Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 40
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: January 2003 Volume 40 Number 1, Pages 19–24
Battle of Paoli – a review of the book
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Thomas J. McGuire, in his magnificent book, Battle of Paoli, (Stackpole Books, 2000) [Note 1] provides a long awaited in-depth analysis of the movements of the Continental and British Armies in September 1777, both preceding and after the Battle of Paoli, more commonly referred to as the "Paoli Massacre." The Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly carried two well-researched articles on the subject by Franklin L. Burns, our local historical authority, in its April and July 1940 editions. [Note 2] These articles provide an interesting point for a review of Mr. McGuire's book.
The battlegrounds themselves are in Willistown Township, and in the present borough of Malvern. However, much of the activity before and after the battle took place in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships. We will particularly review these events as described in the book, and attempt to identify the present locations in Tredyffrin and Easttown where the activities took place.
POSITION OF THE BRITISH ARMY AT TREDYFFRIN, SEPTEMBER 1777
The British troops which overwhelmed Anthony Wayne's two brigades on September 20-21, 1777, were encamped in Tredyffrin Township along the north slope of the southern ridge which defines the Great Valley. "Position of the Army at Truduffrin the 19th Septr. 1777" is shown in a manuscript map made by Captain John Andre of the British Army. [Note 3] Another beautifully reproduced map, "British Camp at Truduffrin," shows the same positions as "drawn by an officer on the spot." [Note 4] Franklin Burns prepared his own map, "Camp Tredyffrin, Sept. 18th-21st 1777," [Note 5] on which he endeavored to combine the data from the published maps with "the traditional sites and the cartographer's knowledge of the terrain." The maps commonly show the positions of many units of the British Army, but not all units are commonly shown. Comparing positions shown on the three maps and relating them to known present day locations is a fascinating exercise.
The Andre map shows General Grey's headquarters at Howell's Tavern, which appears to be located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Howellville and Swedesford Roads. The appearance is deceptive because of changes in the roads over the years. The Burns map places Grey's Quarters (Howell's Tavern) on the northwest corner of what is now Swedesford Road and its extension, Bear Hill Road. The Tavern later stood inside a triangle formed when Howellville Road came into use. Burns indicates that Howell's Tavern was not demolished until 1921 so he is undoubtedly correct in its location because he was alive at the time of its demolition. Both maps in the McGuire book show the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion encamped near this intersection, and Burn's map confirms this location.
The maps reproduced in the McGuire book show approximately five brigades and battalions encamped east of Howellville Road, extending along Swedesford Road to Valley Forge Road. Parts of two brigades are shown encamped east of that road. The "officer on the spot" map shows "Head Quarters" at the location of the Samuel Jones house, which is near the Great Valley Baptist Church. "Cornwallis Quarters" was the Abel Reese house, now known as "Tory Hollow," which still exists nearby. [Note 6]
Further up the hill, where the tree line starts, the Andre map shows the "First Brigade," the "Second Brigade," and the "First Grenadiers." Burns says that Andre's sketch places the First and Second Brigades too far west. The "officer on the spot" map shows only the "2nd Brigade" and one other "Brigade" in these positions. I judge these positions to be approximately along the line of the present day Trenton Cut-Off railroad line, or approximately along the line of the present day Hickory Lane.
The topography shown on the Andre, the "officer on the spot," and the Burns maps conforms quite well to the present topography considering the absence of a scientific survey for the old maps. The encampment maps reproduced in the McGuire book show four small hills along Swedesford Road, and three larger hills extending west to east further to the south. These hills are discernible to the present day viewer with a little imagination.
Today the area is covered with office parks, retail centers, and housing developments. However, it can be viewed from the bounds of Swedesford Road, Valley Forge Road, Hickory Lane, and Howellville Road. Teegarden Park, D'Ambrosia Park, and the Little League ball fields are on the site of the British encampment. Cold Stream Drive runs through the center of it.
