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
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."