There are no signs to inform them, so it is little wonder that the thousands of people who pass through every day do not realize that Delaware's present role as a corridor state predates its claim to be the 'first state' by several years.

While civic boosters understandably are reluctant to brag about being a place that people use to get from one place to some place else, a report published on Oct.11, in effect, advocates doing just that. What's more, there is a good chance that the National Park Service and eight other colonies-cum-states will join in the effort.

There happens to be more of an historic cause-and-effect relationship between the role of being the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and contributing significantly to the effort which caused there to be a Constitution to ratify or, indeed, an United States to have a Constitution to ratify.

In early September, 1781, the Colonial Army, under General George Washington, and troops of a French expédition particuliére, commanded by Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, conte de (count of)

Rochambeau, crossed northern Delaware, entering at Naamans and exiting by way of Iron Hill, en route to Yorktown in Virginia. There they had a proverbial rendezvous with destiny with Red Coats led by one General Charles, earl of Cornwallis.

Faced with American and French boots on the ground and a French fleet offshore, the Brits had no choice but to surrender. That proved to be the final engagement of the Revolutionary War and led the following year to the signing of a treaty ceding American independence.

In conjunction with commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the surrender -- which will be Oct. 19, 2006 -- the National Park Service has been asked to designate as a

If you listen closely you might hear the voices of Colonial troops who camped by Little Mill Creek in Canby Park off Maryland Avenue just outside of Wilmington 222 years ago. It is one of 28 still existing sites connected with the march of American and French troops through Delaware to the decisive Revolutionary War siege at Yorktown, Va.

National Historic Trail, the route the French took from Newport, R.I., and the Colonials from Philipsburg, N.Y. In Delaware, the route follows Philadelphia Pike into Wilmington, Newport Pike to Christina, and Old Baltimore Pike to the Maryland border.

A report, by professional historian Robert Selig, documenting what happened in Delaware during that march and where it happened, is being released in conjunction with a meeting in Wilmington on the national leadership of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, consisting of representatives of all eight participating state organizations. The Delaware report was commissioned by the state Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs and the Delaware Society, Sons of the American Revolution.

It is highly significant, not only as an historic document but also as the basis for a concerted effort to exploit Delaware's heretofore largely ignored record in and contribution to the American Revolution, according to Kim Burdick, chair of the Delaware W-3-R -- as participants deign to refer to it -- Committee.

Selig, she said, has brought together "lots of stuff that has lain in dusty boxes for years" and spelled out the wherewithal to both revel in a noble heritage and to attract tourists and tourist dollars.

Although the official decision to designate a trail -- which would be comparable to el Camino Real, the route linking Franciscan missions in California -- has yet to be made, Burdick, also a professional historian, indicated that interest in Congress and the affected states makes that almost a certainty. "We certainly hope it happens," is as close as she will come to confirming that belief.

In addition to Delaware, the states are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

At a minimum, Delaware should appropriately mark and promote its portion of the trail. Selig's report identifies 28 locations and landmarks which still exist from two centuries ago.

Other projects in the offing are a musical play being written by Evelyn Swensson based on the relationship between Washington and his slave, Billy Lee, a childhood companion who remained with him through adulthood; a documentary film being produced by Lee Jennings of the state Division of Parks & Recreation highlighting Delaware's role and the 28 locales; and a 'Hike the Pike' venture, championed by Ray Hester, the first chair of the state committee, that would arrange organized treks along the three roads on foot, by bicycle, car or other conveyance.

Selig's report highlights Delaware's role in not only providing passage but also providing for the troops passing through. Caesar Rodney, then president of the Delaware state -- as governors called themselves then -- arranged for provisions to be delivered to men and horses at the various encampments. There is no attempt in the report to arrive at a total value, but an indication of the size of the larder is given by one list. It specifies 800 barrels of pork, 36 bushels of Indian corn, 192½ bushels of bran and 50½ bushels of oats.

Although not specifically mentioned, therein might lie a motive for Delaware's quick response to the request of the constitutional convention a decade later. The goods were paid for by the equivalent of i.o.u.'s and a promised quid-pro-quo for ratification was federal assumption and settlement of Revolutionary War debts.

There is also a postscript to the original march. Both Colonials and the French force -- which actually consisted of not only Frenchmen but also mercenaries from as far away in Europe as Lithuania --  passed through Delaware en route back from Yorktown. Lauzon's Legion, an elite unit of light infantry and cavalry in the French expeditionary force commanded by Armand Louis de Gontaut-Biron, duc de Lauzon, decided to spend the winter of 1781-82 in Wilmington. The officers were quartered in local homes -- Selig identifies them all by name -- and the enlisted men may have been quartered in a school building on the site of what is now the Grand Opera House on Market Street. Selig questions whether a single building could have held some 500 men, but said he found no evidence they had other living space.

Be that as it may, that winter evidently was a jolly time. The French were honored guests at weekly balls, which Selig said was a Wilmington custom, and he quotes the diary kept by Samuel Canby, a prominent citizen, to the effect that there was "scarcely an instant [sic] of their stealing even the smallest thing."

Posted on October 10, 2003

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