Revision of the Washington-Rochambeau Route to Victory
REASONABLE JUSTIFICATION EXISTS to RE-EXAMINE the Traditional Depiction of the historical Washington-Rochambeau Route to Victory in September 1781.
This webpage is a ‘working draft' that attempts to explain the currently exploratory considerations and possible adjustments to the route --- particularly the segments between Fredericksburg, south to just northwest of Williamsburg.
Recent research suggests changes are necessary to the traditional description of the "Washington-Rochambeau Route to Victory" associated with the Yorktown Campaign of 1781. In particular, stated dates and description of the trace taken by Washington and Rochambeau between Mount Vernon and Williamsburg in September 1781, in current publications and wayside displays, are probably in error due to the fresh examination of financial records and further review of various contemporary, but some conflicting, accounts of the historic journey.


ISSUE of DATES:

Washington's 10 Sept 1781 letter, written at Mount Vernon, to Lafayette – in Williamsburg at the time – stated that Washington intended to depart [with Rochambeau and close staff] from Mount Vernon on 12 September. This date has been accepted by many historians as credible evidence to mark the beginning of the historic ‘Washington-Rochambeau Route to Victory' between Mount Vernon and Williamsburg. However, the 12 September date has been troubling to accept in contention with other accounts that claim that on 13 September Washington received, at Dumfries [located only about 20 miles south of Mt. Vernon], a dispatch from Williamsburg.
A conflicting date of departure from Mount Vernon was reported by Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., who was with Washington at Mount Vernon in September 1781 and traveled with the general to Williamsburg. Trumbull's "Minutes of Occurrences Respecting the Siege and Capture of York in Virginia" – an itinerary complied soon after the trip that has Washington depart Mount Vernon on 13 September. This would appear more reasonable with the date given that Washington received the dispatch at Dumfries on the 13th. [See note 1.]
Most historians have deferred to the assessment by Washington's renowned biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman. Freeman's George Washington, A Biography, volume V (1952). Freeman has Washington send forth his servants in early morning of 12 September – to make preparations for the evening of 13 September at "the best tavern in the Rappahanock"– while Washington and Rochambeau departed Mount Vernon on the 12th [p. 328]. Freeman's footnote 48 [pp.328-329] further states:
"The accounts of Col. W. S. Smith (184 Papers of G. W., 78, LC) indicate that the party had dinner at Dumfries on the 12th and almost certainly spent the night at Fredericksburg; but Smith's statement of expense and that of Colonel Trumbull (ibid., 65) leave in doubt where the party halted at the end of the day's ride of the 13th. Hanover Court House seems the most probable stopping place."
A critical issue is to resolve interpretation of Dumfries' date in Col. Smith's record of Washington's financial account. Does the financial account have Washington at Dumfries in the 12th or 13th? Which ever, will be the most likely date of departing Mount Vernon. It might be noted that ‘dinner' in the context of this era usually meant a mid-day meal.
Another date discrepancy exists with date of Washington's [and Rochambeau's] arrival at Williamsburg – was it 14 or 15 September?
Freeman's footnote 43 (p.328) specifically finds Trumbull's chronology for September 12-15 "in error." Freeman has Washington's arrival at Williamsburg to be the 14th [p.331]. Freeman's footnote 56 references St. George Tucker's letter of 15 September 1781. Again, Freeman disagrees with Trumbull's notes, and states: "In Washington's diary, which evidently was dated by Jonathan Trumbull's, or vice versa, arrival in Williamsburg mistakenly is said to have been on the 15th of September (2 Dairies, 260)." Evidently Freeman was referencing a older transcription of the diary when he saw "15th of September," as this has since been detected as a typographical error and has been changed to agree with the handwritten diary that has Washington arriving at Williamsburg on the 14th.
Another factor to weigh – but probably cannot help resolve the departure date from Mt. Vernon – is that The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Close (1780-1783) translated and edited by Evelyn M. Acomb (1958), p.129, reports the Baron meeting in Maryland, the evening of 13 September, Washington's aides Smith and Humphreys, carrying orders from the Allied generals for the main army not to proceed south of Annapolis in view of the unknown naval situation evolving at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. We now know that by the 9th of September this had already been decided favorably for the Allies at the ‘Second Battle of the Virginia Capes'.
Another 'eye witness' source for Washington's '14 September Williamsburg arrival date is found in the 'diary' -- or 'orderly book' entry -- maintained by Captain BenjaminBartholomew of the Pennsylvania Regiment that was present at the Yorktown siege. [See note 2.]

