The Pluckemin Cantonment - America's First Military Academy
The Virtual Pluckemin Artillery Park and Pluckemin Cantonment of 1779-
E-shaped camp at Pluckemin housed barracks, storage and wagon sheds, and workshops for armorers, carpenters, coopers, and wheelwrights. The building with the weathervane in the middle of the E was the Academy.
The Revolution at a Crossroads
During the American revolution, the Somerset Hills were a hotbed
of military activity. The area fell victim to British raids, saw
the capture of American patriots and played host to to the Continental Army's Artillery. For Pluckemin in Bedminster Township, the most important chapter of the
Revolutionary War period was the winter of 1778-1779 when, on orders
from Washington, General Henry Knox, Chief of the Continental Army Artillery established in the village of Pluckemin
a cantonment for the Continental Artillery, an extensive winter facility hosting as many as 1,000 troops
under his command. The Artillery cantonment was a secondary location to the larger Middlebrook encampment, where almost 8,000 soldiers from the general infantry spent the winter of 1778/1779.
What differentiates Pluckemin from any other encampment or cantonment began back on December 20, 1776. General Washington forwarded" A plan for the establishment of a Continental Artillery, magazines, laboratories ... " that was written by General Henry Knox, to the Board of War. While Congress balked temporarily, there is evidence now that Washington later (1778) allowed Knox to create Pluckemin, a formal officer and artillery training facility, which is now recognized as the Pluckemin Artillery Academy. The Academy is the first documented officer training facility and is now recognized as America's First Military Academy, the precursor to the USMA at West Point.
The site chosen for the encampment was at the foot of the Second
Watchung Mountain, secure from British attack. General Henry Knox oversaw the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment and resided at the nearby Jacobus
Vanderveer House, the only remaining and restored structure in the area from the revolutionary war era.
General Henry Knox
General Henry Knox seemed to have been everywhere in the
Revolution from the Boston Massacre to the British surrender at
Yorktown. Best known for his heroic winter trek to Boston with
artillery from Ticonderoga, Knox served with distinction in every
major engagement of the war and later became Secretary of War.
He is also remembered as the first commander of West Point and
as the namesake of Fort Knox.
Before the war, Knox was a bookseller
in Boston, but was involved with the cause for American independence
from the beginning of the Revolution in 1775. It was then that
Knox met Washington who admired Knox's knowledge of artillery,
and came to rely on him in all matters regarding that field of
While the Continental Army Artillery was based in Pluckemin, General Knox resided at the nearby Jacobus Vanderveer house, a home he rented during his stay in Pluckemin. The Vanderveer House is the last standing restored structure.
Pluckemin Cantonment and the Pluckemin Artillery Academy
America's First Military Academy
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 armorer'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
In addition to engraving, tinsmithing, forge work, leather work, painting, wagon repair, ammunition manufacture, and the process of building process and officer training commenced for the first time at Pluckemin (Pluckamin).
Learn more about the Pluckemin Academy - Click Here
What Happened to America's First Academy and the Cantonment?
As quickly as it came....it was gone.
From the framed buildings with their panes of glass to the plastered walls of the artillery academy, the Pluckemin Artillery Park obviously was made to last for a long time. Then why was the site abandoned? Historian John Seidel, a professor at Washington College in Maryland and director of its Center for Environment and Society, led a dig on the site between 1979 and 1989. He thinks Continental politicians may have put the kibosh on the installation because they were afraid of the Army getting too powerful.
"With its prestigious training academy and its base as a supply center, Pluckemin might have been perceived as a platform from which the Army could take over the infant government. Whatever the reason, by the next winter with the Army at Morristown, the encampment became a hospital. “It was the busiest hospital in the Middle Atlantic,” noted Seidel.
Read More - The Pluckemin Hospital
After the war, one letter Seidel has seen talks about selling off the encampment structures. “What may have happened is that locals starting taking things apart and using the lumber in their homes and businesses,” he postulated. There were reports into the early 1900s of chimneys standing on the site. Road crews toppled them to curb portions of Schley Mountain Road.
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.
What's Next for the Pluckemin Cantonment Area?
There are a number of steps that need to be taken as an area evolves from a raw landmark to a designated historical site. Part of the mission of the Friends of the Vanderveer House is to create a plan that eventually promotes access and educational programs tied to the Artillery Park area. In 2008, the site received acceptance to both the state and national registers of historic places. This is an important first step.
Artillery Park Wins Place on National Register
Pluckemin Continental Artillery Cantonment Site (ID#4769)
SR: 1/17/2008 (Approved to State Register)
NR: 3/14/2008 (NR Reference #: 08000180) (Approved to the National Register)
High on Schley Mountain in a little known slice of Revolutionary War history is now preserved for future generations. Pluckemin Artillery Park, which housed and trained the Continental Army during 1778 and 1779, is now on the state and National Registers of Historic Places. The National Park Service voted in February 2008 and finally approved the Bedminster Township owned site for the National Register of Historic Places on March 14, 2008.
The Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer house will continue to work on a number of long range strategic plans to forward the development of the Vanderveer/Knox house and work to evolve the historic efforts of the group to include:
- Complete the Vanderveer/Knox House restoration
- Create exhibits to represent the Revolutionary War period, early dutch farming, and local history
- Create exhibits at the Vanderveer House Museum displaying artifacts found at the Pluckemin Artillery Park
- Create exterior landscaping, paths, gardens, orchards around the Vanderveer House
- Provide events/programming
- Expand the interpretation of the Artillery Cantonment including programs, the site, and the artifacts.
There are many things that need to be completed before there is the capabilities to interpret and design programs for the Pluckemin Artillery Academy and Cantonment site. However, the site remains a key area of concentration for the Friends, the township, the State of New Jersey, and several Revolutionary War organizations.
Check Back for Updates
Look to the internet to see the development and progress of these programs and efforts.
The Friends of JVH have also registered on the internet the following addresses so that the internet can better search the topic.