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At Rochambeau Park - TravelStorys

Follow the French

Location Trip Time Travel Type
New York 3 hours

At Rochambeau Park

Welcome to the Rochambeau Park, which is also known as the Yorktown Grange Fairgrounds. During the Revolutionary Way, many French soldiers encamped here and in the other areas of present-day Yorktown.   After a grueling journey through largely unsettled land devastated by war — with only a church, small farm or little village cluster scattered here and there — the French forces arrived here in present-day Yorktown on August 21st, 1781. This community was known as Crompond in 1781, and we’ll explain how it became Yorktown later on. The army consisted of over 5,000 French men, a few women, servants, waggoners, 1,500 horses, and hundreds of wagons pulled by as many as 2,000 oxen. It was important for the troops to rest, recuperate and regain their strength before they continued on their journey, as their next leg would include crossing the Hudson River.   The encampment is named for Hunt’s Tavern, which was a local watering hole built in 1767. The tavern is now Freyer’s Nursery and private property. Although this site is known as the sixteenth camp that French forces occupied on their route to Yorktown, Virginia, it is actually five separate locations strategically positioned to spread the regiments throughout the area. You can see their locations marked by red flags on your tour map. The main army took up two positions on either side of Baldwin Road. Another position was south of Hallock’s Mill Road. Two others were east and west of Hanover Street. The last camp was farther south, guarding the road leading from the Pine’s Bridge crossing over Croton River.   French soldier: Our encampment site is a small community called Crompond, 25 miles from where we started. It is spread out over a large area of open land, far from the British, with sloped ridgetops offering a good defensive position against surprise attack.    There are strict rules on how camps are set up. We sleep as many as nine men to a tent. In front of our neatly lined-up tents are our fireplaces and wagons, then come three rows of tents for our non-commissioned officers, and then tents with the colonel and lieutenant colonel in the very front. When we can follow these rules during peacetime, our camp is at least 450 feet wide and 250 feet deep, not counting our animals, butcheries, and latrines, which are at a distance behind us. But we are on campaign right now, and necessity requires that our little army is distributed over a large area.   Narrator: Although the soldiers did not know it at the time, their final destination would be a different Yorktown: Yorktown, Virginia.   The French army spent just one night at the Hunt’s Tavern encampment before being ordered to break camp and march thirteen miles to the crossing at Verplanck. Known as King’s Crossing then, that was the narrowest point this far north on the Hudson River. The American soldiers began to cross the river on August 19th, before the French arrived in Kings Crossing. But, by August 25th, 1781, the combined American and French armies had all boarded makeshift rafts and flatboats to cross the mighty Hudson. In six days and nights they moved thousands of troops, cannons, horses, oxen and equipment over the river to the western shore!   From there, the armies marched south in secret, hoping to remain undetected by British spies as they traveled to New Jersey, then through Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and on to Yorktown, Virginia — covering a total of over 500 miles. In September, Admiral DeGrasse’s navy had defeated the British navy in the Battle of the Capes, so the British army had no ships to rescue them from the Yorktown peninsula. With the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19th, 1781 — a huge American victory — the British began to realize they could not win this war waged so far away from their home. They were ready to negotiate a treaty.   After the success in Virginia, the French returned to Yorktown, New York, again in September 1782 on their victorious march north. (That’s why this is known as both the 16th and the 38th French Encampment.) This time, their stay was longer — five weeks to celebrate victory with the local residents. The French regiments were located in only four of the original five areas. You can see their locations marked by red flags on your tour map. One was on the north side of Baldwin Road, near Crompond Road. Another was located on the north slope of French Hill. An infantry unit was situated north of Hallock’s Mill Road. And still another regiment set up a position two miles south, on a hill in Croton Heights.   During their return stay, the French soldiers helped repair some of the ravages of the war. They restored the mill and part of the home of local militia Captain Samuel Delavan. They improved the local infrastructure by building an aqueduct to increase the water supply. And they constructed barracks in the fields and built two large field ovens to allow the army to bake bread.   But they also angered the local community by cutting large amounts of wood to burn to keep themselves warm in the cold winter weather. This included tearing down fences, which made great firewood, as they were already split and dry.   There was one unpleasant incident when the French were departing for Boston on October 20th, 1782. An American officer attempted to have Rochambeau arrested for failing to compensate the community for the wood his army had burned. Gracious as always, Rochambeau ordered his quartermaster to settle the dispute by paying for the damages. With this incident resolved, the French began their march to Massachusetts to board ships to take them home.   In the years that followed, residents changed the name of their community to Yorktown to celebrate the role that they played in achieving the victory in Yorktown, Virginia. Rochambeau Park was named in honor of the great French general in 1954.

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