Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1998 Volume 36 Number 4, Pages 119–122

Remember Paoli

Hannah Epright

Page 119

Fellow citizens and friends; today is the one hundred and twenty-first anniversary of the massacre at Paoli, and we who come together to commemorate the event, and to remember Paoli, stand on hallowed ground.

The story of that butchery, and of that one awful night of horror, is more than a thrice-told tale, but because of a renewal of the flame of patriotism at this time [the Spanish-American War had been concluded in victory for the United States only one month earlier], it is appropriate to tell the old story over again that it may refresh the memories of the older persons present and fasten it more firmly in the minds of the young. The year 1777 saw two distinct campaigns. One was the invasion of Burgoyne from the North by way of Lakes Champlain and George into New York. His object was to cut New England off from the rest of the colo­nies, and thus the more speedily conquer them and end the war. His campaign ended disastrously to the British, with the battle of Saratoga which is considered one of the fifteen decisive battles of the world.

Page 120

They then turned their attention to the Middle States. These States were richer, were more plentiful in Tories, and were more tempting in several ways. So the British troops, to the number of eighteen thousand, embarked on the fleet of Lord Howe and put to sea, their destination being unknown to General Washington who remained for several days in painful uncertainty about it,

At last the expedition was heard from; their fleet had sailed up Chesa­peake Bay, the troops had been landed, and a march commenced against Philadelphia. Washington hastened to dispute their progress, and with the main part of his army took position at Chadd's Ford on Brandywine Creek, where on the 11th of September a battle was fought which ended in the defeat of the Americans, who after the battle retreated by different roads toward Chester, and being joined by Washington, the united army marched toward Philadelphia.

The story of how Washington tried unsuccessfully to save Philadelphia has often been told and will be told again, so we will pass over all the details of the marching and skirmishing until we come to the 17th of September, three days before the butchery here. On that date, General Wayne was detached from the main force, and with his division of 1500 men and four field pieces, was instructed to unite with General Smallwood who commanded the Maryland militia. Wayne was ordered to harass and annoy the enemy, for the purpose of arresting his progress towards the Schuylkill until the Americans had crossed.

Wayne, as history informs us, kept faithful watch and reported twice during the afternoon of the 19th to Genera! Washington, describing the condition of affairs, fully believing that the enemy did not know of his whereabouts. The enemy did not move as was expected, but on the 20th Wayne received what he believed to be reliable information that the British commander wouid take up his line of march for the Schuylkill at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 21st. Wayne sent Colonel Chambers as a guide to General Smaliwood, then near the White Horse, to conduct him to the place of the encampment.

Although the British commander did not know where the forces under Wayne lay, there were Tories residing in the neighborhood who did, and of the nature of the approaches to [the camp site]. He at once sent General Grey to surprise and cut off Wayne, a service of a dangerous character, as Wayne's corps was known for its stubborn and desperate conduct in fight.

Page 121

Genera! Grey, guided by his Tory aid, marched from his encampment near Howellville, up the Swede's Ford Road to what is now known as the Valley Store. He then proceeded south on the Longford road to near Warren Tavern. From there he moved cautiously through the South Valley Hill, near the present borough of Malvern. Tradition names two men who were accused of guiding General Grey to this place; one being a Peter Mather, and the other a man of the name of Dempsey.

The night was dark, and the surrounding woodland under it still darker. The attack was made by bayonets and light horsemen's swords only, in a most ferocious and merciless manner. It is needless for me to review the butchery; neither wounded nor sick were spared, and many were killed after resistance on their part had ceased -- some on their knees begging mercy. Of the fifty-three mangled dead who were found on the field, neither history nor tradition, so far as I know, has preserved to us the names of one, but their ashes rest here in peace, and it is enough to say that they laid down their lives for their country, and greater love hath no man than this.

Among those who came the next morning to help bury the dead was one James Neilley, who was born in the County Antrim, in the North of Ireland in 1750. He emigrated to this country about 1758, and in 1775 married Mary Roberts, daughter of John Roberts, a Tory of Lower Merion, Mont­gomery County. This James and Mary Neilley lived in a log house near Berwyn which is still standing, and occupied by James and Mary Neilley, a grandson and granddaughter of the first James and Mary. Their oldest son and first child was born on the day of the Battle of Brandywine, and was just nine days old at the time of the massacre.

James Neilley started up to help care for the wounded and bury the dead. His young wife was sick and possibly a little nervous, and she cried about the cold soil coming in contact with the dead soldier's faces. So she arose, went to her linen closet, took out her linen sheets, cut them into squares, and handed him the bundle, charging him to lay the squares of linen over their dead faces; and if there were not enough to go around, he must be sure to put their coats over them. He did so, and at intervals all through the cold winter, while our Army was at Valley Forge, they made mush, and in their cellar they fed the hungry soldiers mush and cider. The same house, the same cellar, the same rock in the cellar, the same cellar door by which they went in and out are still there to be seen; but the brave-hearted patriotic couple, who were my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, lie in one grave over in the Great Valley Presbyterian

Page 122

burial ground. The son born on the day of the Battle of Brandywine was my grandfather. He was a soldier of the War of 1812, and the haversack which he carried is still in my possession.

For forty years after the massacre the spot was marked by a pile of stones only, but on September 20, 1817, the Republican Artillerists of Chester County, aided by their fellow citizens, erected a monument. For a period of more than twenty-five years from this time Paoli was remem­bered. The militia companies met here, as well as large concourses of people, and my father used to boast that it was a rare occurrence for a member of the Pennsylvania Guards to be absent. On the one hundredth anniversary, September 20th, 1877, a new monument was erected by the citizens of the two counties.

[Copied from a scrap book loaned me by Mr. Henry Pleasants. The paper was printed in the "Suburban", Wayne, Pa., September 22, 1898. A. W. Baugh, April 15, 1913.]

The Baugh Notebooks are presently in the possession of the Tredyffrin Library, Strafford, Pa.

*Editor's note: One hundred years ago, September 20, 1898, Miss Hannah Epright, principal of the Malvern School, one-time teacher in Easttown Schools, addressed the Paoli Day ceremonies at Malvern Memorial Grounds. Her remarks about the Battle of Paoli, printed in The Suburban and Wayne Times two days later, are especially pertinent today as efforts are made to fund the purchase of the property on which the battle was fought, to protect it from development.


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