|The Dance at the Van Veghten House in Bridgewater on March 19th 1779|
|Last month’s article provided an overview of Bridgewater’s Derrick Van Veghten house
which has stood since 1725.
This time we narrow our focus to a special party that was held at the Van Veghten house for the officers during the Revolutionary War on the night of March 19th 1779.
General Nathanael Greene, who was lodging at the house, wrote about the party in a letter to a friend:
“His Excellency (George Washington) and Mrs. Greene (the General’s wife Catharine) danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.”
He concluded the letter by stating “upon the whole we had a pretty little frisk.”
|While Bridgewater can celebrate that old George himself danced in town, there are more than enough books and articles about him.
So here we turn our attention to Nathanael Greene and his wife - Catharine Littlefield Greene - who were staying at the Bridgewater house. For they were fascinating people who played a tremendous role in the war, but were ironically left heavily in debt because of the war.
Bridgewater can only commemorate their visit if residents know a bit about them. So, this article will just do that.
|The Van Veghten house in Bridgewater|
|First, about that party
During the Revolutionary War the officers occasionally found time to have a party with their wives and a few friends. Those parties often featured dancing. Since back then there was no such thing as recorded music, any music had to be live. The instruments of the era were the fiddle, flute, and harpsichord.
George Washington was said to be both a willful and good dancer. The ladies flocked to dance with him and he was said to almost always have obliged. His wife Martha Washington, who was present at the party, had sworn off dancing. So that night he danced with General Greene’s wife Catharine.
As for General Greene himself, he had a well-known permanent limp which could make dancing difficult, and that is perhaps why he allowed and even boasted about George Washington dancing with his wife as opposed to having been a bit jealous. Today the room that General Greene said they had a “pretty little frisk” in is called the Frisk Room.
|General Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene was born in Rhode Island in 1742 into a prominent Quaker family. Quakers were antiwar thus he was an unlikely war hero.
At the start of the Revolutionary War, the Rhode Island Assembly established an army. He was appointed to command it. Soon after he was assigned to George Washington’s Continental Army as a General. He first distinguished himself when after the brutal winter at Valley Forge it became apparent that a new Quartermaster (the guy who is in charge of obtaining supplies for the army) would be needed. It was a job that nobody wanted. The problem was two-fold.
First, the central government had no power to raise money to buy supplies. Second, once supplies were purchased, getting them to the troops over the roads of the era could be difficult. Nathanael greatly improved the supply situation over the two years that he served as Quartermaster.
|He also led troops in battle.
He was a co-commander when Washington crossed the Delaware which resulted in the famous victory on Christmas day 1776.
In the later years of the war, when the British moved the war down south Nathanael Greene was assigned commander of the Southern army. Since the ragtag U.S. army was not going to outright defeat the greatest army in the world, the strategy adopted was to fight battles to inflict enough damage on the British Troops so it would not be worth their while to continue the war. General Greene used this strategy in multiple battles – battling to a draw and then retreating.
Today Nathanael Greene is considered the second best General of the Revolutionary War next to George Washington.
|Washington Crosses the Delaware|
with his troops in this famous Portrait
|Catharine Littlefield Greene
She was born in 1755 on the 10 square mile island known as Block Island which was considered part of Rhode Island.
Due to their remoteness, the people there conducted themselves as if they were already a free country paying no attention to the supposedly British rule.
This no doubt affected Catharine as she embraced the ideal of a free country. In 1774 at 19 she married Nathanael Greene who was 12 years her senior. Dreams of peaceful life evaporated quickly when the Revolutionary War broke out one year after they were married.
Throughout the war she traveled, often for days, to be with her husband when he was camped in the winter. She would return home in the spring when it was time for the troops to do battle. She made friends with many senior officers and their wives. The Greenes were good friends with George and Martha Washington. At Valley Forge she was credited with keeping up the morale of the cold and hungry soldiers as she made the rounds to socialize with them.
|One quote described her as “the most remarkable combination of intellectual power and physical beauty I have ever personally encountered.”
Another quote, “her intellectual stores, combined with a retentive memory, a lively imagination, and great fluency of speech, made her one of the most brilliant and entertaining of women.”
She even spoke French thus she was able to socialize with the French officers who were delighted with her. Marquis Lafayette became a close friend.
There is just one portrait of her that survives today, but it was done when she was older and it does no justice to the descriptions about her. She would give birth to six children during the eight-year war, four of which survived.
Years after the war she had a major role in helping Eli Whitney develop and market the cotton gin which revolutionized the cotton industry.
|A sketch from an 1880 magazine that|
shows Catharine Littlefield Greene
with Eli Whitney and his Cotton Gin.
|In Debt after the war
Toward the end of the war Nathanael Greene was faced with the issue of obtaining desperately needed uniforms for his men. But the manufacturer made him personally guarantee the large sum so that they would issue the uniforms on credit. Nathanael felt that the government would no doubt pay the bill.
But right after the war the creditors came calling and a broke and ungrateful central government said that they could not help him. The Greenes, heavily in debt, were forced to move from their home in Rhode Island to Georgia on land that had been awarded by the state to Nathanael for his war time service. Here they farmed the land using slaves – an institution that they had reservations about.
|The Greene home today|
|Death of Nathanael Greene
In 1786, two years after the family moved to Georgia, Nathanael died suddenly at the age of 43. Catharine continued the farm with help from friends.
She would again petition the central government regarding their wartime debts which were still substantial. This time, with help from an old friend Alexander Hamilton, she was successful - and congress paid the full amount of the bill for the uniforms which was $47,000 – a fortune in that era. No doubt her former dancing partner from that night in Bridgewater, George Washington, who was then President, had some influence on the decision.
|Alexander Hamilton helped Catharine|