After the victories at Trenton and Princeton the Continental Army under General George Washington arrived in Morristown on January 6, 1777. The site was relatively secure lying behind the WatchungMountains and the GreatSwamp, and it was here that Washington established the army’s winter camp.
The Arnold Tavern on the western edge of the Green became Washington’s Headquarters. Rodney’s Light Infantry was quartered upon the grounds of the Ford estate across town. In between officers and men took quarters in private homes, barns, churches, and other structures throughout town; and scattered in towns from Princeton to the Hudson Highlands.
Before breaking camp in late May, Washington wanted to secure Morristown as a supply base. On May 14, 1777 he ordered the construction of a fortification with a redoubt on a hill bordering Morristown so “…that it may serve as a retreat in case of necessity.”
Originally referred to as “the Hill” or “Kinney’s Hill,” it commanded the town. The main function of the Fort was as a place of retreat for guards stationed in the town. The British never made an attack on Morristown, however, and the fortified hilltop was never used. It was common for a small fortification such as FortNonsense to be built for the protection of military encampments and strategic military depots.
Washington’s men dug trenches, raised embankments, built a guardhouse for 30 men, and fortified the crown of the hill with an earthwork redoubt. As early as the 1790s the hill was called FortNonsense. A legend had grown that Washington had set his men to fortify the hill simply as a way of keeping troops busy. This explanation is very unlikely.
In addition to the earthworks, it is believed that the Morris County Militia was instructed to build a beacon of between 18 and 20 feet high. It was to be constructed of a loose frame of logs with smaller combustibles filling the center. Such beacons were in fact found extending from the Hudson Highlands and all through northern New Jersey. The beacon system was used on June 7, 1780 and again on June 23 when the British crossed into New Jersey. Records tell of area militia responding to the alarms in June and engaging the British at Springfield.
Fort Nonsense Hill is open to visitors from 8:00 AM until sunset. The park grounds are however surrounded by private property. For your safety and for the consideration of park neighbors, please be careful as you walk the grounds.
Did You Know?
At 19, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette volunteered to serve in the American Revolution. He developed a lifelong friendship with General Washington and would name his son Georges Washington du Motier. General Washington was named the boy’s godfather.