Two days before Brandywine
By Steven Hoffman
On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies declared their independence from England. Within a month, 30,000 British troops landed in New York to join forces that had already been stationed there in hopes of quelling the rebellion. By the spring of 1777, the Royal Army had started developing a plan to take Philadelphia, and in July the British troops, under the command of General William Howe, left Staten Island in 260 ships to get in position to attack the colonial capital. In August, Howe’s forces landed near Cecil County, Maryland. Meanwhile, the Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, moved to Wilmington, Del. to block the main path to Philadelphia. Chester County was soon a battleground, with the opposing forces skirmishing with each other over a two-week period. On September 9, 1777, approximately 15,000 Royal Army soldiers began arriving in the Kennett Village along the Great Nottingham Road. The British troops and the Continental Army would clash in what became known as the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777.
It was activity leading up to and surrounding the battle that was the focus of Kennett Square’s Town Tours & Village Walks event on Thursday, June 22.
A large crowd of more than 200 people lined up to enjoy the tour as guides escorted groups to points of interest around Kennett Square, and a number of re-enactors and actors illustrated the arrival, encampment, and departure of the British and Hessian troops, focusing on how the troops interacted with local residents.
Peter Bell, a tavern owner, was upset that the British troops and Hessians came into town with few supplies and were taking what they wanted from locals. The troops were taking cider and rum from the tavern. Peter Giangiulio an experienced actor and the chairperson of the Kennett Amateur Theatrical Society, portrayed Bell with just the right amount of exasperation and anger.
Not far from Bell, General Charles Cornwallis, who was portrayed on the tour by Kennett Square resident Peter Waterkotte, directed his troops to wait for the roar of firing guns from soldiers under the direction of General Wilhelm von Knyphasen so that they could carry out the plan to out-maneuver the colonial forces.
General Knyphasen, meanwhile, invited Kennett area residents to join the Royal Army in the battle if they were loyalists to the British crown. At the time, some people living in the colonies supported independence, but others wanted the colonies to remain loyal to England. On the tour, Timothy Osgood represented the latter. He explained that England was the greatest society in the world, and there was no good reason to not want to be a part of that.
Nearby, a camp follower busied herself trying to get all the mending and cooking finished.
Major Patrick Ferguson, a Scottish officer in the British Army, was out recruiting loyalists. During the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson had a shot at a prominent American officer—some historians believe that the officer may have been Gen. George Washington himself. But Ferguson did not shoot the officer because his back was turned. Obviously, the course of U.S. history could have changed dramatically on that day if Ferguson had shot Washington. Later in the battle, Ferguson himself was injured badly after being hit with a shot.
The script that was used on the tour incorporated aspects of local author Kevin Sheridan's book, “The Timepiece Chronicles—Battle of Brandywine Creek,” and one of the ideas that the book explores is the potential impact of traveling back in time and interfering with the course of history.
In Sheridan’s book, best friends Jeff Williams and Ben Styler go back in time to save Gen. George Washington from death at the Battle of Brandywine Creek. Sheridan, a resident of Kennett Square, was at Sinclair’s Sunrise Cafe to sign copies of his book and to answer any questions that people had about the story.
Lynn Sinclair, who helped plan the Town Tours & Village Walks event in Kennett Square, said that credit should be given to the Kennett Amateur Theatrical Society and Anne Sheridan's Drama Club at the YMCA for arranging for actors to portray the characters during the tour. The Chadds Ford Historical Society provided some of the period costumes. The Friends of Kennett Square History guided the groups through town.
Lisa Teixeira, a member of KATS, summed up the purpose of the Town Tours & Village Walks event by saying, “It’s another good opportunity to shine a light on our great town.”
Each summer for the last 23 years, the Chester County Board of Commissioners, through collaboration with the Chester County Planning Commission, the Chester County Historical Society, Westtown Township, the Chester County Historic Preservation Network, and the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau have planned the Town Tours and Village Walks series as a way to showcase the county's rich heritage and historic landscape.
The Town Tours and Village Walks in Chester County will continue throughout the summer. More information about upcoming dates for events can be found at chesco .org / planning/towntours