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Part Of The Story Of The Revolution Lies In A Field On Church Hill Road



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Part Of The Story Of The Revolution Lies In A Field On Church Hill Road

By Jan Howard

There is more historic background to a house on Church Hill Road than just the date it was built. The inhabitants of the house in 1781 were no doubt eyewitnesses to history in the making.

Because of the need for movement of supplies and men during the Revolutionary War, the east-west road from Hartford to the Hudson River through Dutchess County in New York became a major route. To enhance this movement, Commander-in-Chief General George Washington had his troops construct a bridge across the Housatonic River at Newtown.

In June 1781, Count Rochambeau, commander of the French army, and four of his regiments used that east-west route to join General Washington and his forces in New York for the battle against Lord Cornwallis.

This spring, according to State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, a team of archaeologists began a mapping of the Rochambeau army’s route and its encampments.

Faith Gulick, the current owner of the Church Hill Road house, possesses a copy of a map showing the encampment of Count Rochambeau’s army on property on the left side of her house, which in 1781 was owned by members of the Sanford family. Samuel Sanford, II, who built the house in 1712, and his descendants made their home here for nearly 200 years. When Ms Gulick’s parents bought the house in 1957, they became only the third family name to have lived in the house. Following the Sanfords, Alfred M. Briscoe purchased the house about 1905. His family built surreys, wagons, sleighs, and carriages in what is now Ms Gulick’s garage.

“The field to the side of the driveway at my home was one of the areas where Rochambeau’s troops camped when they came through Newtown,” Ms Gulick said. “During this spring, a delegation was searching that area for remnants and told me this was the field where the artillery was kept.”

On the back of the copy of the map it is noted: “Map of Newtown, Connecticut, Circa 1781, from the papers of Andre Berthier, military engineer of the staff of Count Rochambeau, during the Revolutionary War. Copied from a slide and hand colored.”

Ms Gulick said the Iroquois pipeline is under that field now, but prior to its installation an archaeological excavation was made. “They were there one summer,” she said.

Mr Bellantoni said archaeological review and testing were completed prior to the construction of the pipeline. A report submitted by Iroquois referred to historical artifacts found at the site, which are now in the possession of the state. “They found broken ceramics and nails,” he said.

The new project by the non-profit Public Archaeology Survey Team (PAST) of Mansfield was recently funded by the legislature, Mr Bellantoni said. Its mission is to do mapping, historical research, and archaeological testing in regard to the route of Count Rochambeau’s army and campsites.

  The Sanfords as well as other Newtown residents must have seen Count Rochambeau and his four regiments as they marched up Church Hill Road in late June of 1781, on their way to Bedford, N.Y., to join General Washington and his forces.

In addition to the encampment of Count Rochambeau’s artillery division on the Sanford property, opposite Walnut Tree Hill Road, the map also shows the locations of other French army encampments in Newtown.

Count Rochambeau and his forces had previously marched from Providence, R.I., to Hartford, where he remained for two days to mend broken artillery carriages and rest horses and oxen. He and his first regiment arrived in Hartford on June 22. On June 23 he corresponded with General Washington, reporting on the arrival that day of a second regiment and the expected arrival of two others on two subsequent days.

Count Rochambeau wrote, “I shall set off the day after tomorrow with the first regiment for Newtown, the army to march in four divisions as before, and I shall probably arrive there on the 28th and stay the 29th and 30th to assemble the brigade and march in two divisions to the North River. The corps of Lauzun will march as far advanced as my first division through Middletown, Wallingford, North Haven, Ripton and North Stratford, in which last place it will be on the 28th.”

Obviously, General Washington was very much aware of the many local residents who were sympathetic to the British in this area, as noted in a letter to Lt Col Cobb, who carried a letter from him to Count Rochambeau. “As the Count with his troops is now in a very disaffected part of the country, and the Tories will be desirous to give any information in their power, the most profound secrecy and dispatch must prove the soul of success to the enterprise.”  In his letter to Count Rochambeau, General Washington urged the Count to push on his troops with greater haste to aid in a surprise operation he had planned.

On June 27, Count de Rochambeau encamped at Woodbury and reached Newtown on the 28th.

According to a segment of the History of the Catholic Church in the New England States, the French army “marched in regiments until reaching Newtown, following one another at intervals of a day’s march, or at a distance of about 15 miles. There was no rest except what was imperatively necessary. The officers wore coats of white broadcloth trimmed with green, white underdress and hats with two corners instead of three like the cocked hats worn by the American officers, paid all their expenses in hard money, committed no depredations and treated the inhabitants with great civility and propriety.”

According to the magazine, the army numbered 600 artillery, 600 cavalry, and 3,600 infantry, 4,800 men in all. Five men deserted from the ranks while in Newtown.

 On July 1, they broke camp and proceeded through Ridgebury, and reached Bedford, N.Y., on July 2, to join the American forces where they rested in two lines along the Hudson River at Phillipsburg. From there, the allied troops marched to King’s Ferry and reconnoitered to learn the position of the British works about New York.

Following the surrender of Lord Cornwallis on October 19, 1781, the French army marched to the coast to return to France, again passing through Newtown. The commander at that time was General Lafayette, who spent a night in Newtown with John Chandler, a Newtown lawyer who was the colonel of the 8th Regiment of Connecticut Continental troops during the war.

Information for this story was obtained from Johnson’s history of Newtown 1705 – 1918.

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