Wilmington in New Castle County, Delaware — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
A French Legion Kept Watch Here
Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route
During the American Revolution Lauzun's Legion spent the winter and spring of 1782-1783 in Wilmington to help guard Philadelphia and Baltimore from British attack. The troops were housed in the Wilmington Academy, located where the Grand Opera House stands today. The Legion protected the region, enriched the town, and gave us many new citizens.
Racing South to Yorktown
In 1780 King Louis XVI of France sent troops under General Rochambeau to help the U.S. win independence from England. After a winter in Newport, Rhode Island, Rochambeau's forces joined General Washington's Continental Army north of New York City. British fortifications there were strong, but a British army under General Cornwallis had a weak position at Yorktown, Virginia. The allied generals planned a rapid march south and asked French Admiral de Grasse to bring the Caribbean fleet to help in the attack.
On September 2-9, 1781, some 2,500 Continental troops and 4,000 French troops marched, rode, and rowed through Delaware (see map). The French camped near Second Street in Wilmington and Water Street in Newport. The Americans camped at Richardson's
[caption] Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library
Wilmington is Host to 600 French Soldiers
In 1781, immediately after victory at Yorktown, Delaware celebrated as Washington and his troops returned north. In August 1782 Rochambeau and his troops passed through Delaware going north to Boston. But in October of 1782 — a full year after the siege at Yorktown — the British army still occupied New York City and Charleston, South Carolina.
Lauzun's Legion of Foreign Volunteers was sent to Wilmington, from where it could rapidly move to defend the U.S. capital city of Philadelphia or the French siege artillery, which had been left at Baltimore. From December 1782 to May 1783 some 280 hussars (mounted infantry — see figure at left) plus 100 grenadiers, 100 chasseurs (light infantry) and 100 artillerymen lived in Wilmington Academy and vacant houses in the city.
The Legion's Economic and Social Legacy
The French helped the local economy recover from war taxes by paying for their food and lodging using silver coins — "real money". The French paid local carpenters to build a stable for 280 horses behind the academy and held military drills several times a week. The officers stayed with local families and attended meetings of the local Masonic lodge.
The Philadelphia paper reported on the trial of a band of thieves who stole 10,000 French crowns (silver coins) from the Legion's treasure room while an accomplice kept the guards busy playing cards. After a servant girl reported overhearing the thieves brag about the crime the sheriff arrested them and recovered most of the coins.
Good will and silver coins were not all that remained in Delaware while the Legion sailed out of Wilmington for France in May of 1783. Four of the Legion's soldiers died here, twenty-nine deserted here, and thirty-eight completed their terms of service here and did not re-enlist.
One of those who remained was Dr. Joseph Capelle, from Flanders, serving as assistant surgeon with the Legion. He married Mary Pearce from Baltimore, raised a family in Wilmington, and was an incorporator of the Delaware Medical Society. He is buried in the Old Swedes Church cemetery.
The Wilmington Academy once stood on this site, courtesy of the Historical Society of Delaware
Erected by Delaware State Society, Daughters of the American Revolution; National Society Sons of the American Revolution.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce • War, US Revolutionary. In addition, it is included in the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Former U.S. Presidents: #01 George Washington, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the The Washington-Rochambeau Route series lists.
Location. 39° 44.64′ N, 75° 32.92′ W. Marker is in Wilmington, Delaware, in New Castle County. Marker is on North Market Street south of East 9th Street, on the left when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 818 North Market Street, Wilmington DE 19801, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Burton V. Wilmington Parking Authority (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Gravesite of Bishop Peter Spencer (1779-1843) and His Devoted Wife, Annes (about 500 feet away); Spencer Plaza rain gardens are working to keep Wilmington's waterways clear! (about 500 feet away); Louis L. Redding City County Building (about 600 feet away); Caesar Rodney Monument (about 800 feet away); Rodney Square (about 800 feet away); Ezion-Mount Carmel United Methodist Church (approx. 0.2 miles away); Wilmington Historic Trail (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Wilmington.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 10, 2021. It was originally submitted on March 1, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 173 times since then and 40 times this year. Last updated on February 10, 2021, by Carl Gordon Moore Jr. of North East, Maryland. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on March 1, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • J. Makali Bruton was the editor who published this page.