If you ask an outsider about the State of Delaware, they are likely to respond, “Dela-where?” “Do you mean Delaware County???” A few may reply, “Yeah. I think I passed through there once on my way to D.C.” If asked about the French history of the state, others may shrug, saying, “Sure. That’s the DuPont Company’s state.”
From 1638 to 1655, The First State was settled by Swedes, Finns, Dutch, French Huguenots, and others. In 1655 Peter Stuyvesant, the last Director-General of New Netherlands, came south from present-day New York to take possession. In turn, from around 1682 to 1776, England took control, renaming the area “the Lower Three Counties of Pennsylvania.”
As in Dutch and Swedish days, trading vessels under English rule continued to sail the Delaware River and Bay to Philadelphia, New York, the British Isles, Southern Europe, Madeira, and the West Indies. Raw materials were sent to England for manufacture, traded with non-British entities, and proceeds were spent on British-made goods. Daily trips between Cape Henlopen, New Castle and Philadelphia were a key to regional prosperity.
First-person accounts drawn from letters, diaries and journals of Revolutionary French and American soldiers describe what they saw as they travelled back and forth through eighteenth century Delaware.
In 1777, one of the first French soldiers to visit Delaware, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), arrived in Philadelphia asking to serve. Several months later, he was standing with George Washington on top of Iron Hill on the Delaware-Maryland border, studying British troop movements below. On September 6, Lafayette attended a Council of War at the Hale Byrnes House in Stanton, Delaware. The following day, he headed north to nearby Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where, on September 11,1777, he would participate in the Battle of the Brandywine. That winter would be spent at Valley Forge. Lafayette’s American adventures would not end until 1824 when Delawareans celebrated his Triumphal Return.
During the winter of Valley Forge, Wilmington was guarded by Delaware and Maryland troops under the command of Maryland’s Gen. William Smallwood.
Like Lafayette, François-Louis Teissèdre de Fleury (1749–c1814) was a Frenchman who, before his country formally committed to the American cause, willingly volunteered for service in the American Army. The De Fleury Medal, presented annually by the US Army Engineer Association, is named in his honor. 
On May 1, 1778, Washington sent de Fleury to Wilmington as a division inspector to establish “uniformity of discipline and manoeuvres.” A month later, Smallwood’s Wilmington-based brigade headed towards Valley Forge.
France did not officially declare war against Britain until July. That September, Benjamin Franklin was appointed America’s diplomatic representative to France. Between 1778 and 1782, the French provided supplies, arms and ammunition, uniforms, and, most importantly, troops and naval support to the needy Continental Army. In October 1778, American Quartermaster Nathanael Greene distributed a large shipment of French shoes and military equipment to the different states by lottery. Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Hazen’s Canadians received brown coats. In the second lottery, Delaware received blue coats.
1779 was a slow year. Lafayette went home to see his wife and to lobby the French court. While there, he convinced Louis XVI and his ministers to send an expeditionary force to America to aid the Patriots. Returning to Boston on April 27, 1780, on the newly built frigate l’Hermione, Lafayette then went to Morristown, New Jersey, to take George Washington the news of the imminent arrival of French forces under Gen. Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, and an armada to be separately led by Admiral de Grasse.
In May, l’Expédition Particulière, composed of forty-three warships and troop transports, left from Brittany’s Port of Brest. Rochambeau’s arrival near Newport, Rhode Island with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men on July 11, 1780, would eventually lead to the successful end of the American Revolution. The newly-arrived French troops would spend that winter in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Washington now ordered Lafayette and a force of New England, New Jersey, and French troops to meet with American forces in Virginia. On March 2, 1781, Lafayette and 1,500 advance forces headed south. Passing through Christiana, Delaware, with cannons, stores and ammunition, Lafayette was assisted by the Council of Maryland who provided him with a warrant to impress carriages, teams and drivers for use at Christiana Bridge, and vessels, hands, etc., at nearby Head of Elk.
After receiving a letter from Admiral de Grasse indicating that his twenty-nine-ship French fleet was heading for the Chesapeake, Washington abandoned a planned attack on New York, coordinating with Rochambeau on plans for action in Virginia.
