Vignettes of Delaware History
NOTE: This text is taken from Delaware Tercentenary Almanack & Historical Repository, published by the Delaware Tercentenary Commission in 1938. No copyright was claimed on this book, and is therefore assumed to be in the public domain. If this is incorrect, this page will be deleted.
The Land the First Settlers Found
Except where it was cut through by little rivers and where some marsh or morass lay open and when the Indians had cleared their little fields, the land that is now the State of Delaware was, in 1638, covered by a primeval forest, a forest that had never known an axe.
The deep black soil, enriched by rotted leaves that had fallen year by year for thousands of years, bore mighty oaks rising 60 or 80 feet before a single limb thrust itself from their rude columns. Towering tulip trees reared their smooth trunks to great heights. Huge beeches with silvered boles, rough barked chestnuts walnuts, hickories, maples, buttonwoods and ash trees strove with each other for space to spread their branches. Pines, straight and slim, stood close-ranked like masts in a forest of ships. Cypress grew thick in the swamps and willows lined the streams. Among the greater trees the lesser, sassafras, dogwood, hombeam, holly, alder, and a multitude of shrubs elbowed each other, and everywhere, spreading over the lower trees, climbing among the branches of the loftiest, grapevines flung a tangled network. Huge tree-trunks, fallen through age or overthrown by storms, lay here and there. Bogs, formed by clogged streams or in naturally undrained spaces, grew rank with reeds and marsh-plants. Only by the few Indian trails was such a forest penetrable without vast difficulty and real danger.
Every kind of vegetable life that flourishes in a temperate and humid climate grew in this fertile soil in profusion. Wild fruits, mulberries, cherries, plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and grapes abounded. Medicinal plants and herbs, specifics for many ailments, flourished in the woods and marshes.
Wild animal life was more varied and abundant than anywhere on this continent today. Beasts of prey, bears, wolves, panthers, wildcats, infested the forest. Elk and deer roamed through it. Foxes, raccoons, opossums, minks, weasels, skunks, rabbits and squirrels were there in multitudes. Beavers, fishers, otters and muskrats haunted the ponds and streams.
There were birds of prey, too, eagles, hawks, and kites, owls, buzzards and crows. Game-birds were plentiful, turkeys of great size, partridges, pheasants, quail, woodcock and snipe, swans, geese and ducks. Song-birds filled the air with their melody. Wild pigeons were so numerous that, flying in vast flocks, they darkened the sun as to clouds.
The River yielded fish in inexhaustible plenty. Halibut, mackerel, rock, bass, pike, trout, perch, catfish and eels were abundant. Herring swarmed in incredible numbers.
Down where the Bay met the ocean, the sportive porpoise leaped from the waves and the jovial whale wallowed in the deeper waters. On the shores the suspicious crab scuttled sidewise over the sands, while the cautious clam and the saturnine oyster reposed in their beds.
The Lenni Lenape Indians
William Penn’s description of these Indians, as noted in the text-“the most merry creatures that live, feasting and dancing perpetually”–is jusdfied by this spirited drawing. This family group, judging by the slightly glazed appearance of their eyes, seem to be on their way home from a party. The Red Man’s proverbial indifference to pain is exemplified by the conduct of the manly little lad. His left leg is evidently seriously dislccated, but, though his mother seems a trifle distrait, his father beams with joy to see him hop merrily along on his other foot, a striking display of Indian fortitude.
The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Delaware
The Indians, whom the first settlers found `in Delaware, were a branch of the great Algonquin family, known as the Lenni Lenape. Tall, broad in the shoulder, slim in the waist, with well-proportioned, muscular limbs agile and swift of foot were the men. “They tread strong and clever and mostly with a lofty chin,” wrote William Penn. All were “well fashioned, strong and sound in body, well fed and without blemish.” The women were “fine looking, of middle stature well proportioned and with finely cut features; with long and black hair and black eyes set off with fine eyebrows.”
Mentally they were shrewd, clear sighted and intelligent. They used few words and yet were prone to gaiety, to dance and song and games of chance and skill. Penn called them “the most merry creatures that live, feasting and dancing perpetually.”
They were suspicious of the white man, cautious and apprehensivie of being overreached, but, if well treated, they were responsive, hospitable, trustworthy and good hearted. They remembered and repaid kindness, but never forgot or forgave injury.
Culturally they were of the Neolithic Age, 6,000 years behind the men of western Europe. Their weapons and their few tools were made of stone, bone and wood. They wove baskets of osier, made blankets of feathers, but no cotton or woolen fabrics. They made crude pots, but these were unglazed and porous. They cured skins, but did not tan them. They built huts of bark and skins, but masonry and joiner-work were beyond their skill. They had no chairs or tables. They were ignorant of the simplest mechanical devices, knew not even the use of the wheel. They pounded maize into meal in rude mortars with stone pestles, built boats by burning and scraping logs until hollow. Their only weapons were bows and arrows, stone axes, spears and clubs.
For many years these Indians lived in close contact with the settlers on the Delaware. The white men had guns, swords, knives, cloth, kettles, every sort of thing exceedingly desired by the Indians and impossible of procurement elsewhere. The colonists were few in number and thinly scattered along the River. The Indians were many, individually strong and daring, highly skilled in the kind of warfare most effective against such little unguarded communities. One well-concerted attack would have wiped out New Sweden and enriched the Indians beyond their fondest imaginings. Yet there was no such attack. In all that time but nine white men were killed by Indians, and at least two of these killings were strictly legal executions from the Indians’ point of view, punishments for the murder of a sachem by the Dutch.