GENERAL PAOLI TAVERN
The GeneraI Paoli Tavern was a reputed gathering place for local revolutionaries, including Anthony Wayne, whose home, Waynesborough, is less than a mile away. It is mentioned in the McGuire book as a place that part of the British Army passed on its way east toward their encampment in Tredyffrin, and as a place that Colonel Musgrave's forces passed going west toward the defeat of Anthony Wayne's forces at Malvern. [Note 7]
The site of the Paoli Tavern was on the north side of Lancaster Pike, just west of the present train station, about where the present post office stands. McGuire's book has a great picture of the old tavern which was from the era of 1886. [Note 8] McGuire states that the main building was destroyed by fire in 1892. Other authorities date the conflagration in 1899. [Note 9] One of the Old Lancaster Road mile markers was on the pike, just east of the Tavern, until recent times. It read: "18 m to P," placing the inn about 18 miles from Philadelphia.
BLUE BALL TAVERN
The old road to Lancaster had regularly spaced taverns at which travelers stopped for the night. The Blue Ball was the next one east from Paoli.
Mr. McGuire's book records the march of 10,000 British troops eastward on Swedesford Road through the Great Valley in September 1777. Cornwallis' troops passed the General Paoli Tavern and continued two miles further east to the Blue Ball Tavern. The British took up positions on the north side of the Lancaster Road for nearly two miles east of the Blue Ball Tavern, on bluffs overlooking the Great Valley. [Note 10]
The 1777 Blue Ball Tavern today is a private home. In the 1790s the Blue Ball Tavern moved to what is now a meticulously maintained little gem of a house on Old Lancaster Road, just north of the Daylesford train station on the corner of Russell Road. [Note 11]
NEWTOWN ROAD, EASTTOWN TOWNSHIP
British Colonel Harcourt made an "excursion" from the British encampment in Tredytfrin Township to collect horses. He went east on the Lancaster Road toward Philadelphia, but came back to the camp through Newtown Square. Easttown residents Robert Stephens, Casper White, and Peter Ubles each reported losing a horse to the British, and Michael Bingers reported losing three mares. [Note 12] McGuire quotes British Captain Montresor as saying that Colonel Harcourt took "two Creators [creatures] worth thirty-six pounds" from William Burns. The plundered William Burns was the great, great grandfather of our local historian Franklin L. Burns, of the Burns family who were instrumental in building Berwyn.
The locations of these residences are unknown to me, but Newtown Road follows approximately the same path that it has always followed.
The ancestral home of Anthony Wayne was searched by a squad of British soldiers hovering near the Paoli Tavern about the time of the Paoli Battle. [Note 13] Waynesborough has been recently restored to a splendid condition. It is located on Waynesborough Road just south of Paoli.
The Anglican Churches, St. Peter's in the Great Valley and St. David's, had a loyalist pastor. [Note 14] On the other hand, the Great Valley Baptist Church and the Presbyterian Church in the Great Valley were the centers of the colonialists who were rebelling against British authority. A Hessian officer later wrote that the war was really an "Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion."
British soldiers killed during the Paoli Massacre are thought to be buried at St. Peter's. Anthony Wayne attended St. David's, and is buried there. The firebrand pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Church was the chaplain of Anthony Wayne's 1st Pennsylvania Brigade.
All of these churches are in the same location, in approximately the same condition, and house the same denominations as at the time of the Battle of Paoli.
Mr. McGuire's book is a "must read" for a wide range of people; from serious students of the Revolutionary War, to local residents who will be intrigued by actions which took place in our own back yards.
About the Author
The author attended Paoli School, Tredyffrin-Easttown Junior High School, Tredyffrin-Easttown High School, Lehigh University, and George Washington University. He is a partner in the patent law firm of Woodcock Washburn Kurtz Mackiewicz & Norris in Philadelphia, and served on the Board of Supervisors of Tredyffrin Township and the SEPTA Board. The author gratefully acknowledges the help of Caroline Hartman who typed and assembled this article.
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