There’s so much history here in Chester County – from the roads we travel, to the places we visit, and sometimes even right in our own backyards. In fact, almost 250 years ago there were thousands of soldiers marching across the Brandywine Valley in what would come to be known as the largest single-day-land-battle of the entire American Revolution. While some elements of the Battle of Brandywine remain obvious, others must be “uncovered” in order to help understand and share their story.
In mid-December, the Chester County Planning Commission hosted a Brandywine Battlefield Task Force virtual event presenting new findings about the Battlefield’s southern landscapes discovered through a regional planning grant project, which was funded through the American Battle Protection Program. The event featured presentations from local Battlefield planning, historic military archeology, and research professionals, with a warm welcome and opening remarks by the County Commissioners.
“One of the hallmarks of Chester County is the celebration of our long history and the preservation of our historic structures and landscapes,” commented Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “This is particularly evident in tonight’s program, where we are recognizing the partnership between the County’s Planning Commission and Archives Department, our local historical commissions, and professional archeologists and military historians.”
Commissioner Josh Maxwell spoke next, noting the significance of the Brandywine Battlefield project when it comes to connecting residents and visitors to local history. “This program has been designed to feature the sites where you and your family can visit to explore the remarkable preserved landscape, and try to imagine what it would have been like to have 30,000 soldiers and camp followers descend on our Brandywine Valley almost 250 years ago,” said Maxwell. “Within your community you can still see what British, Hessian, and American soldiers and community members like yourself also saw. You can learn about preserved buildings which are still lived in today, open lands across which troops marched and walked, and roads you travel that were British marching routes.”
“Our special thanks goes out to the southern battlefield municipalities, where the early stage of the battle took place,” commented Commissioner Michelle Kichline. “For their work to preserve and tell this story – and for the work that the Brandywine Task Force has done, and all of our historical commissions and the work that they do to document and preserve our history.”
Jeannine Speirs, Project Manager and Senior Community Planner with the Planning Commission, presented background information on the Battle of Brandywine, including its significance ‘in a nutshell’ and how the battle became recognized in National History. She also provided historical resources and other information which can be helpful for those who are interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of the battle. Speirs represents the Planning Commission on the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force, serving as an Administrator.
Next, Wade Catts, Project Archaeological Consultant from South River Heritage Consulting, highlighted various methods of research which led to new findings and battlefield discoveries, as well as newly discovered Battlefield sites! Catts featured sites, roads, and buildings, such as meetinghouses and taverns, which defined 18th century landscapes (there were not small or rural towns like there are today), played a role in the battle and you can still see/experience today. For example, clarified through this project is the nature of the events of the American advanced guard defenses strategy and the culminating “running battle” that occurring through General Maxwell’s American light infantry orchestrated a series of skirmishes with the advancing Eastern Crown Forces column as they advanced east along the 1743 Great Nottingham Road (Baltimore Pike). These engagements led to the major combat that took place further east throughout the remainder of the day.
Closing the program, John E Smith III from the Chester County Archives Department spoke about researching the 1777 properties and roads, as well as a family story which was uncovered through the process (the Graves family). He also highlighted the county’s 1777 Property Atlas, which provides a glimpse into what the battle-era landscape looked like (public roads, property owners, points of interest, and British plundering).
This was a well-attended event with at least 260 people. To view the live webinar recording, visit https://youtu.be/yxb6EIPgxhE.
To view the PDF document, “The Army Marched at Dawn – Southern Battlefield Strategic Landscapes Plan,” visit https://www.chesco.org/DocumentCenter/View/60800/Southern-BB-Plan-entire-document.
To learn more about the Brandywine Battlefield project, including next phases and other information, visit https://chescoplanning.org/HisResources/BattleBrandywine.cfm.