The Swedes were a peaceable people, just and fair minded, treating the Indians well. They deserved well of the Indians and the Indians treated them as they deserved.
Fort Christina Under Siege By Stuyvesant
This plan, drawn by the Swedish engineer, Pehr Martensson Lindestrom, shows Fort Christina (S) and the village Christinahamn (I) as they appeared in 1655 during the siege of the fort by the Dutch under Pieter Stuyeesant, governor of Manhattan. Two of the Dutch ships, the Waag (A) and the Spegel (B) are shown anchored at the mouth of Fiske Kyl (Brandywine, O). Surrounding the fort are the siege-works; an earthwork (D) on Tennaconck’s land (C), across Christina Kyl or River (E), with 4 guns manned by 3 companies, and other batteries of logs, Mosquitoburg (G) with 6 guns and 4 companies, Ratburg (H) with 6 guns and 6 companies, and Flyburg (L) on Timber Island (M), with 4 guns and 2 companies. These were so named by the Dutch according to the pests peculiar to each. In advance of these appear a mine (T) and in the rear the Dutchmen’s kitchen (K). The little harbor (R) is to be seen at the left of the fort.
The plan shows the strategic value of the position of Fort Christina at that time, close to the end of a tongue of fast land terminating at the Rocks, a natural wharf, and flanked by marshes (N, P, Q, F). The river having since been bulkheaded and the marshes filled in, these strategic advantages have disappeared.
The Swedish Settlement
The Dutch were first on the River. In 1609 Henry Hudson, captain of the Haelve Maeu (Half Moon) sent out by the Dutch East Company to find the Northwest Pas.age, discovered Delaware Bay and later found the river named for him. On Manhattan Island Dutchmen set up a trading-post. They explored the Delaware and did a bit of fur-trading there, but made no effort at colonization until 1631, when they established 28 men at Zwaanendael: (Lewes). As a result of bad judgment in dealing with the Indians, these colonists were massacred.
No further effort at colonization was made until 1638, when two Swedish ships, Kalmar Nyckel, (Key of Kalmar) and Vogel Grip (Bird Griffin) landed 23 soldiers and two officers on a ledge of rocks on the bank. of a river, which they named Christina after their queen. The country they called New Sweden. They built a fort of palisades and earth and settled themselves for an indefinite stay. This was the beginning of the first permanent settlement of white men in Delaware and in the whole Delaware Valley.
Other expeditions, bringing supplies and new colonists from Sweden, followed. In 1640 came the second with the first governor, Peter Hollandaer, the first clergyman, Rev. Reorus Torkillus, and a few others. About 35 more came in 1641and brought with them horses, sheep, cattle and hogs. New houses were built outside of the fort, more ground was cleared for farming and a grist-windmill was set up.
In 1643 two ships came with more supplies and settlers, also a new governor Lt. Col. Johan Printz. For 10 years he ruled New Sweden with despotic power. Military leader, as well as civil governor, law-giver, chief judge and head executive, far removed from the home government, he was supreme in the colony. Physically he was “a man of brave size, who weighed over 400 pound.”. He was great in other ways, an intelligent man, a brave soldier, a strict disciplinarian, a shrewd manager, an able administrator. He had the faults of his qualities, he was headstrong, tyrannical, rough, violent, overbearing, arrogant and arbitrary. He ruled the colony with a heavy hand, his dictatorial ways giving just cause for dissatisfaction among the colonists. But he swept the River clear of his Dutch competitors and kept off English would-be intruders. For eight years New Sweden was true Swedish territory.
He started at once on his arrival to extend his domain. He built Fort Elfsborg on the eastern side of the River at what is now Mill Creek, Fort New Gothenburg on Tinicum Island just below the present site of Philadelphia, a blockhouse at Upland, now Chester, and another at the mouth of the Schuylkill. The garrisons of these posts were small, from 8 to 12 men each. In all there were about 90 men in the colony, about 50 were soldiers and artisans, the rest tillers of the soil. Printz had found that he could get corn from the Indians, in trade for tobacco, cheaper than he could raise it, so mostly he raised tobacco.
More ships brought more colonists and carried back beaver-furs bought from the Indians with trade-goods. But, in spite of fresh arrivals, the colony did not grow in numbers. Some people went home from time to time, and the death-toll was heavy. One ship bearing 70 colonists was wrecked in the West Indies, and its people were so maltreated by the Spanish and French that only 19 survived and none reached the colony. Five years after Printz’s coming there were but 79 men in the whole of New Sweden. Yet with this handful he held the River from Henlopen to Sankikan (Trenton) against the Dutch of New Amsterdam, who persistently tried to establish trading-posts, only to have them abolished, and the English of New England, who repeatedly tried to colonize, only to be ejected.
This monopoly of the River was particularly objectionable to the Dutch on Manhattan, who claimed it by right of discovery. At last Governor Pieter Stuyvesant took steps to assert their right. In 1651 eleven Dutch ships sailed up the River, and Stuyvesant, at the head of 120 soldiers, marched overland from New Amsterdam. These forces took possession of Sandhook, where now is New Castle, and built a fortification 200 feet long and 100 feet deep, which they named Fort Casimir. Its guns commanded the channel of the River and no ship could pass it without leave.
Printz had not the force to expel these intruders and so for two years the overlordship of the River was divided between the two nations. In 1653 he resigned his office and sailed for Sweden. In the next year came two ships with a new governor, Johan Rising, 50 soldiers and 250 colonists. With this show of force the Swedes took Casimir without resistance, renaming it Fort Trefaldighet (Trinity) and New Sweden again held the whole River.
