The Pause at Pluckemin

An Untold Tale of Washington, and the Tailor Who Patched His Army
By George Quarrie

AFTER so brilliantly turning the tide of war in their own favor, at Trenton on Christmas night, 1776, and again at Princeton on the following 3d of January. General Washington's heroes came straggling into the little village of Pluckemin, on a spur of the Watchung Mountains, in Somerset County, N. J., hungry, footsore and in rags. Almost exhausted by their recent superb fighting on all but empty stomachs they were now limping their way to Morristown Heights for winter quarters.

The name of little Pluckemin was never mentioned in their marching orders. But after hobbling down from the wooded skirts of the mountain and debouching in irregular squads on Pluckemin, the early winter night darkness adding to the pain of their slow progress, on entering the village they were met with such gladness and good cheer that after cordial invitations to do so they halted there for the night. Not only that, but so generous and helpful did their entertainers continue to prove that at the hearty requests of influential villagers several regiments were permanently quartered there and General Washington occupied what has since been called Washington House as his headquarters.

After the men had been well fed and rested for several days, prompt and effective steps were taken to sew up and patch their exceedingly tattered garments. To this task a man from the ranks rose as a host in himself. This was Private Robert Little, a leal and stalwart Scotchman. "Big Bob Little," as he was familiarly known, temporarily laying down his musket, took up needle and shears and very soon performed miracles of improvement in the appearance of the rank and file. This good work he could not have accomplished had he not been gleefully helped by many young neighboring farmers, who rode around far and near collecting gratuities of homespun cloth from farmers and others who did home weaving.

So well had "Big Bob" and his coadjutors succeeded in this, and so delighted were the officers with the improved appearance of the men, that Colonel ------ on learning that the approaching February 22 was "Big Bob's" birthday, he determined as a compliment to Bob to have a dress parade on that day.

The parade was in full swing to the enlivening music of fife and drum, and the men, it is said, marched with heads erect and proud step, once more having clothes without very bad holes in them; company after company halting in front of the celebrated old Eoff tavern (where the "Kenilworth Inn" now stands - bone dry), the stoop serving as a reviewing stand, where the colonel in full dress uniform was inspecting the greatly reanimated infantry of the line. Suddenly all eyes turned to a mounted company under General Knox, which, all burnished up as if for the occasion, came cantering down the street. After an enquiring look of surprise and a word with the colonel.

"That's capital, splendid!" laughed the general. "No other man in the world will enjoy this gallant parade and the cause of it," said he, "as truly as our great leader will. He'll be here presently. I'm just off to meet him. Go ahead with your review, colonel. The men do look fine and as fit as fiddles again. What's his name again that did the tailoring? Oh, yes, Little. He's a good man, by thunder, a right fine fellow!" With which the general and his following were off at a brisk pace toward Somerville.

Presently they returned, the company now enlarged by the presence of General Washington and staff. Entering the village and heartily into the spirit of its mild excitement, the general seemed ready to get down from his horse and embrace his beloved heroes, with their joyful salutes, cheerful faces and their right brave appearance again, after all they had suffered and all they had so recently done.

The true humor of the situation was that it was General Washington's own birthday, too, although but a very few knew it. For that date had not as yet become the universally observed red letter day that it is now. Probably he had not so much as remembered it himself, although General Knox had arranged to dine him that day, as a mild celebration of that event. But the latter was prompt in explaining to his chief's great amusement that the present military stir in Pluckemin was not in honor of their commander in chief, but a compliment to Private Robert Little, because honest Bob had sewed and patched the men into such good shape, and this happened to be the stalwart Bob's Birthday.

The general was simply delighted, and immediately on entering his headquarters sent for Little. The Scotchman, presently admitted, took two or three regulation steps into the room, gave the correct military salute and then, with hands down by his sides stood facing the general, erect and stiff as a poker.

After genially and very highly commenting the soldier for his excellent work on the regiment, the general handed him a guinea piece and also gave him good wishes for his birthday.

"I thank ye kindly, general," Bob said, looking proudly at the gold in his brawny hand. "This, sir, will gang straight to my auld mither in Kirkcudbright, the best mither in Scotland. Many a time she thinking of her Bob to-day!"

“And if ye’ll pardon me, general,” Bob said, with another soldierly elevation of broad palm to his shako, “I’m told ye has the grandest mither in all America, and that this is your excellency’s birthday. How proudly her good leddyship will this day be thinking of her son!” Which little speech, as the broad shouldered militiaman marched out and down the stairs, brought hearty applause, it is said, from distinguished soldiers in that room.

Like most, if not all, truly great men, Washington adored his mother. Little wonder, therefore, the “Big Bob” Little’s homely tribute of filial love was very graciously received by the Father of his Country.


The article reproduced above is taken from a newspaper cutting from the New York Tribune, February 23, 1919.

I'm not sure just how much truth is in the story. There is a place called Pluckemin, and there is an inn there now called the Pluckemin Inn which seems to stand just where the Kennilworth Inn mentioned above stood, and there is no doubt that General Washington was in the village around the time of his birthday in 1777. The village became an important training centre for General Knox's artillery during the war. It would be nice to think that "Big Bob Little" really existed, and that his golden guinnea somehow found its way back to his 'mither' in Kirkcudbright.

The website of the Pluckemin Inn had some history on it. The Jacobus Vanderveer House and Museum website has a timeline.