Just below Philadelphia, near Chester, Pennsylvania, Count Guillaume Deux-Ponts expressed his delight at George Washington’s excitement:
On the 5th of September, we encamped at Chester, where we learned the authentic news of the arrival of the Count de Grasse with twenty-eight ships of the line, and three thousand five hundred troops under the Marquis de St. Simon, who landed them on the 27th of August . . . I have been equally surprised and touched at the true and pure joy of General Washington. Of a natural coldness and of a serious and noble approach, which in him is only true dignity . . . his features, his physiognomy, his deportment—all were changed in an instant . . . a child whose every wish had been gratified, would not have experienced a sensation more lively.
Washington, his aides, and an entourage of seventy officers and men, and Rochambeau with his own aides-de-camp and entourage, spent that night in Chester, surrounded by the First French Brigade. The next day George Washington and his retinue rode over the border into Delaware. They proceeded through Wilmington, stopping in Christiana.
After a day of rest on September 5, the First Brigade of Rochambeau’s army left Chester, its twenty-eighth campsite since leaving Rhode Island. They marched down Philadelphia Pike on September 6. Rochambeau’s son, the vicomte de Rochambeau, wrote that Delaware:
is much longer than it is wide. The inhabitants are numerous and very industrious. The land is well cultivated, and it produces the same things that Pennsylvania does . . . It is inhabited largely by Quakers. It is given over to commerce and uses the creek which flows by its southeast portions to send out its ships. It has about 200 houses.
I started early and lay at Wilmington, a village upon the Brandywine River whereon an important battle was fought which has retained its name. Thence, I went to dine at Christiana Bridge, where I did the honors of the public table to some Americans with whom I drank toasts. At night, I lay at Head of Elk, Maryland where I found our army.
A renewed sense of purpose energized the French and American troops. The French troops were comprised of two brigades, each consisting of thirty companies. Each company had sixty-four men and eight officers, marching four abreast and covering a mile in length. Following the same plan as they had used crossing Connecticut, the columns were spaced a day’s march apart, averaging about sixteen miles per day.
Passing through New Castle County with about 800 oxen and 865 horses for the wagon train, 500 horses for the artillery, upwards of 300 horses for Lauzun’s Legion, the soldiers followed Philadelphia Pike into Wilmington, then west on Maryland Avenue through Newport and Stanton to Old Stanton-Christiana Road. Turning west again at the village of Christiana, they followed Old Baltimore Pike into Maryland.
Washington and the first units of the Continental Army reached Head of Elk/Elkton, Maryland on Thursday, September 6, 1781. On September 7, the First French Brigade joined them, while the Second Brigade, which had camped at Newport, Delaware arrived on September 8. Once the American rearguard arrived from Christiana on September 9, the two armies, “amounting in the whole to near seven thousand, with an amazing train of ordnance and military stores,” were ready for the last leg of their march to Yorktown.
General Rochambeau’s interpreter, Baron Ludwig Von Closen (1752–1830), a captain in the Royal Deux-Ponts, wrote:
On the sixth, we continued on our way with the 1st Brigade as far as Wilmington . . . The location of this city is one of the pleasantest and most favorable on the whole continent. The houses, many of which are on the banks of the Delaware are all very well built, and their surroundings reveal the prosperity of the residents. Before arriving there, you cross the creek and the village of Brandywine. M. de Dalmas who joined us that evening at Wilmington, told us that it was impossible to imagine the effect that the news of M. de Grasse’s arrival in the Chesapeake had produced in Philadelphia; that the enthusiasm there had reached an incredible height.
On August 24, 1781, a payment of “7 French guines” was entered in Brandywine Village miller James Lea’s Account Book. It may have been for corn meal. “44 bushels left. I am to sell to French Army. The cash to be paid to Samuel Baker in Second Street.”
General Rochambeau’s young cousin and aide-de-camp, French Captain Lauberdière wrote,
After having seen the Brandywine, I went to Wilmington. A little bit above the city, the creek empties into the Delaware . . . Wilmington is located on this river. It is well-built. All the houses are brick, and they form only one large street which is fairly long. I don’t believe this area is very healthy as the banks of the Delaware are very marshy above and below . . . Newport, Delaware is 4 miles from Wilmington. It is already a rather large village and well-built. There’s a creek 4 miles further which empties into the Delaware which we cross on a bridge called Christian’s Bridge. It is 2 miles away from Christian’s Village which is located in a fine place and contains some 30 houses. We cross Ridley’s Creek 2 miles from this location, 10 miles from Head of Elk.
