librarian Clarence Dillon Library
John Lewis Seidel – Graduate of Drew University – Wrote UPenn Piece, lives in Somerville, NJHenry (Max) Schrabisch – Former State Archeologist – 1917 performed extensive research on dig site.

Hills Development Corporation – Developed the Hills

Library of Congress (Search Pluckemin, Pluckamin)

Search WordsPluckemin Archeological ProjectPluckemin Pride FoundationFriends

The Pluckemin Dig

Henry Knox Artillery Park

Pluckemin Artillery Encampment

Pluckemin Artillery Park

General Knox’s Artillery Park

Forerunner to West Point


The archaeology of the American Revolution: A reappraisal and case study at the Continental Artillery Cantonment of 1778–1779, Pluckemin, New Jersey by Seidel, John Lewis, PhD
AAT 8804961

He thanked Clifford Sekel (research) and Anne O’Brien (funding)

The Great Anniversary in Pluckemin– (John W. Barber, and Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey, pages 441-442)  
Digging New Jersey’s Past: Historical Archaeology in the Garden State
By Richard Veit – pg 70-72 – Click Here to read the extract
Click Here to Download

1913 Somerset Historical Quarterly Vol III 1913 article on Dig
1916 Bernardsville News Articles on Max Schrabisch and the Pluckemin Dig.
1917 Somerset Historical Quarterly Vol VII 1917 article on Dig
1917 Henry (Max) Schrabisch – Former State Archeologist – 1917 performed extensive research on dig site.
1917 – May Bernardsville News Articles on Max Schrabisch and the Pluckemin Dig.
1972 Clifford Sekel – Doctorate Thesis Prepared and presented
1980 Pluckemin Archeological Project (1980) set up with AOB, JS, and CS

Historical Timelines for this Story Complete Revolutionary War Timeline – Click Here Detailed Site – Click Here
Revolutionary War Battle Map for NJ – Click Here
1743 Jacobus Vanderveer, the elder, whose grandfather had come to New York from North Holland in 1659, became the first Vanderveer to settle in the Bedminster area. He purchased 439 acres along the North Branch of the Raritan River where he established a homestead and successful grist and saw mills.
1776 – December 16 Something happened in Pluckemin
1778 – February 6 Signing of the Franco-American Alliance.
1779 – June 4 Leaves Pluckemin Winter Camp Encampment (Revolutionary War Map)
1779 – Winter Winter at Morristown – Coldest Winter of The War
1782 – August 29 French return to the area and march to Bullion’s Tavern
1802 – March 16 West Point Military Academy opens
1913 Somerset Historical Quarterly Vol III 1913 article on DigClick Here For Additional Information
1916 Bernardsville News Articles on Max Schrabisch and the Pluckemin Dig. Click Here For Additional Information
1917 Somerset Historical Quarterly Vol VII 1917 article on DigClick Here For Additional Information
1917 Henry (Max) Schrabisch – Former State Archeologist – 1917 performed extensive research on dig site.
1917 – May Bernardsville News Articles on Max Schrabisch and the Pluckemin Dig. Click Here For Additional Information
1972 Clifford Sekel – Doctorate Thesis Prepared and presented.
1980 Pluckemin Archeological Project (1980) set up with AOB, JS, and CS
1987 Seidel, John The archaeology of the American Revolution: A reappraisal and case study at the Continental Artillery Cantonment of 1778–1779, Pluckemin, New Jersey by Seidel, John Lewis, PhD
1989 The Jacobus Vanderveer House and property are purchased by Bedminster Township.
1995 The Jacobus Vanderveer House is listed on the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places.
  Black River Journal Articles – Chris and Lee Wolfe – Publishers 908-439-9968
2003 – October 20 Dawn M. Digrius, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Drew University – Presentation re: further archaeological investigations at the Pluckemin Encampment Site.Mayor Metelski introduced Dawn Digrius who wishes to re-establish the Pluckemin Archaeological Dig. The Mayor commented that there would need to be an agreement with the Township Committee and possibly other organizations.Ms. Digrius provided an itinerary of her proposed plan to resume the archaeological investigations to find out more about the period of occupation of General Henry Knox. Drew University is interested in this project and will create a field school who will be on site for approximately six weeks during the summer. The project hopes to increase awareness of local history. There will be a short term during the summer for the field school to ascertain the work done in the past. Many of the artifacts are close to the surface so there would be minimal disturbance to the area other than removing some vegetation and debris. Parking would be not be on site or in any residential area. Ms. Digrius reviewed with the Committee, the research goals, short and long term as well as the residential impact Since the Township owns the land, it needs to be determined how the artifacts would be housed. Committeeman Genero was concerned with protection of the site and was advised by Ms. Digrius that there is no public information as to the exact location. In response to Committeewoman Wagner, Ms. Digrius stated that parking and the effect on residents living in the area, would be minimal All excavation is done by hand, no machinery is used. There would be approximately 8 to a maximum of 15 students working on the site. Mr. Lehrer commented that the findings need to be in book or journal form. Mayor Metelski mentioned that the artifacts from the original dig are the property of Hills Development Company and are being held by Pluckemin Pride Foundation. The outcome of the arrangements would be similar and the Mayor was of the opinion that ownership should come from Hills Development to the Friends. It needs to be determined who would take responsibility as curator of the artifacts. Mayor Metelski suggested that Drew University draft a proposal for the Township Attorney’s review. Then The Township Committee can review the proposal and submit their comments. The Mayor will provide the tri party contract to Mr. Lehrer.It was Ms. Digrius’ opinion that the Friends should be the curator. Mayor Metelski suggested that Ms. Digrius attend a meeting of the Friends and one is scheduled for tomorrow evening. It was the general consensus of the Committee that the Township proceed with the proposal. (Source- Bedminster Township Committee Meeting website).
2004 Dawn M. Digrius – Department of Anthropology, Drew University
Madison , New Jersey 0794 . Field School Name: Knox Encampment Archaeological and Historical Project at Pluckemin Start month: 05 day: 17 year: 2004
End month: 06 day: 25 year: 2004 (No update- wrote- replied that she’s no longer involved – Mark Gladstone noted she’s a local resident)
2007 February The Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House present to the Bedminster Township Committee to request funding for nominating the Pluckemin Artillery Encampment area to be a National Historic Landmark site. Click Here For Additional Information
2007 February 28 Bernardsville News reports on the $14,000 funding that it will sponsor based on the request of the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House Click Here For Additional Information

