Yorktown

Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was established on the banks of the James River in Virginia in 1607. Yorktown and other port cities like Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Portsmouth, and Norfolk eventually also grew up along the rivers of Virginia, but no single large urban center developed. Settlement was scattered, but Virginia was by far the most heavily populated colony in British North America by the time of the Revolution. Most estimates indicate that by 1775, there were over 500,000 inhabitants. Enslaved men and women of African descent or origin comprised nearly half of the population, and the colony derived its wealth from their forced labor.

In 1775, as tensions rose between the colonists and British government, the colony’s royal governor, John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, seized the colony’s gunpowder stores. This aroused intense anger and he fled to Yorktown to seek safety on a British warship. Confined to his ship, Dunmore proclaimed freedom to slaves who fled their American enslavers, further increasing tensions, but was unable to effectively govern. He finally abandoned Virginia to the revolutionaries in June of 1776.

Virginia was spared most of the early fighting during the American Revolution. This changed in 1779 as the British used their naval capacity to strike along Virginia’s waterways. In 1780 and 1781, raids reached as far inland as Petersburg and even to the new state capital at Richmond. In 1781, General Charles Cornwallis redeployed much of his army in the Carolinas to Virginia in order to join other British troops and attempt to raise loyalist support. Over the summer, the British and the Americans, led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, pursued each other across the state, but never delivered a knockout blow.

Cornwallis was finally ordered to establish a base at a river port. He began to fortify Yorktown in August of 1781, where he hoped to be reinforced. Before any support arrived, the allied Franco-American army led by General George Washington marched all the way from the Hudson River to catch Cornwallis. A strategic victory by the French Navy in the Chesapeake Capes on September 5 prevented Cornwallis from escaping, and he surrendered on October 19 after a 3-week-long siege. The surrender at Yorktown was an unequivocal sign of the end of the war in America, although the final Treaty of Paris was not formally signed until September 3, 1783.

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Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was established on the banks of the James River in Virginia in 1607. Yorktown and other port cities like Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Portsmouth, and Norfolk eventually also grew up along the rivers of Virginia, but no single large urban center developed. Settlement was scattered, but Virginia was by far the most heavily populated colony in British North America by the time of the Revolution. Most estimates indicate that by 1775, there were over 500,000 inhabitants. Enslaved men and women of African descent or origin comprised nearly half of the population, and the colony derived its wealth from their forced labor.
In 1775, as tensions rose between the colonists and British government, the colony’s royal governor, John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, seized the colony’s gunpowder stores. This aroused intense anger and he fled to Yorktown to seek safety on a British warship. Confined to his ship, Dunmore proclaimed freedom to slaves who fled their American enslavers, further increasing tensions, but was unable to effectively govern. He finally abandoned Virginia to the revolutionaries in June of 1776.
Virginia was spared most of the early fighting during the American Revolution. This changed in 1779 as the British used their naval capacity to strike along Virginia’s waterways. In 1780 and 1781, raids reached as far inland as Petersburg and even to the new state capital at Richmond. In 1781, General Charles Cornwallis redeployed much of his army in the Carolinas to Virginia in order to join other British troops and attempt to raise loyalist support. Over the summer, the British and the Americans, led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, pursued each other across the state, but never delivered a knockout blow.Cornwallis was finally ordered to establish a base at a river port. He began to fortify Yorktown in August of 1781, where he hoped to be reinforced. Before any support arrived, the allied Franco-American army led by General George Washington marched all the way from the Hudson River to catch Cornwallis. A strategic victory by the French Navy in the Chesapeake Capes on September 5 prevented Cornwallis from escaping, and he surrendered on October 19 after a 3-week-long siege. The surrender at Yorktown was an unequivocal sign of the end of the war in America, although the final Treaty of Paris was not formally signed until September 3, 1783.

Objects in the Yorktown case

French Officer’s Coat, Régiment de Touraine

This is one of the rarest uniforms to survive from the American Revolution and has the best claim of any surviving French uniform to have been worn at the Siege of Yorktown. The number 34 on the buttons, combined with the rose colored cuffs, mark this as the uniform of the Touraine Regiment. The quality of the materials, the silver buttons, and the straps at the shoulder for now-missing epaulets mark it as the uniform of an officer. It is styled according to a uniform regulation issued in 1779.