In nearby Christiana, Delawarean Samuel Tallmadge noted in his journal on September 7, “about 7 o’clock in the morning the French army marched through this place.” Deux Ponts concurred, writing:
On the 7th of September, we marched to Elkton, which may be considered as the head of the Chesapeake Bay. Elkton is better known by the name of Head of Elk, since it is there that the river Elk begins to be navigable. We hoped to find here sufficient means to embark our whole army, but there are boats for only twelve hundred men, and M. de Rochambeau employs them for embarking the grenadiers and chasseurs and the infantry of the legion of Lauzun. The main body of the army will march by land as far as Baltimore, where I hope we shall go aboard ships. If we cannot find means of transportation, it will be necessary to march as far as the York River, a long and painful march but we shall know how to endure it. We shall remain here to-morrow, the ninth [sic. 8th ] of September and shall start again on our march the day after to-morrow.
A fleet of small boats was waiting at the Head of Elk to take the joint forces down the Chesapeake into Virginia. Delaware Captains McKennan and Quenoualt’s companies—composed of seventy-five new recruits and ten veterans—were assigned duties in Virginia. Lauberdière picked up the story:
Elk Town is located a mile from the river and contains 30 or 40 houses. . .the Americans who descended the Delaware from Trenton to New Castle preceded the French and had already arrived at Head of Elk a day before them . . . Mr de Rochambeau learned from some of Mr de Grasse’s dispatches, brought to him by the cutter Serpent, that the Admiral had 1,200,000 [livres] aboard for him. That’s why he loaned General Washington 180,000 livres, the only money he had left, with which the Americans received one month’s pay and assurances for their future needs. M. de Rochambeau had, at this moment, so much greater facility than before to save Americans in addition to the 12,000,000 francs brought from Havana by M. de Grasse.
American private soldier Joseph Plumb Martin (1760–1850) excitedly wrote,
We each of us received a MONTH’S PAY, in specie, borrowed from, as I was informed by our French officers, from the officers in the French army. This was the first that could be called money, which we had received as wages since the year ‘76, or that we ever did receive till the close of the year, or indeed, ever after, as wages.
Battle of Yorktown
Reaching Virginia, Admiral de Grasse disembarked his troops, then brought his fleet north to pick up Washington’s and Rochambeau’s men. Not realizing how large the French fleet was, a British fleet led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves tried to attack it on September 5, and thereby lost the Battle of the Chesapeake. On September 18, Generals Washington and Rochambeau happily conferred with de Grasse aboard the French flagship Ville de Paris.
By September 22 and 25, most of the allied army had reached Virginia, joining de Grasse’s 3,300 French troops. Approximately 17,600 American and French soldiers were now gathered in Williamsburg, and 8,300 British soldiers were occupying Yorktown.
On October 9, combined American and French forces began a serious assault on the British. Cornwallis, realizing that escape was impossible, requested a ceasefire on October 17. On October 19, more than 8,000 British and Hessian soldiers surrendered to the allied forces, marching out of Yorktown between two long lines of allied soldiers—Americans on one side and French on the other. The British were marched to a field where they laid down their arms.
The British prisoners were then taken to prison camps in Winchester, Virginia and Frederick, Maryland. The war continued for another two years, but Yorktown Day held annually on October 19, is celebrated as the end of the war.
Admiral de Grasse’s fleet left for the Caribbean. Many of the French soldiers spent the winter of 1781-82 at sites in and around Williamsburg, and did not head north until July.
Return Trip Through Delaware
Rochambeau’s march north from July 1782 provided Americans an opportunity to give thanks to their country’s ally, for when the French infantry sailed out of Boston Harbor on Christmas Day 1782, King George III and Parliament had acknowledged the United States “to be free Sovereign and independent States.”
Ordered by the Baron de Viomenil (1728–1792) to take the dispatches received from Versailles north to the maréchal de camp in December 1781, Col. Louis-Philippe, comte de Ségur (1753–1830) passed through Dover, Delaware on September 15. He described what he saw:
All the houses in Dover, offered a simple but elegant appearance, they were built of wood, and painted in different colors. This variety in their aspect, the neatness which distinguished them, the bright and polished brass knockers of the doors, seemed all to announce the order and activity, the intelligence and prosperity of the inhabitants.
The road on which I travelled was very wide, well-marked out, and carefully kept in excellent order. In all the places where I stopped, the inhabitants received me with civility, and exerted themselves in procuring horses, both for myself and my guide . . .
