On February 22, 1778 a farmer in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania noted in his journal that it had been windy and dark all day. It was during the Revolutionary War and the Continental Army was encamped in this frozen valley. The farmer probably didn't know or care that this stormy Sunday also happened to be General George Washington's 46th birthday.
But Martha Washington cared.
When researching The Winter of Red Snow for Scholastic's Dear America series, I was delighted to read that she had planned a surprise for her husband. Knowing that he loved music and loved to dance, she arranged for the army's artillery band to serenade him at Headquarters, a lovely stone mansion by the Schuylkill River. After supper that evening of the 22nd, the sound of fifes and drums drew the general away from his warm hearth.
Apparently Mrs. Washington stepped outside to thank the musicians. She took fifteen shillings from a tiny silk purse tied to her waist, paid the bandleader then invited them all inside. Young Abigail writes in her diary: Through the window I saw the General with his hands on his hips and his pigtail bouncing -- he was doing a jig!
This festive evening may have been the first public celebration of his birthday. As an author, it was great fun to image this party with dancing and a scrumptious dessert. In the back of the book, there's a recipe for "Martha Washington's Great Cake" thanks to The Women's Committee of the Valley Forge Historical Society. It must've been a doozie with its 40 eggs, four pounds of sugar, etc., and "fresh brandy."
Happy President's Day, everyone!
Monday, February 21, 2011
Washington's birthday, 1778 -- The Winter of Red Snow
Posted by Kristiana Gregory at 10:52 AM