A population of 368 men, women and children demanded new houses; so a village, Christinahamn, was built behind the fort. Land was allotted to the new settlers above and below Christina. Cattle were bought from the English of Virginia and distributed among them. The forts were strengthened and new cannon mounted. More and more land was cleared, fields were fenced, the first roads were laid out. Churches were established at Upland, Christina and Trefaldighet. A court of law was set up. Altogether New Sweden was impressively prospering, but it was not yet self-supporting. Supplies of all kinds were lacking, and there was even a shortage of food. In 1655 the grain crop failed because of the severity of the previous winter. One supply ship blunered into the North (Hudson) River and was seized by Sturyvesant. Thc colony had to look to the Indians for corn and to the English of Maryland and Virginia for provisions and many other things.
But the sturdy Swedish peasants were digging themselves in for a long stay, and back home plans for their support and for additions to their number were being realized. In November 1655 the Mercurius with abundant supplies and 110 new colonists sailed from Gothenburg. It seemed that New Sweden’s troubles were over, its permanence assured. But before Mercurim reached the Delaware New Sweden had disappeared from the map.
Forts at the Rocks
The Rocks on the Christina River are of historical interest and importance not only because they were the landing place of. the first Swedish settlers and the site of their first fort. They also figure largely in the subsequent history of Delaware.
During the war between Great Britain and France, 1744-1748, a part of the War of the Austrian Succession, known in America as King George’s War, many French and Spanish privateers attacked the shipping in the Delaware River. To defend Wilmington a bombproof battery and magazine was built at the Rocks under the direction of Damd and Charles Bush and John McKinly, who was afterwards the first president of the Delaware State. They proudly reported that it equalled if not exceeded, “any on the continent for strength and beauty.”
At the outbreak of the Revolution, these defensive works were rebuilt and manned by a company of soldiers.
Again, in the War of 1812, the earthworks were rebuilt and mounted with cannon. In this work Hon. James A. Bayard the U. S.. Senator, was personally active. Clad in the “garb of a laborer, with ditcher’s boots, and a shovel on his shoulder, he marched with the mass to achieve their muddy work” and labored with the others to restore the redoubt.
Yet again, during The Civil War in 1864, defensive works were erected at the Rocks and called Fort Union.
after its capture by the Swedes in 1653, drawn by Pehr Lindestrom. A view of Fort Trefaldighet (Trinty), so called by the Swedes, but by the Dutch, who built it called Fort Casimir, on the Delaware River in front of the present site of New Castle
The Dutch Conquest
News of the capture of Fort Casimir by the Swedes in 1653 vaidy astonished and profoundly disturbed the folks at home in old Amsterdam Hitherto, though irritated by the highhanded conduct of Governor Printz in ejecting their fur traders from the River, the Dutch had abstained from any retaliatory acts of violence. Even when Stuyvesant with his overwhelming force had come to the River two years before, he had not attacked Fort Christina. Its capture would have been easy, but the Dutch had a decent respect for the Swedish nation, which under the great Gustavus in the Thirty Year War, had proved its military strength, strutting as cock-of-the-walk all over middle Europe. Therefore Stuyvesant had merely built Fort Casimir, a very gentle reprisal. But now stern measures were indicated.
In the streets of old Amsterdam drums beat up recruits. Two hundred were embarked in the warship Waag, and sailed for Manhattan. To this force Stuyvesant added six armed ships and with over 300 fighting men, soldiers and sailors, set out for the River.
On September 8th, 1655, he anchored above Fort Trefaldighet and posted 50 men below Christina to cut off communication between the two forts. The rest he landed at Trefaldighet and demanded its surrender. There was but a handful of soldiers in the fort; compliance with his demand was inevitable. So Trefaldighet became Casimir once more.
Then Stuyvesant went for Christina. Guns were landed and three entrenched batteries established about the Fort on its land-side. The armed ships were anchored at the mouth of Fiske Kill (Brandywine), thus the Fort was regularly besieged.
For 10 days the beleaguered garrison held out, no shot being fired on either side, although the Dutch burned Christinahamn and plundered the farms roundabout. But here again there was no possibility of real resistance. The Fort was surrendered and renamed Altena. So new Sweden disappeared.
But not the Swedes. They at least, were permanent. Though the Dutch now set up their government at Casimir and required the Swedes swear allegiance to it, there was little interference with them, and from Christina up the River the Swedes lived on, under a sort of extra-legal little government of their own.
Stuyvesant took his army and navy back to Manhattan. Jean Paul Jacquet was made Vice Director of the colony, now a part of New Netherland. He had been in office but a few months when the Mercurius, with its 110 emigrants its crew of 20 anchored off Casimir, a force numerous enough to smother the Dutch and retake the place. But no such attempt was made. The new people went further up and settled among their own countrymen.
There were political changes a few years later, Altena and Casimir, which was now called New Amstel, becoming the capitals of two separate colonies, but this was of little importance in the life of the people. New Dutch colonists arrived and settled in the lower colony. More Swedes came and settled up-River; the two peoples mingled and dwelt peaceably together. By 1663 the Swedes above were tilling over a hundred farms, well stocked with horses, cattle and swine. There was general prosperity above the Christina, where the population was almost exclusively Swedish engaged in farming, but among the Dutch at New Amstel, though it had grown to be “a goodly town of about 100 houses,” things were not going so well.
