If you live in Bridgewater, you may not know that you’re living in a town full of American history. You may not know that in a tiny section of the eastern side of town is a place so sacred it should be coined the “Valley Forge of New Jersey.” Welcome to the Middlebrook Encampment.
The story of the Middlebrook Encampment history takes you back to 1777 and 1779 when General George Washington was purposefully trying to hide his troops behind what is known as the Second Watchung Mountain, a geological fortress that protected the troops from roaming British troops so that the Continental Army could recover for the spring fighting season.
In June 1777, before the Army was getting prepared for their next campaign after their surprise victory crossing the Delaware River on Christmas and taking Trenton, the Continental Congress was meeting to pass an act of Congress to recognize what would be the first official flag of our new country. The Congressional Act was ratified on June 14, 1777, which is why we celebrate Flag Day every June 14.
Immediately after voting for the flag, they chose not a Betsy Ross flag, but a flag now known as the Francis Hopkinson American flag. Francis Hopkinson was a New Jersey delegate and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a master craftsman. It was Hopkinson’s flag that was dispatched from Philadelphia to the Continental Army and General Washington in Middlebrook (Bridgewater) New Jersey in 1777 after Congress approved the flag design.
The Hopkinson flag has 13 stripes representing the original 13 colonies, along with a blue field in the upper-left containing 13 stars that would later increase as additional states joined the United States. What many don’t know is that the blue field was taken from General Washington’s own “General’s flag” whose entire flag was blue with stars on it.
The encampment where that first official American flag was raised is now under the stewardship of the Washington Camp Ground Association, which for 128 years has met every year on July 4 to raise a new Hopkinson flag and recite the Declaration of Independence. Nothing is more American than this celebration that I often refer to as “New Jersey’s Gift to America.”
Be proud, Bridgewater residents. Valley Forge has nothing on your Middlebrook section of Bridgewater.
The Washington Camp Ground is open year-round, just north of Route 22.
Learn more about Somerset County’s unique history during the “Journey Through the Past” weekend on October 8 and 9. See participating sites at co.somerset.nj.us/government/public-works/cultural-heritage/weekend-journey.
Brooks Betz is the founder and researcher for the Mr. Local History Project, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting local history with a social twist. For additional reference, research and associated stories of the local history of the area, visit the Mr. Local History Project website at mrlocalhistory.org. Betz also serves as the Bernards Township historian.