Historic Rock Ford was the residence of Edward Hand (1744-1802), who may have been the most unsung Patriot military hero of the American Revolution. That conviction led me to dedicate my second book, The Road to Assunpink Creek, to Hand and the soldiers he led into battle on January 2, 1777—which was not, well, an offhand decision.
On that pivotal day in our struggle for independence from Great Britain, the Irish-born colonel of the 1st Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment led a remarkable defensive action along the road from Princeton to Trenton, New Jersey, against a British-Hessian force that outnumbered his contingent by more than six-to-one. In so doing, he may very well have forestalled the destruction of George Washington’s army and paved the way for one of the most remarkable military maneuvers in history. The rebel forces successfully parried the enemy thrust, then counterattacked the redcoats at Princeton in the climactic victory of the “Ten Crucial Days” campaign that reversed the course of the Revolutionary War.
You have to (ahem) hand it to those Pennsylvania riflemen, but especially their colonel who demonstrated inspiring leadership at a critical moment for young America’s fortunes. He went on to become a brigadier general, a breveted major general, and a steadfast associate of General Washington—perhaps best known for being the last adjutant general (chief administrative officer) of the Continental army. Shortly after the conflict ended, the commander-in-chief wrote his comrade-in-arms to express “my entire approbation for your public conduct.”
With the war over, Hand returned home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he would build Rock Ford, a Georgian-style brick mansion on several hundred acres of land he had purchased. Here he lived from 1794 until his death, along with his family and their servants and laborers—both enslaved and free. Hand practiced medicine, served first as a member of the Congress of Confederation and then the Pennsylvania Assembly, and later as a delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. Tradition has it that he played host to Washington during the president’s 1791 visit to Lancaster.
Today, Historic Rock Ford consists of 33 acres at the southeastern edge of Lancaster City enveloped by Lancaster County Central Park. The street address is: 881 Rockford Road, Lancaster, PA 17602.
A registered National Historic Landmark, the mansion is recorded in the Historic American Building Survey. It’s widely considered one of the most important examples of Georgian domestic architecture in Pennsylvania and the most intact building in Lancaster County built before 1800. The mansion’s elegant rooms feature an exceptional display of period furnishings and decorative arts.
You could say the folks at Rock Ford deserve a hand (oh, please) for their efforts to preserve the general’s legacy and home, and to educate the public about the realities of eighteenth-century life in America. Find out more about what they have to offer on their website.
Hand in Hindsight
I’ve taken the Rock Ford tour, and for any history lover it would be an absorbing experience. But for an aficionado of eighteenth-century Americana, I can’t think of a better place to visit. Most Americans don’t know who lived here, but I wish they did. This site ought to be regarded as one of the leading shrines to a new nation’s spirit and enterprise—hands down.