The Dutch settlers were not farmers, not many of them artisans; they were merchants and dealers in furs and commodities. They did not prosper in what commerce there was. Dissatisfaction, strife, hunger and disease in the years 1658 and 1659 brought New Amstel to the verge of ruin. Food had to be brought from Manhattan. A pestilence carried off many; many others deserted. By the end of 1659, when Director Jacob Alrichs died, there were scarcely 30 families left. What would have become of the Dutch colony had not stronger forces appeared on the scene, no one can say, but stronger forces did appear, the English.
At the Battle of Brandywine Gen. LaFayette was wounded in the leg. A Wilmington woman, Bell McCloskey, who had followed her soldier husband to the war, extracted the bullet with a pair of scissors. Nearly 50 years later, in 1824, when LaFayette was entertained at dinner in the Old Town Hall, Bell and gave him back his bullet.
On the Brandywine where now are the Bancroft mills, Joshua and Thomas Gilpin built a paper mill in 1787. At that time and for long after, all paper was made by hand in single sheets. Thomas Gilpin invented and built the first machine for making paper in continuous sheets of any desired length. This was put in successful operation in 1817. Thus the modern method of manufacturing paper had its birth in Wilmington, where at this time some of the best paper-making machines in the world are built by the Pusey and Jones Company.
The original names of the streets in Wilmington were later changed. The present Fourth Street was High Street, Fifth was Queen, 6th was Hanover, 7th was Broad, 8th was Kent, 9th was Wood, l0th was Chestnut, 11th was Elizabeth, 12th was Dickinson, 13th was Franklin, 14th was Washington, 15th was Stidham, Washington was Pasture.
The English Conquest
Based on the discovery of the Atlantic mainland of North America, made in 1497 by John Cabot under the auspices of Henry VII of England, Charles II laid claim to the whole seaboard and-all its hinterland. In 1664 he gave to his brother James, Duke of York, about everything in sight from Maine to New Jersey inclusive. The Dutch then held Manhattan, the Hudson River valley, Long Island and the Delaware. To reduce this land to possession, James, as Lord High Admiral of the English navy, ordered away a fleet of 3 warships, mounting 120 guns, and a troop transport with 450 soldiers aboard. In September of the same year, this fleet, commanded by Col. Richard Nicolls, reached Manhattan and demanded its surrender. Peter Stuyvesant the Dutch governor had 150 soldiers, a battery of 20 guns and very little powder. There were only 250 other men in the town, and- many of these were disaffected and unwilling to resist. Nevertheless Stuyvesant refused the demand. Though the burgomasters and the leading citizens pleaded with him to submit, the tough old Dutchman held out for ten days, during which time the English commander out of humanity forbore to fire on the town. At length when troops had been landed below Breukelen (Brooklyn) and two ships had been laid broadside to New Amsterdam (New York), Stuyvesant yielded to the tearful protests of two clergymen and gave up the town.
But what had all this to do with the Dutch posessions on the west shore of the Delaware, whcih were not included in York’s grant from the King? Soldierlike, Nicolls did not bother his head with such legal difficiencies.
“Whereas wee have been enformed that the Dutch have seated themselves at Delaware bay, on his Mty. of Great Brittaine’s territoryes without his knowledge and consent . . . Wee, his Matyes. Commissioners . . . do order & appoint that his Maties. ffrygotts, the Guinney and the William & Nicholas and all the Soldyers which are not in the Fort shall with all speed they conveniently can, goe thither under the command of Sr. Robert Carr to reduce the same.” Such was Sir Robert’s commission and he obeyed it.
At New Amstel (New Castle), he landed troops and summoned the town to surrender. In the fort were a few cannon and a handful of men. No real resistance was possible yet the Lieut. Alexander d’Hinoyossa, the Director of the colony, prepared to fight. Two broadsides from the ships followed by an assault. The English swept over the meagre defenses and took the fort at the first onslaught. Three Dutchmen were killed and ten wounded. These were no casualties on the other side.
The English then sacked the fort and plundered the town. The country round about was sytematically looted. “One hundred sheep and 30 or 40 horses, 50 or so 60 cows, between 60 and 70 negroes, the brewhouse, stillhouse . . . the produce of the land for that year, such as corn, hay &c were seized for the King’s use… all to the value, as near as can be remembered of 4,000 pounds sterling,” in fact everything of value, that was movable, was swept away from the miserable, unresisting colonists. Carr took the Director’s house and farm for himself, gave other houses to his officers, shipped d’Hinoyossa’s slaves to Maryland and traded them for beef, pork and salt. The Dutch soldiers, prisoners of war, he shipped to Virginia and sold them as bondsmen.
With the capture of New Amstel, then named New Castle, resistance to the Duke of York’s pretensions on the Delaware was at an end. All the Dutch colonies were lost. The English flag, the third national flag in succession, waved in the breeze over Delaware. Not until a century and a decade had passed was it permanently replaced by the Stars and Stripes.
No Gov. of Del. before or since
Has weighed as much as Johan Printz.
In the Thirty Years War, a sad conflict of creeds,
Gustavus Adoiphus, the King of the Swedes,
Astonished the world with his valorous deeds.
Governor Rising’s valor was such
That he captured Fort Casimir, built by the Dutch.
But Stuyvesant came with an army of men
And took all the forts on the River again.
When Rodney was summoned by Thomas McKean,
He rode all the night through a downpour of rain
To vote for Tom /eflerson’s bold Declaration
That announced to the people the Birth of a Nation.
The British in Long Island’s fight
Soon put the other Yanks to flight,
But Haslet’s men refused to yield
And were the last to leave the field.
