A spotlight on one of the more than 40 historic properties owned by the State of Delaware and administered by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
“George Washington visited here” is an oft-repeated claim in American cultural tourism—and one that is often exaggerated. Many times, the “Father of Our Country” merely slept at a property or had a meal there. Often, his visits took place before the events of the American Revolution or between the Revolutionary War and his two terms as president. In the case of the Hale-Byrnes House, however, Washington’s visit had historical significance.
In August 1777, Gen. William Howe and 15,000 British and Hessian troops sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and landed at the Head of Elk (now Elkton, Md.). Their goal was to advance on Philadelphia from the southwest and capture the provisional American capital and seat of the Second Continental Congress.
Expecting the British to move directly to Wilmington and then Philadelphia via the King’s Highway (now Old Baltimore Pike), Washington established entrenchments at locations where the highway crossed White Clay Creek and later, Red Clay Creek. He also sent a unit of light infantry under Gen. William Maxwell to harass and delay the British at Cooch’s Bridge, a key chokepoint along the highway where it crossed the Christina Creek south of Newark, Del.
On Sept. 3, Maxwell’s troops engaged advance units of Howe’s army at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the only land battle of the American Revolution fought in Delaware. Although they were able to slow Howe’s advance, Maxwell’s troops were eventually forced to retreat east along King’s Highway.
Three days later, on Sept. 6, Washington and the high command of the Continental Army including generals Maxwell, Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, John Sullivan, Anthony Wayne and the Marquis de Lafayette, met at the Hale-Byrnes House located on the west bank of White Clay Creek at the junction of the King’s Highway and Ogletown Road which leads to Newark. Here they held a council of war to plan for the British advance that they felt sure would come via the two roads.
Instead, on Sept. 8, Howe feigned an advance east while sending the main body of his troops north through Newark to Kennett Square, Pa. where they moved east on the Great Nottingham Road (now Route 1) towards Philadelphia. Realizing the ruse, Washington hastily moved his army north to Chadd’s Ford, Pa. where it met, and was defeated by, the British in the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11.
Following the battle, the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia for Lancaster, Pa. After a series of smaller battles and maneuvers, British forces marched unopposed into Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 1777. British troops also occupied Wilmington immediately after the battle, departing for Philadelphia in October. British forces spent the winter of 1777–1778 in the relative comfort of Philadelphia while most of the bedraggled American soldiers endured the harshest of winter conditions at Valley Forge.
These British successes were short-lived however. As a result of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, France entered the war on the American side in the spring of 1778. In response to the French threat, British forces received orders from London to withdraw from Philadelphia in order to fortify their main base in New York and to dispatch several thousand troops for the defense of British possessions in the West Indies and West Florida. On June 18, 1778, they abandoned Philadelphia, departing overland for New York.
About Hale-Byrnes House …
Located at 606 Stanton-Christiana Road in Newark, Del., Hale-Byrnes House is a five-bay brick house built circa 1750. Its earliest history is unclear but references indicate that on Nov. 23, 1749, millwright Warwick Hale left his property on the west bank of the White Clay Creek to his son, Samuel. Soon thereafter, David Finney of New Castle purchased the land. It is uncertain whether the house was built by Samuel Hale or Finney but an exterior brick on the second story back wall is inscribed “A. Finney.”
Daniel Byrnes, a Quaker preacher and miller from Brandywine Village and his wife Dinah Hicklin Byrnes, purchased the property from Finney on Jan. 16, 1773. Not long afterward, the Byrnes family added the two-story service wing with its large walk-in fireplace. The family was living in the house during the momentous events of September 1777. Daniel Byrnes sold the house in 1790. Go to the following for related Byrnes-family history and genealogy.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Hale-Byrnes House is the southern anchor of the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River and is a site on the nine-state Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail. Owned by the State of Delaware and administered by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the property is leased to the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities with day-to-day management provided by the society’s board of managers and resident-curators Kim and Ralph Burdick.
The love that the society’s board and volunteers have for this historic property is readily apparent. Since the Burdicks moved into the house in June 2008, there has been a significant increase in public programming including monthly open houses, American Revolution Round Table of Northern Delaware lectures and historical re-enactments. Children are welcomed and are allowed to handle a beaver-chewed log, a deer skull, cups made from cow horns and other small artifacts. Adults are encouraged to ask questions and to make friends with the nationally-recognized scholars and historians who present programs at the site. As Kim Burdick notes with reference to people inquiring about visiting Hale-Byrnes House, “Yes! Come on over! Come soon and often”!
The Hale-Byrnes House is open for special events, and from Noon to 3 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month between April and December. Highlights of upcoming programming include the Holiday Open House and the lecture “George Read and the Delaware Conspiracy” by former Wilmington News Journal editor John Sweeney. Both events will take place on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
In addition, Kim Burdick will present “Seized in September,” a talk about the historic events of 1777 in Delaware. The program will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 at the New Castle Public Library located at 424 Delaware St. in New Castle, Del.