Historian Clifford Sekel began studying the artillery park (1972). Archaeologist John Seidel joined Sekel and fieldwork began in 1979 and continued thru 1986. Financial support came from the not-for-profit Pluckemin Archaeological Project and from the Hills Development Corporation.

Using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry, a process that employs an instrument that recognizes differences in soil magnetism. An entire site is mapped, and then differences are recognized. Transitions in magnetic intensity usually recognizes archaeological features.

During the winter of 1778-1779, the Main Continental Army under George Washington established its winter encampment near Middlebrook, New Jersey. Over 8000 infantry and artillery soldiers spent about 6 months at this location. The Continental artillery park was located at Pluckemin, New Jersey, several miles north of the infantry camps. At this location, the artillerists built barracks for almost 1000 men and established a depot, repair facilities and an academy for artillery officers. This encampment was abandoned by the Army in June 1779. In the 1980’s, archaeological excavations by Rutgers University exposed remains of the “Artillery Park” and recovered thousands of artifacts.

Two artifacts found at Pluckemin have changed the view of the early American flag and it’s use by the Continental Army. These were decorative belt tips which probably adorned the ends of officer’s “over the shoulder” leather sword belts. Each of these belt tips is hand engraved and bear almost identical designs of a cannon, flag staff and flag, a motif very similar to that found on American artillery buttons of the period. These belt tips had never been seen before and their use by the American army was previously unknown. What made them all the more spectacular was the fact that they both showed a new orientation of the stars on the field of the American flag, five stars, over three stars, over five stars.

“Middlebrook” flag – since that is the overall name of the encampment for which the Pluckemin Artillery Park was part of, I surmise that the flag design used at Pluckemin was used by the rest of the Army.

The thirteen stripes are based on the flag act and artwork of the period. The orientation of the stars is based on that found on the excavated belt tips and the six pointed stars themselves are based on those found on Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters flag and period artwork.