In Princeton’s fight brave Haslet fell,
Who’d served his country long and well.
Delaware Troops In The Revolution
The first Delaware regiment mustered in for service in the Revolution consisted of 800 men under CoL John Haslet, Lt. Col. Gunning Bedford and Maj. John McPherson. On August 25-27, 1776, as a part of Washington’s army in their first engagement, the disastrous Battle of Long Island, these four-weeks-old soldiers “behaved with the courage and firmness of veterans”. “The Delaware and Maryland troops stood firm to the last: they stood for four hours drawn up on a hill in close array, their colors flying the enemy’s artillery playing upon them, nor did they think of quitting their pout until an express order from the General commanded them to retreat.” Gen Israel Putnam praised “the unparalleled bravery they showed in view of all the generals and troops within the lines.” This regiment constituted one-tenth of the American army; it suffered one-seventh of the total loss.
At White Plains, October 28, 1776, it was the major part of a force that held a hill against a most severe attack by greater numbers, and, when dislodged, retreated in good order with its guns and its wounded.
In subsequent battles it further distinguished itself. But at Princeton gallant Haslet fell and, as the regiment was now, through loss in battle, sickness and withdrawals to join the new Continental regiment just being formed, reduced to less than 100 men, it was disbanded.
Late in 1776 the first Delaware Regiment of the Continental Line, the newly established American “regular army”, was mustered in under Col. David Hall, Lt. Col. Charles Pope, Maj. Joseph Vaughan. John Patten was captain of its first company, Robert Kirkwood of its second. In 1777 it was part of Washington’s army in the Jerseys, taking part in the Battles of Monmouth and Germantown, where Hall was so severely wounded that he never again saw active service.
In the latter part of 1778 the scene of activity in the war shifted to the South. Savannah, Augusta and Charleston were taken by the British. There were no regular American forces in South Carolina or Georgia, but the American partisans under Sumter, Pickens and Marion contended desperately with the British army and the Tory irregulars. To reinforce Gates in North Carolina two picked bodies of regulars were detached by Washington and sent South under Baron de Kalb. One was the Maryland division of 2,000 men, the other the Delaware regiment of 800 under Lt. Col. Joseph Vaughan.
These soldiers had few uniforms, some wore hunting shirts, some common clothes, “some with hats cocked and some without,” but each wore a green sprig in his hat and bore his firelock “with an air of skilful training.”
The march to the Carolinas was long and rough. There were few roads, many swamps and rivers, few bridges. They had no proper wagon-train of supplies and food; they lived on the country and t country it was. By July, in North Carolina, each man had one-half pound of flour in 14 days and an occasional half-pound of almost uneatable meat. Their condition was “truly miserable, weak sickly.” Throughout the whole campaign they had little or no tentage, supplies of all sorts were lacking. For new shoes they looked to their enemies feet.
They fought in the Battle of Camden. Before a British charge, the Virginia militia holding the centre and left broke and fled. On the Marylands and Delawares, with one North Carolina regiment posted beside them, fell the whole brunt of the battle, and, says Lossing, the historian, “nobly they sustained it.”
Attacked in front and on the flank, they answered with a bayonet-charge and took 50 prisoners. Outnumbered, they had to give ground, but regained it. Again driven back, they rallied again and retook their old position. “Never,” says Bancroft, “did troops show greater courage than these men of Maryland and Delaware.” “No men,” says Henry Cabot Lodge, “could have fought better than these soldiers.” John Fiske in his American Revolution describes the closing scene. “Long after the battle was lost in every other quarter, the gigantic form of Kolb unhorsed and fighting on foot, was seen directing the movements of his brave Maryland and Delaware troops, till he fell dying from eleven wounds.”
The Delaware regiment was nearly annihilated. Out of 500, who went into the battle only 188 were left alive and free. Lt. Col. Vaughan and Maj. Patten were captured. Capt. Kirkwood took command of the remnant. Without provision or supplies of any sort, he marched them 123 miles in five days to rejoin the army.
Greene now had replaced Gates in general command. The two Delaware cornpanies were brigaded with Col. Wm. Washington’s cavalry and the company of riflemen, all under Gen. Daniel Morgan. This was called “The Flying Army.” Unhampered by wagons or baggage of any sort these soldiers moved often and rapidly. On November 4th they were sent out to reconnoitre, on the 9th they were back in camp, “100 miles” laconically notes Sergt. Maj. Seymour in his journal. On November 28th they started for Rugeley’s Mill, 50 miles away. December 1st they arrived, captured 107 Tory soldier. and on the 3rd were back in camp again. Yet at this very time they were all in “the most shocking condition for want of clothing, especially shoes.” They were “obliged to march and do duty barefooted, the chief part of them wanting coats and shoes.”
Lt. Col. Tarleton, that dashing British cavalryman, came upon the Flying Army in January 1781 at Cowpens. With 1100 well-fed troops, part cavalry, and two guns, he furiously attacked Morgan’s 870 ragged, hungry men. They drew back, but reformed, the Virginians. outflanking the British and causin some confusion. Then the old Continentals, those veteran Marylands and Delawares, charged with the bayonet and smashed the British centre. The enemy fled in disorder, leaving their field- pieces behind. Washington’s cavalry chased them 24 miles. The American loss was 12 killed, 60 wounded. The British lost 10 officers, more than a hundred men killed, 200 wounded and 550 taken prisoners. A hundred cavalry-horses, 35 wagons and 800 muskets also fell into American hands.