Points for consideration:

It should be noted that the editor of Trumbull's "Minutes.." states the following about the subject document: "This transcript of Colonel Trumbull's Journal appears from the hand-writing to have been made by a later hand, some years after the events narrated occurred" [footnote on p.331 of source given at Note 1 of this page]. Further suspicion on dates in Trumbull's "Minutes..." is suggested by a conflict with date of Washington's arrival at Mount Vernon. Trumbull has Washington and Rochambeau arrive on 10 September [p.333]. Washington's diary has the following entry: "9th. I reached my own Seat at Mount Vernon (distant 120 Miles from the Hd. of Elk) where I staid till the 12th. and in three days afterwards that is on the 14th. reached Williamsburg. " [taken from website "The Diaries of George Washington. Vol. 3. Donald Jackson, ed.; Dorothy Twohig, assoc. ed. The Papers of George Washington. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978."]
Washington's 10 September letter stated his intention to depart on 12 September. It is not a report that he did such.
Given that he sent forth his servants early in the morning of 12 September might suggest that Washington's earlier statement on the 10th referred to ‘his entire entourage', which comprised his servants whom he may have intended to send forth a day in advance to prepare quarters for the next day's arrival by the senior officers. With this presumption, the Generals Washington and Rochambeau could have departed Mount Vernon on 13 September. This date allows easy acceptance that they were only at Dumprhies when they received a dispatch sent from Williamsburg. Otherwise there was a difficulty rationalizing how Washington would have been only 20 miles south of Mount Vernon a day after he departed his home. It does not seem necessary to engage in such strained rational just to support Trumbull's dates as opposed to dates given in other quite credible eyewitness accounts.
However, it is being suggested that Freeman's dismissal of Trumbull's dates may not hold up if one considers dates of financial transactions associated with Washington's trip as recorded by Lt Col William Stephens Smith. These transactions are available on the Internet as "The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799; George Washington, September-November, 1781, Revolutionary War Expense Account." The accounts are in JEPG imagery format and are not legible to many. Some images are linked to text files of annotations by John C. Fitzpatrick. One of Fitzpatrick's annotations states:
1781, September 8--Daniel Grant, owner of the Fountain Inn, Baltimore. His account was for eight dinners for Washington and his suite and also for seven servants. September 9, sixteen horses were cared for by him.

1781, September 8--Lieutenant-Colonel William Stephens Smith appears to have been the Aide who accompanied Washington. He had been Aide to Sullivan and also to Lafayette. He served as Aide to the Commander-in-Chief from July, 1781, to the end of the war. His account gives the route taken by Washington and Rochambeau from Philadelphia to Baltimore as: Chester, Wilmington, Delaware, Christiana Bridge, Wormsley, Susquehannah Ferry, Darling's, Nottingham, and Baltimore.

1781, September 8--Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., was at this time Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief.

1781, September 17--The route from Mount Vernon to Williamsburg was by way of Colchester, Dumfries, Garrat's, Fredericksburg, Bolling, or Bowling Green, Aylett's, Frank's, and Williamsburg, which was reached September 14. [Bold font added by webpage editor]
The last entry by Fitzpatrick is interesting. While it supports a 14 September arrival at Williamsburg, it suggests an overland route different from the traditional trace that has generals Washington and Rochambeau, after departing Fredericksburg, proceeding south to Bolling Green, and then continuing south to Hanover CH, crossing the Mattaponi and Pamunky rivers before heading southeast toward Williamsburg. It appears that Fitzpatrick suggests the generals remain north of the Mattaponi river until crossing somewhere prior to Aylett, on the south of the Mattaponi. This trace closely matches another ‘traditional' route described in the following section.

