A Hockessin resident's curiosity leads him to discover a long lost piece of local history
A local history buff got to see a thousand hours of research come to fruition on Wednesday afternoon.
That’s when the Delaware Public Archives installed a new historical marker at the spot where Walt Chiquoine believes once (roughly) stood the Daniel Nichols house – a location once considered lost to antiquity by historians.
“This is just awesome – it’s nothing I ever expected,” Chiquoine said, adding that his search was fueled by nothing more than a deep personal curiosity.
The location is significant as historians recognize the spot as possibly the last rallying spot of British command as roughly 18,000 British troops made their way to capture Philadelphia in September of 1777.
British General William Howe marched from Cooch’s Bridge to Kennett Square, ransacking and pilfering livestock and other necessities along the way from residences and farms.
It’s widely accepted that on Sept. 8 and 9, Howe, Hessian Wilhelm von Knyphausen, Gen. Charles Cornwallis, and Maj. James Grant, met at the Nichols house – about 100 yards from where the sign is now posted along Limestone Road – and conferred on battle plans.
“They were in Chadds Ford [the Battle of Brandywine] on Sept. 11, and were in Philadelphia shortly after,” said Hockessin Historical Society president Joe Lake. “It had to be here where they finalized their plans; they couldn’t talk along the way.”
Howe is famous for his defeat of George Washington’s forces mustered at what is now Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford, Pa., along Route 1 on its way to Philadelphia.
The British army captured Philadelphia, then the seat of the Continental Congress, on Sept. 26 and held the city until July 1778.
Despite taking both New York and Philadelphia, Howe resigned his post as Commander in Chief, North America, following a series of strategic failures in other theaters.
Chiquoine said the idea that the location of the Nichols house from all public records is what started him on the search.
“It was really off the radar for many years, probably as early as the 19th century,” Chiquoine said. “Part of my frustration, because I’m new to historical research, was why has nobody found this yet? How did it just disappear? And that started a lot of work.”
Poring over property deeds and other documents, Chiquoine eventually found a reference to the marriage of a Dixon to a Nichols; he was on the trail shortly after.
Having mapped out all of Millcreek Hundred from 1777, Chiquione said he can say with certainty that the Limestone Road location was where the house once stood.
Chiquoine said that the marker doesn’t really commemorate Howe’s presence so much as it does the effect of the British army’s presence in the area, removing goods and livestock, and leaving the area’s earliest residents struggling for years to come.
“The population of the City of Philadelphia at the time was about 40,000, so imagine taking half the city of Philadelphia and trying to park it in Millcreek Hundred,” Chiquoine said. “To feed them, [accommodate them] – this was a profound event for our locals.”
He added that the few public records that remain from the time, coupled with anecdotal evidence, shows that the winter of 1777-78 was particularly hard on the residents affected by the Brits’ presence.
“This is my tribute to our early neighbors,” Chiquoine said.
He added that the marker exists largely due to Lake’s efforts.
“He really advocated for this thing,” he said.
Hockessin now has six archive markers: Tweed’s Tavern, the home of Negro League ballplayer James “Nip” Winters, The Hockessin Friends Meeting, Colored School #107C, the First African American Schoolhouse in Hockessin, and St. John the Evangelist Church.
The marker is located along Limestone Road near the entrance of Hockessin Green.