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Lafayette's Quarters

On September 11, 1777, the Revolutionary War Battle of Brandywine was fought on ten square miles of fields and hills surrounding Chadds Ford. The British were marching northeast from the Chesapeake Bay to Philadelphia to capture the colonial capitol city.

The main road to Philadelphia crossed the Brandywine River at Mr. Chads's ford. Because General Washington was convinced that the British, commanded by Lord Howe, would concentrate their attack there, he placed his troops on the east bank of the Brandywine to secure the fords nearest the main road. But Howe split his forces, sending part to Chads's ford and sending the majority twelve miles north to cross the Brandywine at unguarded fords. After crossing the river, the British marched south to outflank the right wing of the Americans near Birmingham Meeting House. The noise coming from the Birmingham conflict signaled the British troops posted on the road to Philadelphia to rush Mr. Chads's ford.

Superior tactics, greater troop strength, and better use of the local terrain allowed Howe to defeat Washington; however, the outnumbered Americans earned grudging respect from the British for fighting them on their own terms and living to fight again. In mid-December the Americans settled at Valley Forge-- where they spent the winter, cold, poorly fed, and ill-sheltered--while the British moved to the warmth, comfort, and plenty of Philadelphia.

On the eve of the battle the Marquis de Lafayette, a young French volunteer aide to General Washington, was quartered in the home of Gideon Gilpin, a prosperous Quaker farmer. Although Lafayette had extensive military training his first actual combat experience was the Battle of Brandywine.

Lafayette's Quarters appears today much as it did in 1777, although later additions were attached to the original 1745 stone dwelling. It is part of the Brandywine Battlefield Park, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The carefully tended 368-year-old sycamore tree still stands as one of our most recognizable Brandywine Valley landmarks.

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While studying at Bethany College, long before coming to the Brandywine Valley, I admired Andrew Wyeth's beautiful pencil study of this tree.  I didn't know the tree was a sycamore or where it grew.  When I visited the battlefield, I recognized Wyeth's tree.  I searched for a vantage point for a nice compostition and used a polarized filter for my reference photos.  The filter darkened the clear winter sky to create the scene I wanted to paint.

 

24" x 18" Oil on canvas 1988 Corporate Collection

 

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