On ground where George Washington’s troops escaped the British army, land and historic conservationists marked the successful effort to preserve a key part of the Revolutionary War battlefield at Brandywine.
Pennsylvania, U.S. Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Ryan Costello joined Chester County officials, Campaign 1776 and the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force to announce that the 10.4-acre Dilworth Farm tract has been saved in perpetuity.
The farm is about six miles north of the Delaware state line.
Historians report that elements of George Washington’s Continental Army fought on and across this land, near the crossroads village of Dilworthtown, after a British attack on Sept. 11, 1777.
The preservation of the Dilworth Farm marks the first time the American Battlefield Protection Program’s Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants, which are funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and administered by the National Park Service, have been used at a Revolutionary War Battlefield in Pennsylvania.
At the historic battle were Washington; Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s aide de camp; and the Marquis de Lafayette, the army commander’s young French protégé. The battle was the largest massing of forces in the Revolutionary War.
Despite the British victory at Brandywine, Washington and his men soldiered on, enduring a winter encampment at Valley Forge, renewing the fight again and again, and ultimately prevailing in the seven-year struggle against what was one of the most world’s most powerful armies.
To cap Friday’s ceremony, stakeholders cut a ceremonial ribbon denoting the battlefield’s preservation, and members of the 1st Delaware Infantry Regiment fired a musket volley to honor the soldiers on both sides who fought at Brandywine. The uniformed re-enactors also performed fife and drum music.
Michelle H. Kichline, chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, noted that the Dilworth Farm’s preservation builds on decades of collaboration by local and state officials and area residents to share Brandywine’s history and protect the battlefield and its resources. The acquisition of Dilworth Farm adds to approximately 400 battlefield acres that have been protected within Chester County alone. The battlefield, however, measures 35,000 acres, and encroachment by Philadelphia-area development is always a threat.
“None of the battlefield would be preserved today if not for the work of the local community, partners and Brandywine supporters,” Kichline said. “Although Chester County has invested roughly $4.8 million in the preservation of the Brandywine Battlefield, it is critical to have support from the National Park Service through programs like the American Battlefield Protection Program, and from all of our nonprofit conservation partners.”
Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands, then announced that her nonprofit conservation group is working with Campaign 1776 to safeguard a different site in the battlefield, a few miles to the west: 88-acre Osborne Hill. “In addition to being a beautiful stretch of Chester County countryside, Osborne Hill is an important historic site from which British Gen. William Howe directed the movements of his army during the battle,” Morrison said. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to preserve this important property. A major grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program has brought us very close to realizing our goal at Osborne Hill.”
On July 5, in a news conference at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced an American Battlefield Protection Program land acquisition grant of $1.13 million for Osborne Hill. Reps. Meehan and Costello both represent the 88-acre Osborne Hill site, which straddles their districts. The Dilworth Farm is in Meehan’s 7th Congressional District.
“Preservation of the Dilworth Farm expands opportunities at the battlefield for public interpretation,” said historian Andrew Outten, chair of the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force. “Of any battle fought on American soil during the Revolutionary War, Brandywine had the most combatants engaged — 30,000—witnessed the most casualties and covered the largest area.”
“The Battle of Brandywine was the first fight to pair Washington and Lafayette, an influential aristocrat who helped persuade France to support the American revolutionaries in what became a global war.”
James Dilworth’s family, namesake of the village and its Revolutionary-era Dilworthtown Inn, owned the farm from before the Revolution and into the 21st century. The family barn remains on site, providing continuity to the area’s rural historic landscape and buildings. The property is adjacent to the Dilworthtown Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Purchase of the Dilworth Farm property cost $850,000, paid for with grants from Chester County and the American Battlefield Protection Program, matched with private donations from the Civil War Trust. Once a conservation easement to protect this open space is recorded, Birmingham Township will take title to the property. Ultimately, Chester County’s battlefield preservation plan calls for a passive interpretive park here.
The Park Service’s Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant program has preserved 28,000 acres of historic battlefield land in 20 states. In 2014, Congress expanded the program to include Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battle sites.