Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Chew House (Clivedon)

The Chew House at Germantown, Pennsylvania

I was browsing through my copy of Thomas McGuire's book, Germantown and the Roads to Valley Forge, this evening and it appears that quite a large portion of the book is devoted to the American assualt on the Benjamin Chew House, which was defended by several companies of the 40th Regiment, number perhaps 100 to 120 men under the command of Lt.Colonel Thomas Musgrave.

Musgrave's regiment had been posted on picket duty out in front of the main British encampment at Germantown and they were largely over run by the American attack, in the early morning fog on October 4, 1777. Musgrave and three companies were cut off from the rest of the regiment and they took refuge in the solid stone Chew House. The walls in the front facade of the building are apparently two feet thick and they resisted all attempts to route out Musgrave with musketry and iron cannon balls.

Howard Pyle's interpretation of the American attempt to force entry into the Chew House.
As the day wore on, various brigades of Continentals bypassed the veritable stone castle that stood behind the American front lines. At first, Washington considered posting a single regiment to guard the building while the rest of the army advanced into the main British line. But then Henry Knox, Washington's chief of the artillery, convinced him that they could not leave such a fortification in the hands of the enemy and behind their lines. Knox assembled a battery of 3 and 6 pounders (Procter's Battery) to try to pound down the front door and shuttered windows, but the artillery proved to be too light for the job and could barely dent the stone facade of the Chew House

To make a long story short, Musgrave's detachment resisted all attempts to force the house and they were eventually relieved when the Continentals retreated from the battlefield.

One anecdote from McGuire caught my interest:

A battery of 6-pounders failed to blow a hole through the front door, and now a small group of officers took it upon themselves to try and burn out the defenders by setting the wooden window shutters on fire. None of these attempts worked either. Among these brave men was the Thomas du Plessis-Mauduit,  a Frenchman in the Continental service. He and gathered some straw from the nearby barn and rushed towards the house. I paraphrase from McGuire's book (page 92)

The men of the 40th posted on the first floor behind each door and shuttered window were instructred to bayonet anyone trying to get in. As Du Plessis climbed on the windowsill, he found himself face to face with a pistol. When asked what he was doing there, he replied, 'I am only taking a walk'. He was fortunate, unlike others, instead of an infantryman with a bayonet, he was confronted by a British officer who demanded his surrender. At the same instant, another less gallant man (than the officer) entered the room and fired a musket that killed, not Du Plessis, but the British officer who was trying to capture him.  Now Du Plessis' problem was to find a way to retire without getting shot from one of the marksmen in the upper floor windows of the house. He chose not to run away, and risk being ridiculed by his men, or calmly walk away, returning safe and sound.

The attack on the Chew House might make for an interesting skirmish wargame, with individual British figures defending the house and the Americans attacking in group of 10 to 20 figures.


From Wikipedia:

Cliveden (pron.: /ˈklɪvdən/),[2] also known as the Benjamin Chew House, is a historic mansion in GermantownPhiladelphiaPennsylvania. It was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the Battle of Germantown, fought in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.
Built between 1763 to 1767, by Benjamin Chew, Esq, the mansion was inhabited from colonial times by seven generations of the Chew family, until 1972.[3] Benjamin Chew was head of the Pennsylvania Judiciary System under both Colony and Commonwealth, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Province of Pennsylvania. From his legal mentor, Andrew Hamilton, Esq, Chew inherited his lifelong clients, the descendants of William Penn.

Fighting during the Battle of Germantown
For his own safety, the Executive Committee of the Continental Congress forcibly removed Chew and his family from Cliveden, as his close personal friend, George Washington, was ordering his troops to move towards Philadelphia. British Colonel Musgrave then quickly occupied the sturdily-built mansion and fought off the attack from inside the house with muskets and bayonets. Washington's army was repelled and sent back down Germantown Avenue in defeat.

[edit]House and property

In 1966, Cliveden was designated a National Historic Landmark, part of the Colonial Germantown Historic District.[4] The National Trust for Historic Preservation operates Cliveden as a historic house museum, and offers tours from April through December. Significance:
Cliveden is an outstanding example of Philadelphia Georgian architecture. Probably designed by Chew and Jacob Knor, a master carpenter, the stone masonry house has particularly fine interior woodwork.
—Historic American Buildings Survey[5]
The original estate included a number of other structures, including a stable and coach house, a smoke house, hen house and summer house. The landscaping features statuary and gardens with over 200 varieties of trees and scrubs. In 1868, a two-story addition was added in the original courtyard. A window on the second floor stair landing in the main house was converted into a hidden doorway to create an entrance to the addition.
The Chew Family Papers, containing an extensive collection of correspondence, documents, financial records and other materials, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


  1. Three cheers for the 40th!


  2. Darned lobsterbacks!! :-)

    But I love to paint them!

    This site is so close to my house that I am rather embarassed that I have yet to visit it! I'll have to twist the wife's arm and make the pilgrimage!


  3. Greg: most of us overlook the sites that are virtually in our own back yards. Perhaps this post will give you a little nudge to visit the Chew House.

  4. Thanks for making the useful photo available to those of us who don't possess the book.

  5. My wife and I visited the Germantown area several years ago. The Chew house is impressive. When we were there, archeologists were working on a dig on the grounds and had discovered several items dating from colonial times. As the house sits on a small rise, it's understandable why it was considered a fort behind the colonial lines. It had a commanding view of the area and was a very solid structure. I think it could make for an interesting

  6. O of the neat things about living where I do is the proximity of loads of really great Revolutionary War sites. If you only had enough figures to play a small battle you could play the battle of Setauket, the raid on Fort Coram, or anyone of a number of whale boat raids across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut. For larger actions - and still in the vicinity - is the Battle of Long Island, Washington's retreat up Manhattan, and in a radius of 100 or so miles from NYC at least five major battles starting at Trento and ending at Monmouth. Great Stuff!

  7. Too bad the Chew hose is in a bad part of town. If it is not in old town then the city doesn't care much about it.