ISSUE of OVERLAND ROUTE

Further adjustments are probably required [beyond just dates] to the ‘traditional' [as posted in many leading publications and various wayside displays] trace of the ‘Washington-Rochambeau's Route to Victory' between Mount Vernon and Williamsburg in September 1781.
Recent examination of George Washington's Accounts of Expenses While Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army 1775-1783 – cited above – supports the possibility that Washington would have very likely taken a route frequently taken by him between Fredericksburg and Williamsburg, known as the ‘Washington's Burgess Route'. The route is described in "Washington's Burgess Route" by Rev. Arthur P. Gray, pp.299-314 in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol XLVI, No 4, October 1938. [Separately printed in the same year as a 17 page booklet by Old Dominion Press, Inc., Richmond, VA.]
This ‘Burgess Route' resembles the " Bowling Green, Aylett's, Frank's, and Williamsburg" mentioned by Fitzpatrick, and apparently conforms to contemporary financial receipts for river ferry crossings [recently revealed and as yet not fully examined], and Lt Col William Stephens' account held by the Library of Congress.

The essential difference is that the ‘Burgess Route' trace shifts the main path current [traditional] descriptions of the Washington-Rochambeau Route from one that went from Fredericksburg, to Bolling Green and then continues south, crossing the Mattaponi and Pamunky rivers enroute to Hanover CH, before heading southeast toward Williamsburg. The so-called ‘Washington's Burgess Route' [which varied with individual trips over time; see note 3.] generally was to head southeast soon after Bolling Green, and crossed intervening rivers much further to the southeast. After Bolling Green, the route proceeded southeast, and crossed the Mattaponi river at Todds' Bridge [no longer in existence, but located north of locations identified with ‘Aylett' on the southern side of the river]. Continuing southeast, the ‘Burgess Route' crossed the Pamunky at Ruffin's Ferry [no longer in existence], or further south near West Point. Eighteenth century names have changed and locations disappeared since. Modern communities, landmarks, and numbered route designation need to be recognized that approximate the earlier points along the route. This has been attempted on the map below. The map is a ‘working draft' that will be revised as research continues. The map does not have a modern name to designate the earlier location of 'Todd's Bridge'; but the community of 'Sweet Hall' now exists where 'Ruffin's Ferry' existed. The trace of the 'revised' Washington-Rochambeau' on the map bends away from going to St. Stephens Ch, under the assumption that in September 1781, Washington would have prefered the more direct path between Newtown and Todd's Bridge.

SUMMARY OBSERVATION

Given that the existence of a ‘Washington's Burgess Route' was documented in Rev. Gray's 1938 magazine article, and that the Virginia General Assembly designated such a route [though different in structure] be marked, it is surprising that the noted scholar and biographer of Washington, Douglas Freeman, did not address this as a possible overland path Washington could have taken in September 1781? The same could be said of the many scholarly studies generated during the Bicentennial of the Yorktown Campaign. While one could speculate as to why Washington would not have followed this very familiar – and presumed most efficient – route between Mount Vernon and Williamsburg in September 1781, it presents an issue that must be examined. One would hope to resolve both the route's trace as well as dates by inspecting ‘George Washington, September-November, 1781, Revolutionary War Expense Account'. Freeman was aware of this account, and of comments by John C. Fritzpatrick, the editor of Washington's Papers held at the Library of Congress. Freeman seems to agree with Fitzpatrick on the date the generals were at Dumprhies and arrived at Williamsburg, but ignores the overland trace of the route roughly outlined by Fitzpatrick.
Recent research being conducted as part of a multi-state study of the broader Washington-Rochambeau Route (including the full movements and encampments of allied forces between the northeast and Virginia in 1780-1782) raises the possibility that Freeman may have misinterpreted the entry dates inscribed in ‘George Washington, September-November, 1781, Revolutionary War Expense Account'. On the other hand, Freeman's 14 September arrival of Washington at Williamsburg appears to be supported not only by Fitzpatrick's review of records, but by contemporary and reputable documents authored by Americans in the area at the time: St. George Tucker's and Captain Bartholomew. Reportedly there are recently uncovered receipts for ferry services that may help resolve the issue of dates. However, a revised trace of the route appears to be on firmer ground. [See note 4.]


NOTES

  1. ."Minutes of Occurrences Respecting the Siege and Capture of York in Virginia. Extracted from the Journal of Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, Secretary to the General, 1781" in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1st series, 14 (May, 1876), pp. 331-38.

  2. Marching to Victory; Capt. Benjamin Bartholomew's Diary of the Yorktown Campaign May 1781 to March 1782, edited and with Introduction by E. Lee Shepard (Virginia Historical Society, Richmond 2002). Captain Bartholomew's diary was "seemingly intended to be used as his company's orderly book" [p.5], and covers the period from the when his Pennsylvania Regiment , Continental Line, under General Wayne departed York (PA) on 26 May 1781 to join Lafayette in Virginia on 11 June. Page 22 contains Captain Bartholomew's entry:
    "Friday Septr. 14th - his Excellency Genrl. Washington arived at 5 OClock PM. when there was twenty one pieces of Canon fired, he Review'd the Troops."

