WASHINGTON-ROCHAMBEAU REVOLUTIONARY ROUTE WRRR NEWSLETTER NO. 25

January 14, 2000

Hans DePold, Chmn, Committee of Correspondence

Purpose

This newsletter is to provide a means for keeping historians, re-enactors, and other interested people aware of the activity to create a national historic trail, the WRRR. Rochambeau’s French army defined the route when they marched from Newport to Yorktown and back to Boston. The goal is to encourage creation of a National Historic Trail with the registration of the entire route that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and to raise to a higher level the quality of heritage preservation all along the route.

Commemorating the Events on The 225th Anniversary

On April 28,29 30, Connecticut re-enactors will commemorate the Alarm at Concord and Lexington by staging a 22 mile march through Eastern Connecticut. Troops and camp followers will gather first at the Brooklyn fair grounds to set up a camp on Thursday April 27. A school of the soldier will be held on Friday, and will be open to the public and local students. It will demonstrate 18th century military drills, tactics and camp life.

The alarm will arrive at the camp via horseback on Saturday morning and the camp will break down and depart north to the town of Thompson, where it will camp for the night. Then they march on to the Massachusetts border on Sunday morning. A ceremonial corps will be holding services at Rev War era gravesites and monuments while the March is in progress. The DAR, SAR, and Soc. Of Cincinnati are all supporting this event. Richard G. Swartwout Jr.

The winter 220 years ago

We sometimes hear how the weather is the hottest it has been in the history of the world. It sounds like a long time, yet the thermometer was a new invention 220 years ago, and worldwide temperatures have only been recorded for about ninety six years.

During the last million years a series of glaciers has covered New England at 100,000 year intervals. Each glacial cycle piled ice miles deep for the first 50,000 years causing the sea level to drop creating places like New York City, London, and Washington. Then for the following 50,000 years the ice melted raising sea level and ultimately flooding the coastline until places like Hartford, Albany, and Richmond became sea front property. The last ice age ended just 15,000 years ago and anthropologists say that human consciousness emerged in just the past 10,000 years.

The winter of 1779-80 was the worst ever recorded from Maine to Georgia. It came on with such ferocity and suddenness that it closed down the post roads and of course the WRRR. The next summer when the French army arrived to support the American Revolution they could see how that infamous winter had left an apocalyptic imprint on the American officers. When Lauzun’s legion was assigned to winter in Connecticut he compared it to being sent to Siberia.

In 1779 snow first fell in the Northeast in early November, and was followed quickly by a series of invading Arctic air masses. It was possible to walk across the firmly frozen Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Harbors froze in Virginia. Sleighs traveled the ice from Staten Island to Manhattan Island, and for a time people traversed the sound from Connecticut to Long Island.

The frigid air was soon accompanied by an unprecedented series of major northeasters that ravaged the entire coastal plain from Virginia northward. The snow was so cold and fine that it passed though the threadbare tents of Washington’s poor soldiers. The January 3 blizzard blew men off their feet and buried them in ten-foot drifts. Ships at sea reportedly took on the appearance of floating icebergs with the salt spray encrusting sails in sheets of ice. Washington and the army had camped at Morristown where there was nothing but the whistling of the wind and the wail of the freezing soldiers. That winter at Morristown was the real Golgotha after what had been an unbearable winter at Valley Forge. Washington wrote that the situation was, “the most distressing of any we have experienced since the beginning of the war.” He relaxed military discipline so that his desperate troops could find shelter in homes and barns throughout the area.

Accounts varied, but by mid-January the standing packed snow was reportedly four feet deep in Connecticut, with massive drifts. Frozen ports and snow-clogged roads paralyzed daily activity. Forced to winter in New London, CT when his ship was trapped in the ice of the Thames River, Captain Jean Francoise Landolphe recorded in his diary that “so much snow fell over a three-day period that it rose above the windows of the second story, in such manner that daylight could not penetrate. I had never seen anything like it.” But then the weather worsened and the temperature plunged. The oldest American newspaper, The Connecticut Courant, reported that January readings of a new device called a “thermometer” were below zero on eleven days, including a low of twenty-two degrees below zero in Hartford on January 29, 1780. “To set up communications with my neighbors across the street I had a vaulted passage dug beneath the snow,” Landolphe continued. “The cold set in again with an extraordinary harshness. It made us all numb. . . “

Newspapers found themselves in a news blackout as the stagecoaches stopped running. On January 11, the Connecticut Courant informed its readers, “The late violent Snow Storms have prevented the Posts from performing their usual stages; in consequence of which we have received no papers from the Eastward or Westward later than the 23d of December.” The snowstorms of the winter closed all main roads in New England for the duration of the winter with the exception of the Boston Post route (the WRRR), which was made passable by the end of January.

In New London, Captain Landolphe’s men used saws to cut a path in the frozen river to open water. After two days their ship was finally freed- on May 10, 1780.