It is not known who wore this uniform, but the Touraine Regiment was one of three infantry regiments sent to Virginia in 1781 from the Caribbean. They were dispatched from Saint-Domingue (Haiti) under the command of Claude-Anne de Rouvroy, Marquis de Saint-Simon. There they cooperated with the Marquis de Lafayette’s American troops until the allied army of General Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau joined to fully invest the British at Yorktown. Engaged during the siege, they helped cover the far left flank of the allied army, where the wearer of this coat may have witnessed the final surrender of the British on October 19, 1781.

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This is one of the rarest uniforms to survive from the American Revolution and has the best claim of any surviving French uniform to have been worn at the Siege of Yorktown. The number 34 on the buttons, combined with the rose colored cuffs, mark this as the uniform of the Touranie Regiment. The quality of the materials, the silver buttons, and the straps at the shoulder for now-missing epaulets mark it as the uniform of an officer. It is styled according to a uniform regulation issued in 1779.

It is not known who wore this uniform, but the Touraine Regiment was one of three infantry regiments sent to Virginia in 1781 from the Caribbean. They were dispatched from Saint-Domingue (Haiti) under the command of Claude-Anne de Rouvroy, Marquis de Saint-Simon. There they cooperated with the Marquis de Lafayette’s American troops until the allied army of General Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau joined to fully invest the British at Yorktown. Engaged during the siege, they helped cover the far left flank of the allied army, where the wearer of this coat may have witnessed the final surrender of the British on October 19, 1781.

Congé (discharge) of Joseph Gasser and Button from the Régiment de Bourbonnais

Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, was selected to lead the French expeditionary forces sent to support the Americans, known as the Expédition Particulière. His army landed in Newport, Rhode Island in July of 1780 and departed from Boston on Christmas Day of 1782. Rochambeau’s army remains the only foreign force ever to serve alongside the American military in the United States. The corps numbered nearly 5,500 men, including artillery, a legion of infantry and cavalry, and the four infantry regiments of Soissonnois, Saintonge, Deux Ponts, and Bourbonnais.

The Bourbonnais Regiment was numbered 13th in the line following new regulations issued in 1779, as reflected in this regimental button found near Yorktown. This discharge provided evidence that the soldier, Joseph Gasser, from a small town in Lorraine in eastern France, was 21 years old when he served in America alongside the other men of the Bourbonnais Regiment. With them, Gasser marched from New England to Virginia and back, nearly 1,500 miles, in what proved to be the decisive campaign of the war in America.

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Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, was selected to lead the French expeditionary forces sent to support the Americans, known as the Expédition Particulière. His army landed in Newport, Rhode Island in July of 1780 and departed from Boston on Christmas Day of 1782. Rochambeau’s army remains the only foreign force ever to serve alongside the American military in the United States. The corps numbered nearly 5,500 men, including artillery, a legion of infantry and cavalry, and the four infantry regiments of Soissonnois, Saintonge, Deux Ponts, and Bourbonnais.

The Bourbonnais Regiment was numbered 13th in the line following new regulations issued in 1779, as reflected in this regimental button found near Yorktown. This discharge provided evidence that the soldier, Joseph Gasser, from a small town in Lorraine in eastern France, was 21 years old when he served in America alongside the other men of the Bourbonnais Regiment. With them, Gasser marched from New England to Virginia and back, nearly 1,500 miles, in what proved to be the decisive campaign of the war in America.

Portrait Miniature of an Officer of the Régiment Royal-Deux-Ponts

Although the sitter in this miniature is unknown, the uniform he wears marks him as an officer of the Régiment Royal-Deux-Ponts, one of the four infantry regiments that comprised the comte de Rochambeau’s Expédition Particulière and provided on-the-ground support to American forces. Deux Ponts was unique in that it was one of France’s foreign regiments. The French army contained a sizable minority of foreign troops, including Germans, Swiss, Irish, Italians, and others. Deux Ponts was a German regiment, raised within the Duchy of Zweibrücken in the Rhineland. German troops in the French Army wore a distinctive blue uniform, as opposed to the white of metropolitan French soldiers. The French king ordered that a proportion of Rochambeau’s force would be composed of German troops. It was hoped this might be an opportunity to gain recruits from Hessians and other Germans that might desert the British, as well as volunteers from the large German population in America. While this did not happen as planned, the presence of more familiar Germans made the French expeditionary force somewhat less foreign to many Americans.

