Tempe Wick grew up in an era when our country was at war. Actually, we weren’t even a country yet – just thirteen colonies bound together in a rebellion against England.
Tempe was the youngest of the Wick’s five children, and the only one still living at home. Her parents owned a large farm amid the bucolic rolling hills of central New Jersey, near present day Morristown. But when talk of revolution exploded into full-fledged war, life quickly became very serious as the Wick family sided with the Patriots seeking freedom from Britain’s tyranny.
By December of 1779, General George Washington’s Continental Army had dissolved into a ragtag group of starving soldiers anxious for decent shelter, warm clothes, and food. Provisions were so scarce that men were chewing on their worn out leather shoes, hoping for a bit of nourishment. There were no stray dogs left.
Desperate times produce desperate men, and often – strong women as well.
The next two winters hosted brutal weather, where blizzards blanketed the fields for weeks and livestock froze where they stood. General Washington alerted the residents of Jockey Hollow for the need to establish military quarters nearby. More than 10,000 men descended on the area, and stayed in encampments that bordered the Wick farm. The Wick family believed so strongly in the Patriot cause that they voluntarily shared as much of their wheat harvest and butchered cattle as they could. But the war dragged on. Mr. Wick died, Mrs. Wick became quite ill, and Tempe now age 21, became her mother’s full time nurse.
New Year’s Eve 1781 was not an occasion for celebration, but as the moon rose high in the sky spreading fanciful shadows over a snow filled landscape, sounds of musket shots broke the stillness of the night. Knowing that ammunition was precious, Tempe must have feared that the British had invaded. She was wrong. The Pennsylvania soldiers wintering near the farm, fed up with their deplorable conditions and not having been paid for over a year, mutinied.
Regardless of the impending danger, there was no way that she would abandon her sick mother. All through the night, she later said, she kept vigil with a rifle in her lap as over 1,000 soldiers stampeded past the Wick house on their way back to Philadelphia. By morning, Mrs. Wick’s coughing now wracked her body and Tempe left to seek the doctor. Saddling up the family’s last remaining horse, Colonel, she raced to the doctor’s house to obtain the needed medicine. As she left to return home, two renegade soldiers dashed out from behind some trees and demanded that she relinquish her steed.
Instead, she snatched the reins, swung herself up into the saddle, and took off at a full gallop.
And the story, or legend, might have ended here with her mother receiving the medicine. However, Tempe also needed to protect their horse, which she had raised since a colt. Leaving the mare in the barn would have allowed the renegade soldiers to steal her. Instead, she led the horse right into the house, through the kitchen and into her small bedroom at the back. Tying rags under and around the hooves to stifle any noise, and leaving the horse to nibble the hay filled mattress, she was able to keep Colonel hidden while the renegades who had followed, searched the barn.
To keep a horse in the house for even one day and night would have been a feat, but according to local lore, Tempe kept her horse safely inside for almost a week.
How she brought in hay and water and lied to the patrolling soldiers, is all a part of her story. Eventually the mutiny ended, soldiers returned to their posts, and the dreadful winter weather ended. George Washington was able to inspire more patriotic fervor, rally the troops, and we won the war—the War for Independence.
Most of the facts about Tempe Wick are clearly documented: she went on to marry and have five children of her own, and since her older siblings had their own farms, she inherited the Wick farmstead. Her escapade of saving the family horse eventually became a legend in central Jersey.
I’ve been to Jockey Hollow. I visited the Wick House, and took my time lingering in Tempe’s small back bedroom, imagining a horse with rags on its hooves munching a mattress while mutinied soldiers swarmed the nearby countryside.
When you are a courageous strong woman, anything is possible.
“Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.”
Epicurus ~ from Pearls of Wisdom compiled by Keith Adams
Thank you to my wonderful proof reader, Dixie Hallaj.