240th Anniversary of Rochambeau-Washington Victory March To Be Celebrated on August 28
By Donald Gilpin
In August of 1781 thousands of troops under General George Washington and the allied French General Comte de Rochambeau marched through Princeton via Mount Lucas Road, Witherspoon Street, and Nassau Street, with about 5,000 soldiers camping on the grounds at Morven House on their way to help the Continental Army win its final major victory in the Revolutionary War in October at Yorktown, Virginia.
The 700-mile march will be commemorated this Saturday, August 28 along the Millstone River in Griggstown, with Canal Road in Franklin Township closed from Amwell Road to Route 518 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to encourage walking and biking on the narrow thoroughfare. (A half-mile section between Butler Road and the Griggstown Causeway will remain open to permit east-west traffic to cross the Millstone River.)
“Come ready to walk or bike on this historic and scenic roadway,” said Brad Fay, president of the Millstone Valley Preservation Coalition (MVPC), co-sponsor of the event along with Franklin Township. “It’s a rare opportunity to enjoy the scenic byway without fearing for the through traffic.”
Troops crossed the Millstone River twice, at the one-lane Griggstown Causeway bridge and again at Route 518 near Rocky Hill. The National Park Service’s Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail from New England to Yorktown memorializes the historic march.
In the morning of August 28, a Trenton-based group will interpret the First Rhode Island Regiment, a mixed-race American unit that marched the trail and fought at Yorktown. In the afternoon, two re-enactors will interpret the French officers Rochambeau and Major General Francois-Jean de Chastellux, who led the allied French troops. A third re-enactor will interpret George Washington on horseback, beginning at about 1 p.m.
Saturday’s event will also include “Walk and Roll,” for pedestrians and cyclists only, and “Bike with Cops,” organized by the Franklin Police Department. Re-enactors in uniform will be present throughout the day.
Also on August 28, the William Trent House in Trenton will host re-enactors demonstrating how American and French infantry lived during the long march and how they prepared for the decisive battle that ended the Revolutionary War.
Leaving Princeton on August 31, 1781, the troops of Washington and Rochambeau marched down King’s Highway, now Route 206, to camp at Trenton before crossing the Delaware River and proceeding to Yorktown, where they captured British General Cornwallis’ army to end the war.
Two re-enactor organizations, Le Regiment Bourbonnais and Le Regiment Saintonge, will represent French infantry and artillery, and will be joined by re-enactors of African American infantrymen of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and John Lamb’s Artillery Company.
Demonstrations of military drills and camp life will take place throughout the day on the Trent House grounds, as well as other family-friendly activities and historical talks.
At its August 23 meeting, a resolution in support of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail was passed unanimously by Princeton Council. Describing the trail as “both a national and local asset with the potential to increase civic education and pride, tourism, and economic development,” the resolution calls on the president and Congress to increase funding through the National Park Service “to develop the trail through research, planning, and interpretative signage, public art, and visitor centers.”
The Council resolution also requests that the Princeton Planning Board incorporate the trail in its Master Plan and “establish it as a priority for preservation as a historic and tourism asset of Princeton.”