225th Anniversary of Rochambeau’s March Through Bolton

by Hans DePold, Bolton Town Historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, June 2006)

June marks the 225th anniversary of the march of Rochambeau and the French army through Bolton on their way to assist General Washington in the defeat of the British, who were rampaging through Virginia. If you saw the movie "The Patriot" you have an idea of the carnage General Cornwallis allowed in the south, and why Washington and Rochambeau were planning to put a stop to it and win independence from such tyranny.

Four French regiments camped at our Minister's Farm (now called the Rose Farm) on June 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1781. They were happy and in a relaxed mood because they were getting fresh food and supplies along the way. They expected no actual threat from the British until they passed the British-occupied city of New York. Secretly, part of the French navy was getting ready to sail to Virginia from Newport with massive siege guns to bombard Cornwallis, and secretly the French navy, under Admiral de Grasse, had massed in the Caribbean and was preparing to sail to Chesapeake Bay to overpower the British navy and block any escape route of Cornwallis.

Earlier, General Chastellux, second in command to Rochambeau, had written, "After descending a gentile slope for about two miles, I found myself in a rather narrow, but agreeable and well-cultivated valley: it is watered by a rivulet which flows into the 'Sheunganick' and which is adorned with the name of 'Hope' River; you follow this valley to Bolton." Yes, all maps from 1636 until 1811 show the Hop River had actually been named the "Hope" River by the first Hartford settlers as they passed through Bolton. And in 1781, the well-dressed and well-equipped French army gave new hope to the towns they entered.

Their fifth camp was in Bolton on the Minister's Farm, the name Bolton forefathers had given the parsonage of their Puritan pastors, the farm Bolton acquired from the Rose family in 2000. It is important that we maintain the correct names of historic places, otherwise revisionists and ignorance change the meaning and intentions of our forefathers as when some map maker left the "e" off "Hope" in 1811 and left us with the now familiar Hop River. The first Puritan settlers of Connecticut gave our river the name "Hope" and ignorance and a short attention span left us with the name Hop River — a big difference. The map of 1811 showed the products of each Connecticut town... and hops and beer were not products of the Hope River Valley in 1811.

The Bolton Board of Selectmen has designated June of 2006 as History Month. On June 10, Dr. Robert Thorson, a renowned expert on stone walls, will speak about the walls of the Minister's Farm, which the Bolton Selectmen at a town meeting on October 28, 1723 recorded: "Voted also that all the inhabitants of Bolton from sixteen years and upward work two days in each year for a space of three years in fencing and clearing for the minister from the first of him coming to settle."

The fences of the Minister's Farm are the stone walls we see there today. Many Bolton men and women worked together building those walls and clearing the brush. This law was never repealed by the Bolton selectmen so this obligation apparently stands today.

On June 21, members of the official re-enactment of Rochambeau's March will come into Bolton on their way to Yorktown, and we expect them to camp on the town green.

On June 24, we expect up to 100 re-enactors to march in our Bolton Rochambeau Anniversary parade and to be encamped and doing military maneuvers behind the Bolton Center School on Notch Road. They will include the mounted Dragoons of Sheldon's Light Horse Regiment, the musicians of the Governor's Foot Guard, and representatives of several Continental Army units. Crafts persons and sutlers (traders who sell drink and provisions to the troops) will demonstrate colonial crafts and sell colonial goods. We will dedicate a Revolutionary War site marker at the town green, as well as a historic properties locator made by Eagle Scout Drew Barnes.

The Mark Sutcliff collection of artifacts from the Minister's Farm, a cannon ball Len Matyia donated, and (we hope) 60-plus Continental and French army artifacts that the state dug up at the Rose Farm in 1998, will be on display at Bentley Memorial Library during the month of June.