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Dr. William Wroten

Delmarva Heritage Series

 * Colonel Tench Tilghman

Salisbury Times - February 28, 1962

Familiar are most school children, and adults, with Longfellow's poem which has made the ride of Paul Revere famous.

But how many know these words by Howard Pyle:

And so, as the dawn of that day grew bright

Was the dawn that followed the dreary night

Of trouble and woe and gloom and fear

That broke at last to a morning clear,

Brought by Tilghman over away

From Yorktown and Gloucester, far below

To the South, one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

Pyle was referring to another famous ride in American history-the rice of Tench Tilghman. Although one ride is better known than the other, the two have something in common. Paul Revere's ride told of the coming of the "Redcoats" and the beginning of the Revolutionary War; Tench Tilghman's ride told Americans of Cornwallis's defeat at Yorktown and the end of the war.

Tench Tilghman was a descendant of one of Maryland's old and honored families. He was born on December. 25, 1744 at 'Fausley" in Talbot County. In 1761, he graduated from the College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania. As a young man he entered the mercantile business in Philadelphia, which was probably successful until our troubles with England in the early 1770's. He liquidated his business interests as the crisis approached and became active in the revolutionary movement.

He was appointed a lieutenant in a Philadelphia company, known as the Ladies' Light Infantry. In 1775 he was secretary and treasurer to a Continental Congress Commission sent to negotiate with the Indians of the Six Nations.

THE PRIVATE diary that he kept during these proceedings is valuable information about the Indians and the social life of upper state New York during the frontier period. One the humorous side he reported that he was adopted by the Onondagas, but the reason was probably due to the customary bowls of punch he furnished during the proceeds.

Upon his return to Philadelphia he became captain of an independent army unit which in 1776 jointed the Flying Camp. And, in August, 1776 he became a member of Gen. Washington's military "family", serving continuously as aide-de-camp until the end of the war. The amount of work and service that he performed for General Washington was prodigious. Many of Washington's letters tell of Tilghman's friendship, valued services, and patriotic devotion. More definite proof is found in the fact that the general successfully urged Congress to grant Tilghman a regular commission of lieutenant-colonel and aide. Washington's words to Congress; "He has been a zealous servant and slave to the public, and a faithful assistant to me for near five years, great part of which time he refused to receive pay. Honor and gratitude interest me in his favor, and makes me solicitous to obtain his Commission."

Tench Tilghman was with Gen. Washington during some of the most famous days of the Revolutionary War. He was at the Battles of Long Island, White Plains and Fort Washington; the retreat across New Jersey into Pennsylvania; at the crossing of the Delaware River and the capture of Trenton; spent the winter at Valley Forge; and, finally, he was at Yorktown for the surrender of Cornwallis.

Tench Tilghman's ride has become somewhat of a legend; therefore, various accounts have been given of his journey between Yorktown and Philadelphia. In some accounts, where that facts are not known, writers have attempted to picture what it must have been like as he crossed the Chesapeake Bay, rode through Kent County, etc. But for this story we will use Esther M. Dole's "Maryland during the American Revolution."

"By the terms of the surrender Cornwallis gave up 7,247 regular troops besides 840 sailors. One hundred and six guns were taken. The land forces and stores were assigned to the Americans and the ships and marines to the French who had ably assisted with their fleet. Maryland troops deserve a full share of the honor of this achievement for they have given material aid in the field under Gist and the State had exerted every effort to furnish the necessary supplies for the combined armies to maintain the siege."

ON THE surrender of Cornwallis, Col. Tench Tilghman of Maryland, aide-de-camp, was selected by Washington to carry the news to Congress at Philadelphia in the form of an official dispatch. Taking boat in York harbor he went to Annapolis which had received the news the day before from the Count do Grasse. He crossed the bay to Kent County, landing at Rock Hall, where he found a horse waiting for him. he then took the old post road to Edesville to Chestertown, thence north to Georgetown where he crossed the Sassafras River. When a horse would tire he would stop at a farmhouse so the account goes, and would shout, 'Cornwallis is taken, a fresh horse for Congress,' and one he would go."

He passed through Wilmington, and on to Philadelphia. It took him four days to make this memorable trip, and he arrived at midnight Oct. 23, 1781.

He knocked on the door of Thomas McKean's house (the President of the Continental Congress) told him of the glad tidings. Soon watchmen throughout the city were proclaiming the hour and shouting "All is well and Cornwallis taken." Within minutes most of the citizens were awake and in the streets celebrating the happy news. The State House bell rang out "Liberty" for the new American nation.

BUT BROBABLY of more interest to us was the celebration that took place on Oct. 22, after Tench Tilghman rode into Chestertown. "This great event was no sooner announced to the public, than a large number of worthy citizens assembled, to celebrate the signal victory, (in a high degree auspicious to the cause of freedom and virtue) which was done with a decency and dignity becoming firm patriots, liberal citizens, and prudent members of the community-amidst the roaring of cannon, and the exhibition of bonfires, illumination, et., the gentlemen (having repaired to a hall suitable for the purpose) Drank the following toast, viz., 1. General Washington and the Allied Army; 2. Count de Grasse, and the Navy of France; 3. Congress; 4. Louis the 16th; a friend to the Rights of Mankind; 5. The United States; 6. General Greene and the Southern Army; 7. Count de Rochambeau; 8. The Memory of the illustrious Heroes who have fallen in the defense of American liberty; 9. King of Spain; !0. The United Provinces; 11. The Marquis de la Fayett; 12. The northern Arm; 13. The State of Maryland-the last in order but not the last in Love."

ALTHOUGH the peace treaty was not signed until 1783, two years after Yorktown, the war was over. And, it is only fitting that Tench Tilghman should have a place in our Hall of Fame. The last verse of Dr. Oliver Huchel's poem, "Tench Tilghman's Ride through Kent," reads:

And gallant Tench Tilghman, the hero of all,

Was feted in homes and high honored in hall:

Congress voted him thanks, a great sward chased with gold,

And the noblest black steed with accoutrements bold;

And America ne'er in its patriot pride

Shall forget his good news and his glorious ride

After the war Col. Tilghman was associated in business with Robert Morris but the hardships that he endured in the war probably caused his early death in 1786. He is buried in St. Paul's churchyard in Baltimore. A Peale portrait of the colonel hangs in the State house at Annapolis.

As high a tribute as a soldier and gentleman could desire was paid to Col. Tench Tilghman by his old friend, George Washington who referred to him as a pillar of the Revolution and as having left "as fair a reputation as ever belonged to a human character."


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