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Although the sitter in this miniature is unknown, the uniform he wears marks him as an officer of the Régiment Royal-Deux-Ponts, one of the four infantry regiments that comprised the comte de Rochambeau’s Expédition Particulière and provided on-the-ground support to American forces. Deux Ponts was unique in that it was one of France’s foreign regiments. The French army contained a sizable minority of foreign troops, including Germans, Swiss, Irish, Italians, and others. Deux Ponts was a German regiment, raised within the Duchy of Zweibrücken in the Rhineland. German troops in the French Army wore a distinctive blue uniform, as opposed to the white of metropolitan French soldiers. The French king ordered that a proportion of Rochambeau’s force would be composed of German troops. It was hoped this might be an opportunity to gain recruits from Hessians and other Germans that might desert the British, as well as volunteers from the large German population in America. While this did not happen as planned, the presence of more familiar Germans made the French expeditionary force somewhat less foreign to many Americans.

French 8-Pouce Mortar Shell

Beyond French naval dominance offshore, the decisive element during the siege of Yorktown was the artillery. Henry Knox’s artillery brought to bear their skill, honed over six years of war, and French forces provided their own extensive siege train and well-trained men to operate them. From the opening of the first batteries to the final surrender, the allied forces fired over 15,000 rounds of shot and shell at the British lines. The French artillery alone account for two-thirds of this incredible number, just over 10,000 projectiles.

Explosive shells like these were fired from mortars and howitzers, designed to arc high over the British works, then drop down behind the defensive works and explode above their target, raining down jagged bits of iron. This shell seems to correspond with a French 8-pouce (inch) mortar, of which 999 shells were fired during the Siege of Yorktown.

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Beyond French naval dominance offshore, the decisive element during the siege of Yorktown was the artillery. Henry Knox’s artillery brought to bear their skill, honed over six years of war, and French forces provided their own extensive siege train and well-trained men to operate them. From the opening of the first batteries to the final surrender, the allied forces fired over 15,000 rounds of shot and shell at the British lines. The French artillery alone account for two-thirds of this incredible number, just over 10,000 projectiles.

Explosive shells like these were fired from mortars and howitzers, designed to arc high over the British works, then drop down behind the defensive works and explode above their target, raining down jagged bits of iron. This shell seems to correspond with a French 8-pouce (inch) mortar, of which 999 shells were fired during the Siege of Yorktown.

Hussar Saber

The hussars of the Volontaires Étrangers de Lauzun were the only French cavalrymen in the comte de Rochambeau’s expedition. The unit consisted of infantry, cavalry, and even artillery. Shortages of transports meant that only part of Rochambeau’s expected force could embark from France, and only the chasseurs (light infantry) and grenadiers of the infantry came to America along with the cavalry. Lauzun’s roughly 350 hussars, dressed and armed in the style of the Hungarian light horse, with short, light blue braided jackets, tight yellow and red pantaloons, and tall caps, cut quite a striking figure in America. They were armed with long curving sabers like this one, also derived from Hungarian originals.

Unlike the rest of Rochambeau’s army, which spent the winter of 1780-1781 in Newport, Rhode Island, the hussars wintered in Lebanon, Connecticut. The town was the home of the state’s governor, and had more forage than war-torn Rhode Island. They linked up with the army as it marched to join Washington. During the Siege of Yorktown, they were part of a force stationed opposite Yorktown, across the York River, at Gloucester, where the British maintained an outpost. There they fought in the largest cavalry action of the war.

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The hussars of the Volontaires Étrangers de Lauzun were the only French cavalrymen in the comte de Rochambeau’s expedition. The unit consisted of infantry, cavalry, and even artillery. Shortages of transports meant that only part of Rochambeau’s expected force could embark from France, and only the chasseurs (light infantry) and grenadiers of the infantry came to America along with the cavalry. Lauzun’s roughly 350 hussars, dressed and armed in the style of the Hungarian light horse, with short, light blue braided jackets, tight yellow and red pantaloons, and tall caps, cut quite a striking figure in America. They were armed with long curving sabers like this one, also derived from Hungarian originals.