Greene was not strong enough to fight Cornwallis’s whole army. There followed a game of hide-and-seek between them. Again the Delawares and Marylands were part of a mobile force, “a light army,” of 700 men, with Washington’s cavalry and Harry Lee’s light horse. Lossing calls it “the flower of the Southern army.” In a long and hard-fought retreat, they were the rear-guard, often in sight of the British advance and always on duty. Six hours sleep out of 48 was the usual allowance. In a running fight at high speed through a rough country, they held the British back until on February 12th, Greene’s army had safely crossed the Dan River.
On March 16 at Guilford Court-house, this light army suitained and repulsed a charge. A second heavy attack by Webster’s regulars they withstood “so valiantly that Webster recoiled and fell back across a ravine.”
At Hobkirk’s Hill on April 25th Lord Rawdon attacked. “Captain Kirkwood with the remains of the Delaware regiment gallantly received and returned the, fire of the British van and kept them at bay while Greene formed his army.”
On May 22nd Greene’s army came on a stockaded Tory camp called Ninety Six, held by 550. men. The American force was now down to 1000, the Delawares were down to 60. Greene invested the fort, but the garrison held out. On June 18th Lee’s Virginian. and Kirkwood’s Delawares attacked and took the main stockade, but other stockades withstood the attack. Lord Rawdon’s forces were coming on, and Greene had to call off his men. There followed three months of advances and retreat.. In four weeks Kirkwood’s men marched 360 miles, crossing 10 rivers.
At Eutaw Springs on August 22, Greene with 2,000 men attacked an force. The fighting was fierce; a bayonet charge, in which the Delawares part, broke the British line. But Washington’s cavalry got caught in a and half of them fell. The Delawares hurried to the rescue of their old comrades and drove the British back. The battle was indecisive, and the Americans withdrew. Kirkwood’s men and a party of Virgimans were the last to leave the field. His journal says “Found our army had withdrawn from the field, made it necessary for us likewise to withdraw. Brought off one of the enemy’s 3 pounders through a thick woods for near four miles, without the assistance of but one horse.”
After Eutaw Springs there were no more battles, and the surrender at Yorktown virtually ended the war. It remained only for these few heroic survivors of the original 800 to find thir way home in their ragged garments and bursted shoes, with no provision for transport nor sustenance, which, however, was what they had been accustomed to in their two years of constant campaigning. So ended the distinguished career of the Delaware Regiment of the Continental Line.
Though in modern times the record of that regiment is little known, and its gallant deeds are unregarded, its contemporaries recognized its merits. General Greene in his report of the Guilford battle mentioned “the old Delaware companyunder the brave Captain Kirkwood.” Henry Lee in his memoirs speaks of “the Company of Delaware under Kirkwood, to whom none could be superior.” Greene again in the orders of the day after Hobkirk’s Hill mentions “the gallant behavior of the light infantry commanded by Captain Kirkwood.” After Ninety-Six they are praised for “their judicious and alert behavior.” In the orders for Eutaw Springs they are called “the gallant infantry of Delaware.” In a letter to the Congress he mentions Kirkwood’s men as “peculiarly conspicuous” for intrepidity. Congress responds by giving them thanks for “unparalleled bravery and heroism displayed in advancing upon the enemy through an incessant fire and charging them with an impetuosity and ardor that could not be resisted.”
Robert Kirkwood, to whose inspiration and example these soldiers owed so much, was born in Mill Creek Hundred and educated at Newark Academy. In January, 1776, at the age of 46 he was commissioned a lieutenant in Haslet’s regiment. He was at the Battles of White Plains, Long Island, Trenton and Princeton and then transferred to the new Continental regiment.
Henry Lee in his Memoirs wrote, “The State of Delaware furnished one regiment only and certainly no regiment in the army surpassed it in soldiership. The remnant of that corps, less than two companies, from the Battle of Camden, was commanded by Captain Kirkwood, who passed through the war with high reputation; and yet, as the line of Delaware consisted but of one regiment and that regiment was reduced to a Captain’s command, Kirkwood never could be promoted in regular course. The sequel is singularly hard. Kirkwood retired upon peace, as a Captain and when the army under St. Clair was raised to defend the West from the Indian enemy, this veteran resumed his sword as the oldest captain in the oldest regiment. In the decisive defeat of the 4th of November 1791, gallant Kirkwood fell, bravely sustaining his point in the action. It was the thirty-third time he had risked his life for his country, and he died, as had lived, the brave, meritorious, unrewarded Kirkwood.”
The Affair at Cooch’s Bridge
The British army of 18,000 men under Gen. Howe landed near Head of Elk (Elkton) August 25, 1777. On September 5, the division commanded by Lord Cornwallis marched to Aikin’s Tavern (Glasgow). Its advance units were then ordered to proceed to Cooch’s Mill, two miles, cross Christina River by the bridge there and take up positions beyond. The leading troops in this advance were Hessians.
Washington’s army of 12,000 were entrenched behind Red Clay Creek on a line extending from Newport to Stanton, where he expected to give battle. A detachment of 800 light infantry under Gen. William Maxwell had been sent to watch the movement of the British army and impede its progress.
As the Hessian advance came along the west side of the Christina, there a very shallow stream, Maxwell’s men on the other side began firing. So for about two miles a running fight was kept up across the stream.
At Cooch’s Bridge the British found the Americans strongly posted to oppose their crossing. A heavy skirmish ensued at that point before Maxwell’s men were dislodged and driven off toward Stanton. The American casualties, killed and wounded, were about 40, the British loss is unknown.