  3. The ‘Washington's Burgess Route' not only varied in its exact trace over the years as described by Rev. Gray; it is given a considerably different structure in the Virginia Commonwealth's House Bill No. 192 of February 5, 1940. That legislation states:
    "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia, That that portion of the State highway system which connects the cities of Fredericksburg and Williamsburg, to-wit: Route two from Fredericksburg to its intersection with Route thirty, Route thirty from its said intersection with Route two to its intersection with Route sixty, and Route sixty from its said intersection with Route thirty to Williamsburg, be, and the same is hereby, named and designated as ‘Washington's Burgess Route', and the State Highway Commissioner is directed to mark the same accordingly." [Bold font added by webpage editor]
    The overland trace described in the 1940 Virginia Assembly act is much like the 1980 Virginia General Assembly legislation describing the ‘Washington-Rochambeau Route to Victory'. Neither of the two acts appear to be base upon rigorous research, and seem intent to prescribe ‘driveable' route along modern roads.

  4. A new trace is suggested in a recent article by the noted W3R-US Research Historian Dr. Robert A. Selig . His article "Tracing the Yorktown Campaign of 1781-81" [in Notes on Virginia, No. 51, 2007, published annually by Virginia Department of Historic Resources; p. 53] provides the following revised description for "Designating a National and Virginia Washington – Rochambeau Trail":
    "Coming from Georgetown via Mount Vernon, Washington and Rochambeau traveled to Yorktown by way of Fredericksburg and Bowling Green, thence into King & Queen County on Sparta Road (now Route 721) past Hubbard's Tavern to Park Church and Newtown, thence to Dunkirk where they crossed the Mattaponi River over Todd's Bridge into King William County. They rode past King William Court House to Ruffin's Ferry, where they crossed the Pamunkey River into New Kent County and continued to Williamsburg. Many sections of the original roads still exist today."
    [Special note by webpage author: an accompanying map to Dr. Selig's article identifies a ‘Burk's Bridge' on the route taken from Bowling Green to ‘Todds Bridge'. This is not yet located on the draft map shown on this webpage. There are challenges to describe the trace of the route taken in 1781 so that it can be inspected by interested visitors/tourists today. A number of locations and 18th century roads no longer exist, and the land on which some of the prominent 18th century landmarks were located are now on private lands with restricted access.]


ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS Contributed by Viewers of this webpage:

Interesting. The September 10 message from Washington, also said he was going to New Castle (the wagon route in Hanover County) and asked Lafayette to send "a party of horse towards New Kent Courthouse" to meet them. Instead, according to the expense account he seems to have gone by way of Aylett's, Ruffin's Ferry, Frank's and Williamsburg. Washington knew the territory and could reasonably used a number of routes. In New Kent County he went through or near plantations owned by his wife's relatives.
He could have gone through New Kent Courthouse, although there seems to be no reason why he would do so.
About 25 years ago the owner of Sweet Hall in King William County showed me an inn in his basement and said that Washington used to stop there on the way north from visiting Martha.

I've only used a small part of the GW Expenses that relate to New Kent County, and got my information from the Library of Congress Web site.
After 3/12/0 spent at Ayletts he shows 1/4/0 to Ruffin's Servants. This is probably at Ruffin's Ferry (later known as Sweet Hall) crossing the Pamunkey River from King William to New Kent.
The next expense is at Frank's 4/3/1. Frank's is shown on the Erskine map and on the Collis map as being on the current Cook's Mill Road in New Kent. A nearby resident told me that an old store, now closed and of a later period, was known as Frank's.
The next expense is 4/4/0 which is unreadable in my version, but which is also thought to be Frank's.
After that is 1/9/0 probably at Williamsburg.
I'd like to find a more definitive analysis. Both the Erskine (1778) and Collis (1789) maps show the Ruffin's Ferry, Franks, Bird's Ordinary route as a main North South route.

      -- Submitted by Stran Trout.

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Draft Page initially posted 4 August 2007, revised 10 Dec 2013.