Hundreds of hours of research lead local historian to a vital piece of local history

Local historian Walt Chiquoine is anxious to have a little more public engagement on the discovery that took him years to uncover.

After years of poring over deeds and other municipal documents – some dating back centuries  – Chiquoine finally found the former location of the Daniel Nichols House, believed to be the final rally point for the British command in September 1777, before their march on Kennett Square, Pa., and then to the Battle of the Brandywine.

The Hockessin Historical Society will host a commemoration ceremony for the Nichols House Marker and the British march through Hockessin, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m. at Tweed’s Tavern, which happens to be the 240th anniversary to the day.

The Delaware Public Archives honored the site with a commemorative historical marker at a modest roadside ceremony last June, but this will be more informational, engaging, and fun, according to Chiquoine.  

“The fun will be looking at the hillsides around us, and visualizing the thousands of troops moving in all directions as they departed for Kennett Square,” Chiquoine said.  

The museum will offer a sequential visual presentation of the march, the Nichols property, and the encampment in Hockessin, Chiquoine said. 

“The presentation is based on maps created by the British army as well as other evidence,” he said. “And for the first time, there will be a map that overlays the encampment onto the individual farms and households of the area, a map that identifies the known depredations along the path of the march.  That map itself should be of significant interest to the Hockessin community.”

Chiquoine said they will also be thanking State Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Fairthorne, and State Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, for funding the historical marker during “a busy legislative season.”

BATTLE OF BRANDYWINE

The Battle of Brandywine is recognized for having more troops fighting than any other battle of the American Revolution.

It was also the longest single-day battle of the war, with continuous fighting for 11 hours.

The fight is significant because the losses suffered by American forces that day left Washington in retreat and then-capital Philadelphia vulnerable to British forces. They marched unimpeded into the city on Sept. 26 and held it until June 1778.

Chiquoine, a resident of Thistleberry Farms, said the five or six years he spent seriously researching the location was sparked by his imagination – mainly, picturing the British Redcoats as they ransacked the burgeoning Hockessin community.

After exhausting the primary accounts of the event 240 years ago, Chiquoine started looking into property deeds dating back even further.

“I went back to the beginning, around 1676, and worked forward from there,” Chiquoine said.

Eventually, Chiquoine found a deed under the name of Daniel Nichols, who married widow Sarah Dixon, for a plot known back then as the Nichols Tract.

The house was demolished by eventual owners, Toll Bros., while building the Hockessin Green and Hockessin Hunt communities.

The spot is important as it is likely the last rallying spot of British command  - Gen. William Howe, Hessian Wilhelm von Knyphausen, Gen. Charles Cornwallis, and Maj. James Grant – before 18,000 British troops made their way to capture Philadelphia in September of 1777.

A fan of detective stories and crossword puzzles, Chiquoine said that finding the Nichol’s house was basically a puzzle of historic proportions.

“There’s a two day gap in the information we have – Sept. 8 and 9,” he said. “We know they were in Pencader in the Millcreek 100 at one point, and they arrived in Kennett Square on the 10th.”

While Commander in Chief George Washington was setting up blockades at the various fords along the Brandywine, Howe and company continued their march following the Cooch’s Bridge skirmish into Kennett Square, ransacking and pilfering livestock and other necessities along the way from residences and farms.

That includes the folks living in what would one day become the Hockessin community, Chiquoine said.

“It’s not sexy and romantic and exciting, like a battle,” Chiquoine said of the British occupation. “But from a community point of view, there was a lot of suffering and depredation; our [residents] were more profoundly affected by that encampment than by the Battle of Brandywine.”

He also believes there’s more to be found.

“What we know today is so much more than we did 20 years ago,” he said. “This is only one spot on that march. It’s just a start. I hope someone fixes my mistakes and takes it from there.”

Chiquione will also be making a full presentation of the story at Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford, Pa., on Sunday Sept. 10 at 2 p.m.