Continuing my journey through a path like a fine garden alley, shaded by the oldest and most beautiful trees in the world, I scarcely went a mile without meeting with some habitation already old, and some new plantation. Before arriving at Christian bridge, situated about forty miles from Dover, I passed through several little towns, very well peopled. Christian bridge lies upon a height, at the bottom of which runs a small river that falls into the Delaware. 
Two winter quarters in New England and in Virginia, 1,300 miles of marches through nine of the thirteen original states, a month of fighting, and thousands of personal encounters along the way had brought the French and American peoples closer together than they had ever been before.
By the end of November, thousands of soldiers were again passing through Delaware. Joseph Plumb Martin reminisced:
We accordingly left Yorktown and we set our faces towards the Highlands of New York. It was now the month of November and winter approaching, We all wished to be nearer home . . . We landed at what is called the Head of Elk, where we found the rest of our corps and some of the infantry, also a few French . . .We encamped one night, while on our march, at Wilmington, a very handsome borough on the Christiana Creek, in the state of Delaware.
The First Brigade of Rochambeau’s Troops also headed north, wintering over in Wilmington.
As to the quartering of the troops there was not one building in town calculated to receive them. The College had been destroyed by the English and by the militia in such a manner as to make it quite uninhabitable without repairing it at considerable expense. This was however the only measure to be taken to prompt the quartering of the troops in a season already advanced. In consequence of which I proposed to the Trustees to let me have that building to lodge the said troops during the winter.
Lauzun reported, “The inhabitants of Wilmington appear willing to deliver us by being disposed to do everything that suits us. But it will be necessary to completely build our quarters and this expense, we know from the reconnaissance of M. Collot, will cost around eight hundred dollars.”
The minutes of the Trustees of Wilmington Academy show:
Duc de Lauzun, commanding officer of the King of France’s troops in the service of America has fixed upon our school house as a barrack for those troops the ensuing winter.” Stables to hold 281 horses were built at the expense of the King of France at 8th and King Street near French Street. On December 24, 1782, more than six hundred men and 281 horses arrived in Delaware, staying with Wilmington families paid to house them.
On December 31, 1782, 550 more members of Lauzun’s Legion arrived in Wilmington for the winter. The officers and men spent much of their time taking care of their horses, maintaining their equipment and engaging in guard and other military duties as well as weapons drills and exercise. Lauzun’s Legion now consisted of the first squadron of hussars’ seven officers, ten NCO’s, the fourrier-ecrivain, two trumpets, a medic, a farrier, and 118 hussars, five of whom were in the hospital. The grenadier company had six officers, six NCOs, two drummers, and 76 chasseurs (two of whom were listed as absent). The second squadron of hussars numbered seven officers, thirteen NCOs, two trumpets, and 120 hussars, nine of whom were in the hospital. The staff consisted of eleven officers and three enlisted men.
The following Wilmington families were paid to house the officers of Lauzun’s Legion: Adams, Allison, Babb, Bentley, Bonsall, Brinton, Broom, Bush, Canby, Chandler, Cheney, Cloud, Crampton, Crow, Ferris, Gruble, Hayes, Johnston, Jones, Kean, Lawson, McLean, May, Minshall, Moore, O’Flynn, Reynolds, Rice, J. Richardson, S. Richardson, F. Robinson, N. Robinson, Shallcross, Shipley, Stroud, Taylor, Thilwell, Walker, Warner, Woodcock, and Zane. Samuel Canby, a leading Wilmington Quaker, reported that they conducted themselves “with more regularity and more civility to the Inhabitants than any troops we have ever had in this town, Scarcely an instant of their stealing the smallest thing.”
Dr. Phillippe Cappelle was housed with Canby on Fourteenth and Market Streets. Canby wrote: “We have a doctor quartered with us, a Low-Dutch man. His name is Joseph Eugene Philip Cappelle.” The chief surgeon for the Legion in Wilmington was Anatole Joseph Girard, who had come with Lauzun’s Legion. Cappelle became Girard’s assistant, receiving an annual salary of 800 livres and a supplement of 600 livres.
At long last, on January 17, 1783, the Delaware troops came home, arriving at Christiana Bridge, “after a march of seven hundred and twenty miles since we left our encampment on Ashley River, South Carolina.