Unlike the rest of Rochambeau’s army, which spent the winter of 1780-1781 in Newport, Rhode Island, the hussars wintered in Lebanon, Connecticut. The town was the home of the state’s governor, and had more forage than war-torn Rhode Island. They linked up with the army as it marched to join Washington. During the Siege of Yorktown, they were part of a force stationed opposite Yorktown, across the York River, at Gloucester, where the British maintained an outpost. There they fought in the largest cavalry action of the war.

Light Infantry Non-Commissioned Officer’s Hanger

The only Continental troops in Virginia for much of 1781 were the Marquis de Lafayette’s Corps of Light Infantry. They consisted of picked men from 24 regiments of Continental troops detached from General Washington’s army in February. These soldiers dodged British General Cornwallis’ troops across the state over the summer. They went toe to toe with the British at the Battle of Green Spring as Cornwallis feigned a withdrawal to trap the Americans. The Light Infantry formed the elite of General Washington’s forces that assembled outside Yorktown. They proved decisive, storming Redoubt #10, which anchored the British left wing near the York River, further isolating the British before their surrender.

In 1780, when Lafayette returned from France, he brought a series of gifts for the officers and non-commissioned officers of his new command. These included epaulets, feathers, and silver lace for uniforms, as well as swords. This sword is the version for the non-commissioned officers, with a cast brass hilt bearing the engraved initials “USA.”

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The only Continental troops in Virginia for much of 1781 were the Marquis de Lafayette’s Corps of Light Infantry. They consisted of picked men from 24 regiments of Continental troops detached from General Washington’s army in February. These soldiers dodged British General Cornwallis’ troops across the state over the summer. They went toe to toe with the British at the Battle of Green Spring as Cornwallis feigned a withdrawal to trap the Americans. The Light Infantry formed the elite of General Washington’s forces that assembled outside Yorktown. They proved decisive, storming Redoubt #10, which anchored the British left wing near the York River, further isolating the British before their surrender.

In 1780, when Lafayette returned from France, he brought a series of gifts for the officers and non-commissioned officers of his new command. These included epaulets, feathers, and silver lace for uniforms, as well as swords. This sword is the version for the non-commissioned officers, with a cast brass hilt bearing the engraved initials “USA.”

Major Caleb Gibbs’ Campaign Chest

This campaign chest belonged to Caleb Gibbs (1748-1818). Born in Newport, Rhode Island, he moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts as a young man. He volunteered early in the war and later served in Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead Regiment. He was appointed by General Washington to lead the Commander in Chief’s guard in late 1776. For the next four years, Gibbs led Washington’s personal escort as the commander moved across various theaters of war.

This trunk bears the text “Majr Gibbs 2nd Mass Regt.” In 1781, Gibbs transferred to become the major of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment. Later that year, he was detached to serve with Massachusetts’ contingent of the Light Infantry dispatched to Virginia, where his chest probably accompanied him. Gibbs was wounded in the Light Infantry’s assault on Redoubt #10 during the Siege of Yorktown, but continued to serve to the very end of the war in the last infantry unit of the Continental Army until finally discharged in 1784.

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This campaign chest belonged to Caleb Gibbs (1748-1818). Born in Newport, Rhode Island, he moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts as a young man. He volunteered early in the war and later served in Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead Regiment. He was appointed by General Washington to lead the Commander in Chief’s guard in late 1776. For the next four years, Gibbs led Washington’s personal escort
as the commander moved across various theaters of war.

This trunk bears the text “Majr Gibbs 2nd Mass Regt.” In 1781, Gibbs transferred to become the major of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment. Later that year, he was detached to serve with Massachusetts’ contingent of the Light Infantry dispatched to Virginia, where his chest probably accompanied him. Gibbs was wounded in the Light Infantry’s assault on Redoubt #10 during the Siege of Yorktown, but continued to serve to the very end of the war in the last infantry unit of the Continental Army until finally discharged in 1784.

