Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finding the Nichols House, Part II -- Where were the British and how did they go?

This is Part II of Finding the Nichols House, my short-version presentation of Walt Chiquoine's research into the subject. His original works can be accessed and downloaded via this link. You must create an account on the site, but it's very easy. As I said in Part I, do yourself a favor and read his work directly. Walt tells the story much clearer and in far greater detail than I do here.

The Andre Map
In Part I of Finding the Nichols House, we traced the British Army's movements from their landing at the Head of Elk, across Pencader Hundred, and through a two-pronged approach into Mill Creek Hundred. Friend-of-the-Blog Walt Chiquoine has spent years, and thousands of hours of research, meticulously piecing together the details of the British Army's movements through MCH on September 8-10, 1777. It was always known that they came through, and that they camped here the night of the 8th before moving on to the Battle of Brandywine three days later. There are some primary sources that give tantalizing clues as to exactly where the troops settled down for the night, but enough uncertainty remained that no one was sure just where anyone was. The key to it all, as Walt soon discovered, lay in nailing down the exact location of British General Sir William Howe's headquarters for the night -- the Nichols House.

Through his research, Walt found several letters and diaries written by eyewitnesses to the events of that week. But since none were authored by natives of the area, no one wrote anything obvious and helpful like, "We were camped on the Dixon farm." Instead, the most indispensable guide was a map, drawn by an aide to Gen. Howe, Major John Andre (technically, he was a captain in 1777). If the name sounds familiar, this is the same Major Andre who would later be hung by the Americans for his part in Benedict Arnold's plot. The hand-drawn map shows "The Position of the Army at New Garden the 8th Sept 1777", and depicts the position of various encampments and headquarters along a road. Aside from unit and commander names, there are no other keys to aid in placing the map in the real world. Plus, being hand-drawn by a foreigner to these parts, it's about as geographically inaccurate as you'd expect.

But it does clearly show (Howe's) Head Quarters, which on other maps and in various correspondence is referred to as the Nichols House. So if the Nichols House could be decisively located, the rest of the map would fall into place. And surprisingly, at least in recent memory (and anywhere in print), this had never been done. In the end, all it took was some patient research by Walt and his vast knowledge of land holdings in the area in the 1770's. As he discovered, there was only one adult male Nichols in MCH at the time -- Daniel Nichols.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Finding the Nichols House, Part I: The British are Coming!

Long-time readers of this blog should be familiar with the name Walt Chiquoine. He has written several guest posts here, and for many years has been the go-to guy for decoding old land records, especially those from the Colonial Era. He has amassed enough data to map out the ownership of almost all of Mill Creek Hundred at the time of the Revolutionary War. While this may sound like an arbitrary (and possibly pointless) thing to do, there was, most certainly, a method to his madness.

Walt's not a native of the area, but after moving here in the 1980's he heard the stories of the British Army's movements in the region in 1777, leading up to the Battle of Brandywine. Eventually, a seemingly simple question got stuck in his head -- I wonder if the British marched near my house? From this one question has sprung years of research and so many hours down at the State Archives that I'm surprised they never gave him a parking spot. Or his own key. Or at least special bathroom privileges. Point is, he's put a lot of work into this. And over time, "this" has turned into several separate but related projects.

Much research was done into firsthand accounts of the British Army's movements during that time. From trying to understand this data came the project of mapping out the ownership of MCH during the 1770's. Finally, and tying everything down and putting it into place, was the finding of the often-mentioned but never located Daniel Nichols House, Gen. Howe's headquarters for two days while the army camped in MCH. Now, after years of work, I'm thrilled to say that Walt has released his work for public consideration.