It was Sept. 3, 1777, and the British had moved into Delaware from Maryland on their way to Philadelphia. If they could capture the capital of the new country, the Revolution would surely end. At least, that’s how it worked in Europe.
Little did they know that about 800 Americans lay in wait, hiding in the brush along Christiana Creek. There was little chance of defeating the British army, which was 4,000 strong. But that wasn’t the primary goal. “The Americans wanted to disrupt the British and cause confusion,” said Bill Conley, president of the Pencader Heritage Area Association. “They were also doing reconnaissance for Gen. George Washington to get more information about the British army.” At that time, Washington was holed up near what’s now Stanton.
Hessians, German soldiers for hire, led the British through the area, beginning at Aiken Town, now called Glasgow. The American ambush was initially successful—it caught the British off guard, but they pushed forward. “It was a running battle,” Conley said. There was severe fighting at Cooch’s Bridge. Out of ammunition, the Americans retreated. About 20 lost their lives.
Those men will be remembered on Wednesday, Sept. 7, beginning at 7 p.m., at a Battlefield Memorial Ceremony. The free event, held at Pencader Heritage Museum in Newark, also honors U.S. veterans from other wars and conflicts.
The ceremony features Delaware re-enactor units. French army re-enactors were also invited to represent the American allies’ encampment in this area in 1781, when they were en route to and from victory celebrations at Yorktown.
Fifth Annual Battlefield Memorial Ceremony
Wednesday, Sept. 7th
7pm to 8pm
Pencader Heritage Museum
2029 Sunset Lake Road
(302) 737-5792 or pencaderheritage.org
Raising awareness about Delaware’s Revolutionary War battle and the area’s role in history is a primary goal of the Pencader Area Heritage Association, which was founded in 2001 to collect, document and preserve the physical and oral culture of Pencader Hundred. One of the “hundreds” created to delineate territorial subdivisions, Pencader roughly starts around Summit Aviation and includes Iron Hill and the former site of the Chrysler plant. Its name is Welsh for “highest seat,” and the Welsh were early settlers.
The three-room Pencader Heritage Museum, located in a circa 1865 dairy barn on the Cooch-Dayett Mills property, features such relics as a Hessian short sword, found on the Cooch’s Bridge battlefield, and British cannonballs dropped during their encampment. There are also documents and relics from the Chrysler plant’s days as a tank-manufacturing site. (The Delaware Nature Society offers programs in the mill, built by William Cooch Jr. in 1838.)
Conley, once vice principal of Glasgow High School, got involved with the association when he retired in 2006. As a former history teacher and retired Army colonel, he was fascinated by the engagement at Cooch’s Bridge, part of the British campaign to take Philadelphia, a strategy spearheaded by Gen. Charles Cornwallis.
Pencader Hundred History and the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge
Excerpts of interviews with Pencader Heritage Area Association members at the Pencader Heritage Museum
After leaving Delaware, the British again encountered the Americans in Chadds Ford, Pa., and in Germantown. The British took Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 1777, but the Continental Congress already had fled to safety. Despite British hopes, the war continued for six more years.
Many of the Delawareans at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge fought in the other battles and wintered with Washington at Valley Forge. “If nothing else, it was a forced march,” Conley said. “These were 18- and 19-year-olds from Newark. They hung together. It’s a great testament to Washington that they would stay even in the face of defeat.”
Not many people know about the events that took place in Delaware in 1777 and again in 1781 when the French camped near Glasgow. “It’s an unknown story,” Conley said of the events. “We want to proclaim it to everyone.”