Between February and April 1783, five of Lauzun’s soldiers died in Wilmington. On April 11, 1783, Congress officially declared an end to the Revolutionary War. On April 21, 1783, Congress instructed Robert Morris to arrange for the sale of the ship Duc De Lauzun when she arrived in France. On May 11, having auctioned their horses, Lauzun’s Legion and their siege artillery left for home, embarking on the frigates Astrée, Danaé, and Gloire, and the transports Saint James, Fate, and Duc de Lauzun.
Dr. Cappelle decided to remain in Delaware when Lauzun’s Legion sailed home. On November 8, 1783, he married Mary Isabella Pearce at Old Swedes Church. Cappelle became one of the incorporators of the Delaware Medical Society and continued practicing medicine until his death at age thirty-nine. He is buried in Plot 1038 at Old Swedes’ Church cemetery.
On December 7, 1787, Delaware, which had been the first colony to become a state, would become the first to ratify the constitution of the United States.
Victor du Pont had held various diplomatic and consular positions for more than ten years. Franklin, Jefferson, Lafayette, and Talleyrand were his friends and colleagues. The next chapter in Delaware’s French-American history would begin in July 1802 when the duPont family, having left France, established a gunpowder mill on the banks of the Brandywine.
By 1824, the duPonts were prominent residents of the State. On October 8 of that year, Victor duPont gave a moving toast to celebrate Lafayette’s Triumphal Return. He addressed the crowd, saying, Lafayette was “the friend of mankind by nature, and an American by choice.”
This toast, given by a relative newcomer after both the French and the American Revolutions were over, is reminiscent of the remarks made years before by Louis-François-Bertrand, comte de Lauberdière:
I am only 22 years old and sometimes find myself susceptible to being more or less sensitive to the impulses of the heart which visits, farewells, the expression of regret, etc. can produce . . . The Americans are still a new people whose basis of customs is especially simplicity and frankness. Their manners are neither refined nor affected. Equality, unity within gatherings of the same party reign among them and amply reward them for what art procures for enjoyment in Europe. If some of their customs are different from ours, the habit of living among them and with them, made me adopt them Finally, on my account and as a simple individual, I lived perfectly happy and content.
The duPont family did not arrive in Delaware until 1801 or 1802. The Revolutionary Count Guillaume des Deux Ponts was not related to the Delaware duPonts. The Count’s last name means “of two bridges or Zweibrucken,” and duPont means “of the bridge.” These families originated in different parts of France.
Receipt to Capt. Caleb Gibbs, September 2, 1777, Wilmington, Delaware, founders.archives.gov/?q=Marquis%20de%20Lafayette&s=1111311111&sa=&r=7&sr=. With so many countries originally in control of the area, the present borders of what is now the State of Delaware were not locked in place until the early nineteenth century.
“Timeline 1757 to the Present,” friendsoflafayette.wildapricot.org/news.
“Comitia Americana Medals: Francois Louis Teissedre de Fleury,”www.si.edu/spotlight/comitia-americana-medals/francois-louis-teissedre-de-fleury.
Historic Marker Number NC-51 was erected in 1932 by Delaware Public Archives. The marker is located at the entrance to Lewden Green Park, near this postal address: 107 E Main Street, Christiana, DE 19702. www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM11MNZ_Lafayette_NC_51_Christiana_DE
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, Memoirs of the Marshal Count de Rochambeau, Relative to the War of Independence of the United States, M.W.E. Wright, ed., (New York: Arno Press, 1971), 251.
Jini Jones Vail, Rochambeau: Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant A French General’s role in the American Revolution (Tarentum, PA: Word Association Publishers, 2011), 193. See also Anna T. Lincoln, Wilmington, Delaware: Three Centuries under Four Flags, 1609-1937 (Rutland, 1937).
Louis -François-Bertrand du Pont d’Aubevoye, comte de Lauberdiere, The Road to Yorktown. The French Campaigns in the American Revolution, 1780-1783, Norman DesMarais, trans., ed. (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2021), 148-150.
Kim Burdick, “What They Saw And Did At Yorktown’s Redoubts 9 And 10,” Journal of American Revolution, April 7, 2020, allthingsliberty.com/2020/04/what-they-saw-and-did-at-yorktowns-redoubts-9-and-10/.
“Revolutionary soldiers passing through Delaware: Yorktown Campaign 1780-1783,” pencaderheritage.org/main/phhistins/phsol.html.
Robert A. Selig, The Washington – Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the State Of Delaware, 1781 – 1783: A Historical And Architectural Survey (Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, State of Delaware. 2003).