7 and 8, 1781, the Continental Army, some 1,400 strong, plus
assorted militia, commanded by General George Washington,
accompanied by an expeditionary force of about 5,000 French
regular troops under Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the Count
of Rochambeau, marched through New Castle County. What was
significant about that, of course, is that they were en route to
Yorktown, Va., where, supported by a French naval expedition,
they would lay siege to General Charles Cornwallis's British
army in what proved to be the climatic battle of the War for
at the prodding of the National Society of the Sons of the
American Revolution and other organizations involved in
preserving the heritage of the Revolutionary period, Congress in
2000 enacted a measure directing the Department of the Interior
and the National Park Service to conduct a 'resource study' of
the 600-mile route to determine how it can best be preserved and
interpreted. All nine states through which the route passes are
cooperating in the study, which is due to be completed in
Delaware phase of that study is about to be conducted by Robert
Selig, a consultant who is a recognized authority on the march.
result that could come from the study, according to Ray Hester,
who chairs the committee coordinating Delaware's involvement,
would be for the route to be designated a national historic
trail. That, he said, would put it at the same level as the
Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail and several others, mostly in
western states, as a top-level attraction for national and
international tourism. It also would make it the first National
Park Service venue in Delaware.
the effort falls short of that, he added, state and local
resources can be brought to bear to assure that not only sites
connected with the march but also other historic and cultural
resources in the area are showcased for visitors. The fact that
several states are cooperating in the anachronistically labeled
W3R (Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route) cause should
enhance such efforts.
Representative Wayne Smith, who co-sponsored legislation
authorizing Delaware's official participation in the effort and
providing the money to finance the state's part of the study,
said it will provide a strong incentive "for Delawareans to
reconnect to their past."
French troops spent their night in Delaware encamped in
Wilmington while the Americans pitched their tents in the
Stanton area. On the way back, after Cornwallis's surrender on
Oct. 19, 1781, some French troops were billeted in Wilmington
over the winter. Although there were no further significant
engagements, the war did not definitively end until the Treaty
of Paris was signed two years later. Their enlistments over,
some of the Frenchmen settled here permanently and some of their
descendents still live in the area, according to Chuck Fithian,
of the state Historic Preservation Office.
Beyond filling out such details,
"research identifying locations
associated with the Franco-American armies ... will bring out an
appreciation of our involvement in the Revolution. That's a
topic that has never been thoroughly researched," he said.
popular concept is that Delaware had what amounted to a few
cameo roles in the nation's seminal epic -- Caesar Rodney's
overnight ride to Philadelphia to vote for independence and a
skirmish at Cooches Bridge along Old Baltimore Pike being the
most celebrated. But, Fithian said, "there was a lot more going
on than that."
pointed out, for instance, that Washington is known to have
visited the Robinson House in Claymont, which was the home of
one of his generals. There are buildings still standing
throughout the state that were here at the time and the historic
area of the town of New Castle is a living reminder of that
tourism and heritage education are important and they are
activities that are growing. There's more to W3R in Delaware
than a two-hour drive. It's an opportunity to show what we did
in the Revolution and what we have here now," he said.
history-minded tourist is, by nature, the kind of person who
wants to spend time absorbing everything that an area has to
offer, he added. There also is an obvious advantage in
highlighting the French contribution to America's Revolution as
a means of attracting international visitors.
effects and benefits that can come from this are tremendous,"
Hester said. "I want to see us do more with this than just put
up a few more historic markers."