Middlebrook Flag Overview –

ARTILLERY OFFICER’S SWORD BELT TIP -Pluckemin Archaeological ProjectBuckle found at the dig site now at the Vanderveer houseThese belt tips were the earliest known artifacts to clearly show the American flag. It is believed that they were engraved by a Philadelphia silversmith who records show, was called to the camp in early 1779. If indeed this is true, it is probable that he engraved the flag design based on what the army was actually using in camp at the time.

While this does not tell us exactly what the 1777 flag was supposed to look like, it does prove to us that the Continental Army was using the “Stars & Stripes” flag by 1779 and the star orientation (constellation) was of a different type than previously thought. The earliest provable American flag design was 13 stars laid out in rows of five, three, five. Since the discovery of the artillery belt tips at Pluckemin, two more have been discovered. One was found in a mid-1779 Continental artillery campsite in southern New York State and the other was found at a Colonial era house site in Central Virginia where it was likely lost about 1781.

General Knox’s alleged temporary housing while at the Pluckemin Encampment.


The 20 acre park at 1761 Middlebrook Rd., east of Vosseller Ave. is operated by the Washington Campground Association. Legend has it that the land was donated to the Washington Camp Ground Assn. on the condition that the Declaration of Independence be read every 4th of July, or the land would revert to the heirs of the LaMonte family who donated it. This has occurred from 112 consecutive years.
The annual ceremony includes (times are approximate):
10 AM Music
10:30 Welcome & changing of the flag
10:40 March to East Grove stage
10:45 Introduction of dignitaries
10:55 Reading of the Declaration of Independence
11:05 Keynote Speaker
11:15 An historical address


Field School Overview

Field School Name: Knox Encampment Archaeological and Historical Project at Pluckemin
Field school web site:
University, Company, Institution: Drew University, Madison, New Jersey
City of field School: Pluckemin
State/province: New Jersey
Country of field school: USA

Application deadline month: 05 day: 05
Start month: 05 day: 17 year: 2004
End month: 06 day: 25 year: 2004
Field School Size: 16-25
Minimum age: 18
Experience: Participants must have completed a course in Archaeological Method and Theory or prior field experience
Excavation: Yes
Survey: Yes
Historic: Yes
Periods: Revolutionary War
Suburban: Yes
Drive to site: Yes
Project Directors: Dawn M. Digrius, Drew University
Field School Description:

Field School is located at the site of General Henry Knox’s winter encampment from December 1778 until June 1779. The site is important to Revolutionary War as well as military history, as it was the site of the first military academy in the US . In addition, the site served as a general field hospital during the Revolutionary War. Students will learn survey, reconnaissance, surface collection techniques, excavation methods, Photography and illustration, computer and paper mapping, and artifact collection, identification and analysis. Our site is located just at the bottom of the Second Watchung Mountains , near the North Branch of the Raritan River . Conditions are comfortable, with access to services close by.

Academic Credit: Yes
Number of Credits: 4
Tuition: $440/credit, $1760 per four credit course
Institution offering credit: Drew University

Room and Board Information: Housing accommodations are available on campus for Summer Term. Please contact the Housing, Conferences, and Hospitality Office directly for information at 973/408-3102.

Reading : Seidel, John The Archaeology of the American Revolution: A Reappraisal and Case Study at the Continental Artillery Cantonment of 1778-1779, Pluckemin , New Jersey 1987

Sekel, Clifford The Continental Artillery in Winter Encampment at Pluckemin , New Jersey , December 1778-June 1779 1972

Field school contact name:

Dawn M. Digrius
Department of Anthropology, Drew University
Madison , New Jersey 07940 USA
Phone: 973-408-3256


Troubles for today’s soldiers- (Interesting Thought)

Polyester uniforms are very popular and are less expensive than uniforms made of linen or wool. However, they are very hot in warm weather, and you cannot safely fire muskets when wearing a polyester uniform. The danger of flash fire to the wearer is great enough that the National Park Service personnel who will conduct a safety inspection prior to any firing in a National Park will not allow anyone wearing a polyester uniform to shoot using a fire lock weapon. This peril does not exist if your color guard does not fire muskets.

See what it costs to become a federal soldier today – Click Here

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