SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Travelers along three of the area’s oldest roads will notice signs along the westbound lanes designating a significant event in American history that occurred in 1781: the 680-mile-long allied march from New England to Virginia which culminated at the Battle of Yorktown and the defeat of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis. The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail, created by an Act of Congress in 2009, honors the French-American alliance which helped to secure American independence.
Two hundred thirty five years ago this month, the sounds of the Continental Army on the move resonated through the small villages of Brooklyn and Samptown during the morning of August 29. The center column of Americans under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln had broken camp at 4 a.m. at Springfield and marched southwest towards Westfield. From there, the army and their supply wagons and artillery pulled by horses and oxen made their way to Old Raritan Road and eventually through the two small villages that comprised today’s South Plainfield. Onward they went through Piscataway Township, making camp around 2 p.m. at Raritan Landing above New Brunswick.
The combined allied armies under General George Washington and French General Jean Baptiste de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, had already traversed hundreds of miles from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to Connecticut and through New York when they entered New Jersey. The march was the largest military maneuver of troops and weapons of the entire war, with the French numbering around 5,350 and the Americans, 2,500. They arrived at their destination, the Chesapeake Bay village of Yorktown, Virginia, on September 28.
Joining additional French and American militia, the allies numbered 17,000 to the British 9,000. Here they would engage in the last significant mainland battle of the American Revolution. For 21 days, the armies fought until Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, ending fighting in the American colonies.
The first leg of the W-R route through South Plainfield enters at Woodland and Maple Avenues (Old Raritan Road) and continues to the junction of Plainfield Avenue and Lakeview. During revolutionary times, at least one Randolph farmhouse stood on Maple as well as the Quaker Meeting House and burial ground. At the turn onto Plainfield Avenue, the army passed William Laing’s Grist Mill and the man-made mill pond damming the Cedar Brook, established in the early 1700s. The route continues west onto Sampton Avenue, passing a long-demolished Blackford family house. The army pressed on past the Sampton/Clinton Avenue intersection where Joseph Drake’s residence, also known as the Stage Coach Inn, which was constructed in 1769, still stands. Crossing over the Bound Brook on Drake’s Bridge (Clinton Avenue Extension), they veered west on the road to New Market, passing the Hillside Cemetery of Samptown, established in the late 1600s, and likely a few more Blackford farmsteads as they exited the borough’s boundary line with Piscataway.
The trail signs were erected on Tuesday, August 23. Tom Stillman, vice-president of the South Plainfield Historical Society, coordinated the project, which was supported by Mayor Matthew Anesh and the Borough Council and was implemented by Len Miller, Superintendent of the Dept. of Public Works. For further information, visit the website http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/rochambeau/CMH_70-104-1.pdf