Howe avoided the American entrenchment keeping away to the westward through Newark and thence to Kennett Square and so to Chadd’s Ford, to which place Washington had withdrawn his army, and there, on September 11 the Battle of the Brandywine was fought.
The affair at Cooch’s Bridge was the only fight of the Revolution on Delaware soil.
The British in Wilmington, September, 1777
In the night of September 12, 1777, after their victory in the Battle of the Brandywine, a detachment of British dragoons made a sudden descent upon Wilmington. John McKinly, President of i)elaware State, was surprised and captured in his house on Third Street between King and French. He was taken on board the Solebay man-of-war, lying off New Castle, and finally to Long Island, where he remained a prisoner for a year and until he was exchanged for William Franklin, royal governor of New Jersey, whom the Americans had taken captive.
A hospital for the British wounded was established in the First Presbyterian Church, then standing on the east side of Market Street at Tenth, the present site of the Wilmington Institute Library building, but since re-erected in Brandywine Park.
A considerable detachment of British troops, the Queen’s Rangers, a Scots regiment and some companies of Hessians, garrisoned the town for two or three months. To defend it against possible attack by Washington’s army, it was fortifled. Earthworks were erected where Market Street crosses the Brandywine and a hundred men were posted there. At about where Broom Street reaches the stream other soldiers were stationed. To the west of the town, beyond the King’s Road about in a line with the present Tenth Street, a small fort, flanked by a long line of palisades, was built. The palisades extended southerly to the Lancaster Pike and terminated in an earthwork. A hundred and fifty men held this line of defense. The principal encampment was west of the present Washington Street, running from Front Street northerly across Delaware Avenue.
At that time Wilmington had 335 houses and a population of about 1300.
In December, after the British had withdrawn their forces to Philadephia, Gen. Washington ordered an American occupation of the town. General Smallwood’s division, consisting of two brigades of Marylanders and Haslet’s Delaware regiment, was established there. Their principal camp was along the Shallcross and Lovering Avenues west of Broom Street. They remained in Wilmington until May, 1778, when both armies resumed active military operations.
The Fight Between The Wasp and The Frolic
The American sloop-of-war Wasp, 18 guns under Master Commadant Jacob Jones, a native of Delaware, left the Capes on October 13th, 1812 and headed southeast to look for British shipping. A few days later she ran into a terrific gale which split her sails and washed some of her men overboard. Repairs at tea enabled her to keep on. The evening of the 17th she sighted a; British fleet. In the gathering darkness Jones was unable to make out whether they were armed and to stood off until morning. Then he saw that they were merchant-men under the escort of the very match for his ship, the 18 gun brig Frolic, Capt. Thomas Whinyates. At once Jones shortened sail and stood in for a fight Capt. Whinyates, having signalled his convoy to scatter, also cleared for action.
The seas were still tumultuous. The two ships were side by side within 60 feet of each other when the fight began, but they pitched and rolled so wildly that the muzzles of their guns were now washed by the waves and now pointing skyward. The British ship chose to fire while its guns were pointing upwards and, within ten minutes after the fight began, the Wasp’s upper masts and yards and most of her running rigging had been shot away; aloft she was a wreck. But the fire of the American ship was delivered while her guns were low. The Frolics hull was desperately pounded and her decks swept by chain-shot and grape.
When Jones’s masts were so shattered that they seemed to be about to go by the board, he closed with the Frolic for a fight to a finish. The vessels were so near each other that the ends of the American rammers struck the side of the enemy as they drove home their charges. At last the ships crashed together, and Jones gave the order, “Boarders away!” Only two of the Americans were able to clamber aboard the Frolic, but they were enough, for there were but four men on her deck, a man at the wheel and three officers so badly wounded that they could hardly stand. They surrendered.
Of the Frolic’s crew of 110 only 20 were unhurt, of the Wasp’s crew only 5 had been killed and 5 wounded. It was one of the fiercest naval fights of the war and one of the most hrilliantly fought on the part of the Americans, but it had an unfortunate end.
Before Jones could put hit ship in order for his return, a British ship-of-the-line Poictiers mounting 74 guns came in sight. Surrender to it was inevitable. Both the Wasp and Frolic were carried to Bermuda. Jones and his men were, however, soon exchanged and returned to their own country.
The defeat of the Frolic, coming so soon after the victory of the Constitution in its fight with the Guerriere, was greeted by the Americans with great enthusiasm. On Jones’s return he was received with demonstrations of gratitude and admiration. In every city through which he passed “brilliant entertainments” were given in his honor. New York City and the State of Delaware each gave him a sword. Congress voted him a gold medal and, to him and his men, to make up for the prize-money they had lost, the sum of $25,000. Songs were sung in praise of the victory, one stanza of one of them ran thus:
“The foe bravely fought but his arms were all broken,
And he fled from his death-wound aghast and aifrighted;
But the Wasp darted forward her death-doing sting
And full on his bosom like lightning alighted.
She pierced through his entrails, she maddened his brain,
And he writhed and he groaned as if torn with the colic;
And long shall John Bull rue the terrible day
He met the American Wasp on a Frolic.”
Jacob Jones was born March, 1768, near Smyrna. He graduated in medicine but, after serving for a while as clerk of the Supreme Court of Delaware, he was commissioned second the navy April 10, 1790, as a midshipman. In 1801 he was commissioned second lieutenant. He was aboard the frigate Philadelphia when she was captured in the Bay of Tripoli and was a prisoner for 18 months. In 1813 he was given command of the frigate Macedonian. He rose to the rank of commodore and remained in the service until his death in 1850.