Saber made by James Potter and Elliot Pattern 1759 Light Dragoon Pistol, from the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons

Swords and pistols were the chief weapons of the British cavalry in America. General Cornwallis’ force at Yorktown included the cavalry of the British Legion, a Loyalist unit, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. With them were men of the 17th Light Dragoons of the British regular army. Many of these cavalrymen, especially Tarleton’s loyalists, were armed with swords produced by New York City sword cutler James Potter. Potter made over 1,500 swords for the Provincial cavalry, which came into its own in the wide expanses of the southern theater of the war. Potter’s swords were deemed to be so effective that they were sought after by Continental cavalrymen during the war.

The sword was the primary weapon of the cavalry in America. Regular light dragoons also had a carbine, and both regular and provincial cavalry also carried at least one pistol. This pistol, a pattern introduced for the new light cavalry in 1759, is marked to the 17th Light Dragoons. The 17th arrived in Boston in 1775 and were the only regular cavalry regiment to serve for the entire duration of the American Revolution.

These British troopers clashed with the French Hussars of Lauzun’s Legion near Gloucester, Virginia on October 3, 1781.

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Swords and pistols were the chief weapons of the British cavalry in America. General Cornwallis’ force at Yorktown included the cavalry of the British Legion, a Loyalist unit, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. With them were men of the 17th Light Dragoons of the British regular army. Many of these cavalrymen, especially Tarleton’s loyalists, were armed with swords produced by New York City sword cutler James Potter. Potter made over 1,500 swords for the Provincial cavalry, which came into its own in the wide expanses of the southern theater of the war. Potter’s swords were deemed to be so effective that they were sought after by Continental cavalrymen during the war.

The sword was the primary weapon of the cavalry in America. Regular light dragoons also had a carbine, and both regular and provincial cavalry also carried at least one pistol. This pistol, a pattern introduced for the new light cavalry in 1759, is marked to the 17th Light Dragoons. The 17th arrived in Boston in 1775 and were the only regular cavalry regiment to serve for the entire duration of the American Revolution.

These British troopers clashed with the French Hussars of Lauzun’s Legion near Gloucester, Virginia on October 3, 1781.

Land Service Musket, 2nd Battalion, 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot

On October 19, 1781, British and German troops snaked out from their fortifications to formally surrender their arms. They marched through a line of French and American soldiers. Throughout the surrender, they were noted for their disdain toward the Americans, while being more respectful to the French, who they considered a more legitimate and honorable enemy. Upon reaching the surrender field, regiment after regiment grounded their arms, sometimes violently, before marching away to captivity.

This musket was one of those surrendered on October 19, 1781. It was carried by the 2nd Battalion of the 71st Regiment of Foot, Fraser’s Highlanders. Authorized in 1775, the 71st was the first regular regiment created specifically for the war in America. Three battalions of the regiment were ultimately raised, well over 2,000 men. The 71st served in almost every major campaign of the war, from the capture of New York and Philadelphia in the north to Savannah and Charleston in the south. The 1st Battalion was largely captured at the Battle of Cowpens in January of 1781, but the 2nd soldiered on with General Cornwallis all the way to Yorktown before finally surrendering their arms.

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On October 19, 1781, British and German troops snaked out from their fortifications to formally surrender their arms. They marched through a line of French and American soldiers. Throughout the surrender, they were noted for their disdain toward the Americans, while being more respectful to the French, who they considered a more legitimate and honorable enemy. Upon reaching the surrender field, regiment after regiment grounded their arms, sometimes violently, before marching away to captivity.

This musket was one of those surrendered on October 19, 1781. It was carried by the 2nd Battalion of the 71st Regiment of Foot, Fraser’s Highlanders. Authorized in 1775, the 71st was the first regular regiment created specifically for the war in America. Three battalions of the regiment were ultimately raised, well over 2,000 men. The 71st served in almost every major campaign of the war, from the capture of New York and Philadelphia in the north to Savannah and Charleston in the south. The 1st Battalion was largely captured at the Battle of Cowpens in January of 1781, but the 2nd soldiered on with General Cornwallis all the way to Yorktown before finally surrendering their arms.

To view more information about the objects in this exhibit, visit the Ticonderoga Online Collections Database!