Brandywine Battlefield

(On the road alongside the battlefield. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

On Friday, 20 July, the weather was so nice (for a change!) that we decided to explore the Brandywine Battlefield areas. Because the battle was so spread out, this encompasses quite a large bit of land around here. M has been driving past a lot of it as he’s discovered some of the back roads between West Chester and work. He’s found quite a few of the historical markers, and has studied information about the battle after finding the Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site website. (Pardon the seeming redundancy there, but it really isn’t.)

We started our tour at the most logical place: The Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site Museum, part of the park’s Visitor Center.

(Brandywine Battlefield Visitor’s Center. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

Admission was $5.00 each and that included a tour of Lafayette’s Quarters (which I’ll get to soon). The museum is a good place to start if you don’t know anything about the Battle of Brandywine. Since M and I have taken a keen interest in the local history, we already knew much of what is offered in the museum as far as the battle is concerned. The artifacts were interesting albeit a small collection.

We watched a 20-minute video about the battle, then spent a few minutes perusing the items for sale in the gift shop. I can happily say I didn’t spend a dime. I’m a sucker for gift shops and have a hard time leaving one without purchasing something. This was one of the few times I was looking for a specific item, hoping they’d have a reproduction of a 1776 map of Pennsylvania that is hanging in the museum. Alas, no luck, so I didn’t purchase anything. Good thing, too, as we had to move along pretty quickly in order to go on the tour of Lafayette’s Quarters.

I enjoyed the tour of Lafayette’s Quarters. The Marquis de Lafayette was young (I think he was 19) when he volunteered to serve with General Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Rich, too, and with his title and money came a commission (nothing unusual about that). His first taste of military action was at the Battle of Brandywine and the house now called Lafayette’s Quarters was the home of Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer. See what money and a title can do for you? Lafayette spent one night there and they name the whole place after him.

Our docent (I can’t remember her name) was young and fairly new at her job. I’m not sure if she was a volunteer or if she was paid. Not that it matters. Just thinking out loud, as I know that very often the docents are volunteers. M and I were the only people on the tour. It’s nice when it’s just us because we tend to get a more in-depth tour.

Young Docent had obviously done some of the studying required and was able to answer most of our questions. She added anecdotes and tidbits of information about the Gilpin family that gave the tour a more personal feel to it (rather than just spouting off historical facts and figures). The house itself is in good shape due to recent restoration work. I can’t share photos of the inside of the house, but here are a few from the outside:

(Lafayette’s Quarters. Photo by Robin. June 2007)

The portion of the house pictured on the left is the original. The part on the right was an addition, but it was an old addition, taken from another property. If I remember correctly, the addition is actually older than the original, the beams in the ceiling dating from the 1600’s.

(View from the side showing the garden wall and root cellar. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

The furnishings, tools, and other artifacts are not original to the house, but are typical furnishings, tools, etc. from a prosperous 18th-century Quaker way of life. The outbuildings include a barn (not the original as it burned down sometime in the 20th century but I can’t remember what year), a spring house, a root cellar, and a carriage house.

(Root cellar. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

(Carriage house. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

(View of the barn through the trees. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

There are two kitchens in the house, one in the original portion and one in the addition. The second kitchen is one of the reasons historians believe the Gilpins, not your everyday Quakers of the period (Gideon served with the Americans during the war, unusual for a Quaker since they’re pacifists), opened a tavern on the premises in order to help them survive after the Battle of Brandywine. Young Docent mentioned the Gilpins had been shunned for a few years because of Gideon’s service in the war and his running of a tavern. The battle took a huge toll on the families and farms of the area. People who were prosperous before the battle had to work hard to make ends meet after the battle because of the pillaging (aka commandeering or plundering of the foraging soldiers, mostly British as the Americans were busy retreating). The fields were torn up from horses and men marching and battling across them. And then there was all the damage from the artillery (canons and such). War is hell on land and innocent bystanders.

Opening a tavern was a reasonable thing to do if you need to support and feed your family. The Gilpin house was on a main highway of the time and taverns were always popular with travelers.

The oven in the original kitchen is impressive. The women of the house baked bread once a week, on Saturdays, and usually made about 30 loaves at a time. You can see part of the oven (from the outside) in this photo:

(Back of the house. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

The oven is to the far right, the humped looking thing under a small roof. The bread, by the way, was often hidden in the parents’ bedroom as it had to last the week (hungry children liked to pick on bread) and the children were not allowed into the parents’ bedroom unless it was to help clean or tie the ropes on the bed (the mattresses were held up from the floor by ropes tied to the frame).

Outside of the house is this beauty:

(Sycamore on Gilpin property. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

It’s a 350-year old sycamore tree, believed to be one of the oldest and largest trees in Pennsylvania. To give you some perspective on the size of the tree, this is how the tree would look if a normal-sized tree-hugging person happened to be standing next to it:

(The miracle of Microsoft Paint. By Robin. July 2007)

I didn’t say it would be a normal-shaped or normal-colored person. It was a normal-shaped and normal-colored person before I used the magic paintbrush. Now that I’ve discovered I can do such things, I might have a little fun altering some more photos.

We did not get to tour the upstairs portion of the house. Young Docent was afraid to go up because there’s a bat living up there that they haven’t gotten around to removing yet. Truthfully, I had no desire for a run-in with a bat. Apparently M didn’t either as he didn’t suggest we go up and take a look without Young Docent.

I’ll leave you with one last view of the house (where you’ll have a better view of the oven I mentioned above since the blog template won’t cut it off).

(Lafayette’s Quarters. Photo by Robin. July 2007)

Coming soon: Washington’s Headquarters.

2 Comments on “Brandywine Battlefield”

  1. English Nutter says:

    I came by to apologise. I have so much catching up to do, and I will do that, but not just yet. Soon though. I WANT to read this, but some time when I have time and peace to think and take it all in, and also when I’m not exhausted.

  2. Robin says:

    No apologies necessary. I know how busy you are.

    Honestly, don’t worry about it. 🙂

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