On May 20, historic sites in Armonk, Hartsdale, and Yorktown will mark the movement of French troops through Westchester County during the final months of the Revolutionary War.
The free events will unfold at Smith’s Tavern in Armonk; Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters in Hartsdale; and the Rochambeau Park/Yorktown Grange Fairgrounds.
In addition, a free audio tour app called “Follow the French” is available, so drivers can learn about the history of the locations. The app will launch as drivers approach each site, which can be visited in any order.
The event — titled “Follow the French” — is the brainchild of Susan Seal of Hartsdale, president of the nonprofit Friends of Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters.
“The app will be available for years to come,” Seal said. “Tourists and others can follow in the footsteps of the French Army and learn how important the meeting between the two generals, Rochambeau and Washington, in Hartsdale, in 1781 was. Without the help of the French and without making the decision to confront the British in Virginia, not Manhattan, we would most likely not have won the American Revolution.”
Nobleman and military officer Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, arrived in the American colonies in 1780 to support the Continental Army in securing freedom from British rule. Rochambeau commanded all 5,000 French soldiers fighting in America’s War for Independence.
The tour is a collaboration between Friends of Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters, the North Castle Historical Society, and the Yorktown Heritage Preservation Commission, led by chair Lynn Briggs. The Scarsdale Historical Society, supplied a grant to create the audio tour, which is available through TravelStorys.
The French soldiers started marching in June 1781 from Rhode Island, camping in Bedford, and then in North Castle. Smith’s Tavern is the tour stop commemorating this segment of the campaign.
The French forces then moved on to what is now Hartsdale, where they camped from July 6 to Aug. 18. Rochambeau stayed at a farmhouse on Ridge Roadnow called the Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters. Four thousand soldiers under Gen. George Washington were camped in what is now Ardsley.
During this period, Rochambeau and Washington discussed strategy and decided to attack the British in Yorktown, Virginia, rather than in Manhattan. The American and French armies then marched north, staying at five locations in Yorktown on Aug. 21, before crossing the Hudson River and heading south to Virginia. The Yorktown Heritage Preservation Commission will host Continental, French, and British re-enactors for its part of the tour.
The two armies crossed the Hudson River at Verplanck’s Point. They marched on to Yorktown, Virginia, where they fought together against the British. On Oct. 19, 1781, Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered to Washington and Rochambeau, marking the beginning of the defeat of the British.
Sharon Tomback of Bedford, one of the co-trustees for the North Castle Historical Society, said, “Our purpose for May 20 is to educate about the incredible role of the French soldiers in our American Revolution. I find it almost unbelievable that more than 5,000 French soldiers sailed here, off-loaded themselves and baggage, tents, armaments and provisions, and walked from Newport, Rhode Island, to victory at Yorktown, Virginia.”
Tomback added, “You can also take an armchair tour if you just download the app. But we have many events planned in person at all three locations.”
The “Follow the French” events will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Smith’s Tavern, 440 Bedford Road (Route 22), Armonk; Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters, 425 Ridge Road, Hartsdale; and the Rochambeau Park/Yorktown Grange Fairgrounds, 99 Moseman Road, Yorktown Heights.
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