Historic Rock Ford exists to promote knowledge of the life and times of Revolutionary War General Edward Hand for the cultural and educational benefit of the public. Edward Hand, his mansion house, its collections and its grounds provide a multitude of subjects related to life in Early America to explore.

While Edward Hand represents one segment of the population, wealthy white landowners, Historic Rock Ford endeavors to share information about all the people who lived and worked on his farm or otherwise contributed to his success in life. Edward Hand was a doctor, soldier, immigrant, husband, father, farmer, politician and slave owner. Along with the topics of the American Revolution, domestic life and politics, we explore slavery in 18th Century Pennsylvania through Hand’s connections to the people of African descent whom he enslaved and the material culture associated with their lives. Historic Rock Ford has partnered with the African American Historical Society of South-Central Pennsylvania to better tell the stories of these people whose lives were often undocumented.

For information about guided house tours, school programs and other educational opportunities, see Special Events and Visit Us.

004 - Copy

EDWARD HAND'S SERVICE, FAMILY AND HOUSEHOLD 

Edward Hand was born on December 31, 1744 in Clyduff, King's County (now County Offaly), Ireland. Following medical training at Trinity College, Dublin, he was enlisted as Surgeon's Mate with the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot and sent to garrison Fort Pitt in America.

He resigned from British service in 1774 and came to Lancaster to practice medicine. In 1775, Edward Hand married Katherine ("Kitty") Ewing, who was the niece of Jasper Yeates and set up a household in the city. Hand joined the Continental Army as Lt. Colonel of the 1st Battalion of Pennsylvania Riflemen in July of 1775. He led troops at Boston, Long Island, White Plains and Trenton, becoming Adjutant General to Washington in 1781. During his time in the War, his family grew to include three children: Sara b. 1775. Dorothy b. 1777, Katherine b. 1779.

Kitty Hand’s role as a wife and mother in the 18th Century was focused on the domestic comfort of her husband and children, as evidenced by Edward Hand’s letters to her during the war. To aid her in his absence, Hand enslaved persons of African descent: a woman, Sue, a girl, Bet and a boy, Robert, who was entrusted to convey goods and money over long distances between General Hand and Kitty in Lancaster. After the war, Kitty Hand gave birth to five more children: John b. 1782, Jasper b. 1784, Mary b. 1786, Margaret b. 1789 and Edward b. 1792.

Hand returned to Lancaster at the War’s end and entered politics as a Federalist. He served in Congress, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and was elected Burgess of Lancaster. Edward Hand and his family moved to Rock Ford in 1794. The 1800 U.S. Census tells of fourteen members of the household. In addition to his immediate family, this list likely includes Katherine Hand’s mother, Edward Hand’s secretary, a free white laborer and one enslaved person, Frank. Frank, a person of African descent, was a farm hand who escaped shortly before Edward Hand’s death in 1802. Katherine Hand remained at Rock Ford with several of her children after her husband’s death. Lancaster County tax records indicate that she enslaved one unnamed person of African descent. Katherine Hand died at Rock Ford in 1805.

Katherine Hand's Gown Returns Home to Rock Ford (photos below): This gown of brocaded Spitalfields silk from London, England, likely belonged to Katherine Hand. It was passed down through generations of her family. In 2012, a descendant donated it to Rock Ford which undertook extensive study, repair and conservation. The gown consists of a fitted bodice with attached overskirt, separate petticoat and silk fly fringe. The gown is now on permanent exhibit at Rock Ford and is displayed on a custom-made dress form in a custom-made glass case that has internally controlled humidity and climate control as well as U.V. filtering glass to protect the gown's delicate fabric.
 
The Richard C. von Hess Foundation generously funded the climate-controlled case. The case was designed by Glasbau Hahn, a German company that has produced custom-made climate-controlled glass cases for major museums around the world to allow them to exhibit historic clothing and textiles. Examples include the case that showcases the Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" at the Smithsonian as well as a climate-controlled case to house the mummified remains of King Tutankhamen in the Cairo Museum.

 

THE HOUSE AND "PLANTATION"

Edward Hand purchased the “plantation tract of land” upon which he would later build Rock Ford in two transactions: 160 acres in 1785 and an additional 17 acres in 1792.

In late 18th Century Pennsylvania, the word “plantation” was a term for land under cultivation—essentially synonymous with “farm”—and had not yet developed the close association with slavery that it has in modern parlance. Nevertheless, slavery was legal in all of the thirteen original states and existed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania during the time of the Hand family’s residence at Rock Ford.

Rock Ford is located along the banks of the Conestoga River about one and a half miles southeast of downtown Lancaster. In the 18th Century, no bridges spanned the Conestoga so it was necessary to “ford”- or cross—it at locations known to be sufficiently shallow and where the river bottom was sufficiently firm. Thus, “Rock Ford” referred to the “ford at the rock” either because of the nearby large rock outcropping or because the bottom of the river had a hard, rocky bottom at this crossing point.

While owned by the Hand family, the property was a working farm with fields, livestock, and extensive orchards. Edward Hand, an avid horticulturist, is remembered for introducing a strain of plum, which subsequently bore his name. By the late 1790's, in addition to the mansion, the plantation boasted a tenant house, springhouse, two barns, and numerous outbuildings.

On July 4, 1791, General and Mrs. Hand entertained George Washington for tea during the President's visit to Lancaster. Although the precise location of this tea was not contemporaneously documented, it was traditionally believed to have taken place at Rock Ford.

After being sold from the Hand Estate in 1810, the property was operated as a tenant farm into the mid-20th century. The tenant farmers living here for about 150 years made almost no changes to the house.

By the 1950's, it was owned by the Lancaster Area Refuse Authority, and the mansion was threatened by demolition and was slated to be the home of a trash incineration plant and landfill. In 1957, the house with adjacent acreage was bought by the Junior League of Lancaster. In May 1958, the Rock Ford Foundation was established to restore and maintain the property. The house was opened to the public in 1960, and the restoration of the wooden piazzas was completed in 1964.

General Hand's estate inventory was instrumental both in locating specific articles from his residency and in furnishing the rooms. Archaeological excavations in the surrounding grounds have unearthed well preserved artifacts, in addition to foundations of outbuildings mentioned in tax records.

THE INTERIORS

The four levels of Rock Ford conform to the same plan - a center hall with four corner rooms. The interior paint colors are based upon analysis used to determine the original colors. The furnishings and interior arrangement shown seek to convey the lifestyle of the Hand family as they lived at Rock Ford circa 1794 to 1802.

The chief guide for the furnishings has been the detailed inventory taken of the “Goods and Chattels” of Edward Hand after his death in 1802.

THE ROCK FORD BARN

The current barn is not original to the property. However, it stands on the original location of General Hand's barn, stockyard and hog pen. This barn was built in Manor Township in the 1780's. It was purchased from PP&L in 1973, dismantled and reconstructed at Rock Ford.

The Rock Ford Barn and grounds are available to rent for wedding receptions, office meetings and parties, and other special events. If you are interested in holding your special event on 33 picturesque acres surrounded by gardens, woodlands, the Conestoga River and General Hand's mansion estate, please contact our Rental Coordinator at 717-799-8751 or email rentals@rockfordplantation.org for rates, information and date availability.

Drone video fly-over of Rock Ford Plantation and grounds courtesy of Orbit Creative, Inc.