Oliver Evans, a native of Delaware, born at Newport in 1755, was one of America’s earliest important inventors. After an apprenticeship as a wheelwright, Evans, at the age of 21 years, invented a machine for cutting card-teeth used in carding wool and cotton, such teeth having before that time been made only by hand. For certain inprovements in flour-milling machinery he obtained patents in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In 1787 he designed the first non-condensing high-pressure steam-engine. In 1799 he applied such an engine to a vehicle, which could be used as a steam road-carnage, a steamboat and a dredging machine. It had its first practically successful test in 1804 on land and on the Delaware River. This was the first use in America of steam-power for propulsion land-carriages.
Evans had in mind the principles of steam-railways, which in 1813 he described in some detail, but for lack of funds could not realize his vision. “To the initiative of Evans may be ascribed the early general use of high-pressure steam in the United States, a feature which for many years distinguished American from English practice.”
In 1790, 17 years before Robert Fulton’s Clermont made its first trip on the Hudson, John Fitch had a steamboat of his own invention in successful operation on the Delaware carrying passengers for hire. He had secured patents from legislatures of Pennsylvania and New Jersey giving him a monopoly of steam-navigation on the River. His invention was not, however, a financial succesi Poverty-stricken and overcome by disappointment, he committed suicide in 1798.
The Battle of Lake Champlain
In the late Summer of 1814 Thomas Macdonough, a native of Delaware, 28 years of age and 14 years.in service in the navy, was in command of the little American fleet on Lake Champlain consisting of his flagship Saratoga 200 men and 26 guns, the brig Eagle 20 guns, the schooner Ticon’leroga and the sloop Preble 7 guns each and 10 small row-galleys carrying one gun each; in aU 86 guns and 882 men. The American army in and about Piatts burg, already in a “deplorable state of unreadiness and inefficiency,” had been further weakened by the despatch of 4,000 men to the Niagara territory. General Pret’ost with 10,000 British soldiers, Veterans of the Peninsular campaign under Wellington, was marching down from Canada on almost defenseless Plattsburg, whose capture would be followed by an easy conquest of all northeastern New York.
On September 5th the British encamped before the town, awaiting the arrival of Capt. George Downie with the British fleet, so that their combined forces might more easily take the town and the American ships, too. Macdonough deployed his vessels in Plattsburg Bay and awaited attack. On September 11th Downie’s fleet arrived, a flagship, Confiance 300 men and 38 guns, brig Linnet 16 guns, sloops Chub and Finch, 11 guns each and 12 galleys mounting 20 guns; in all 96 guns and about 1000 men. Downie immediately went into action, leading off with the Confiance which started for the Eagle, but, the wind failing, had to engage the Saratoga. The Linnet went for the Eagle and temporarily disabled her, but the Chub was badly mauled and surrendered and the Finch ran aground. This left the Saratoga to fight it out with the Confiance, 200 men against 300, 26 guns against 38.
The first shot of the fight between the two flagships was aimed and fired by Macdonough himself as the enemy came on. It sped the entire length of the Confiance’s deck killing several men and demolishing the wheel. Confiance’s reply when she swung into position a cable’s length from the Saratoga, was a broadside from 16 24 pounders, double shotted and coolly aimed at point-blank range. It swept Saratoga’s deck, killing or wounding 40 men, one-fifth of the entire crew. So many American gunners were killed that Macdonough jumped down from the quarter-deck to serve one of the guns. A shot cut one of his spars, and a piece of wood knocked him senseless. Recovering, he returned to the gun, when the head of the gun-captain was struck off by a shot and hit Macdonough in the face, knocking him down again.
The guns along the fighting side of the Saratoga were so pounded by the Confiance’s fire that all but one were useless. Now this last gun broke loose and plunged down a hatch. The ship was silenced. It seemed time to surrender, but not so to Macdonough.
He cut his bow cable, dropped an anchor astern and wound his ship about so that the other side with its useful guns was toward the enemy.
Confiance tried a similar manaeuvre without success and, after the battle had raged for more than two hours, the British ship was surrendered. The American loss was 52 killed, 58 wounded; the enemy lost more than 200.
The position of the British army was now untenable. The 10,000 veterans withdrew to Canada. So Macdonough turned back a tide of invasion that would have overflowed all New York and New England.
Macdonough’s victory was hailed throughout the States with tremendous enthusiasm and nowhere more so than in Delaware. On September 18th the troops in camp in Wilmington fl-red a feu de joie; the Wilmington Artillerists, in camp at Elkton under Capt. Rodney, fired a salute; the Veteran Corps of Wilmington under Col. Allen McLane paraded and saluted. The Delaware legislature voted him a sum of money to buy a piece of plate. Congress gave him the thanks of the nation and a gold medal. New York gave him 2000 acres of land and Vermont a similar estate at Plattsburg. It has been said of him, “His fame among naval men outshines Perry’s and he is rated the greatest fighting sailor who flew the American flag until Farragut surpassed them all.”
Thomas Macdonough was born at The Trap-now called Macdonough December 23, 1783. He came from a fighting stock; his father had been a major in Col. Haslet’s Delaware regiment, his brother, James, a midshipman aboard the Constellation in its fight with L’Insurgente and his uncle Patrick had fought under St. Clair against the Indians in 1791.
He entered the navy as midshipman in 1800, served under Decatur in the Tripolitan war and was one of the volunteers who boarded the captured Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli and burned her. In 1807 he was made a lieutenant and in 1813 a commodore. He died November 10, 1825 and was buried at Middletown, Connecticut.