--Detail from 'View from Misses Masters School' by J. C. Cropsey, c.1890--Detail from 'View from Misses Masters School' by J. C. Cropsey, c.1890
The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.  Winston S. Churchill

History is philosophy, teaching by examples. Thucydides 

I view it as a noble undertaking to rescue from oblivion those who deserve to be eternally remembered. Pliny

Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry

NPS Recognition


BASIC PRINCIPLE: Historical conclusions must be based on historical evidence and primary source documentation.


These 7 Power Point slides (in pdf format) highlight the primary sources and the statements of David Hackett Fischer and Thomas Fleming.


1.   What information about Dobbs Ferry’s role on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail should be included in National Park Service educational material and on National Park Service maps?

a. Dobbs Ferry was the starting point, on Sunday, Aug 19, 1781, of Washington's march from New York to Virginia; the American army was ‘paraded’ (assembled) for the march at the main intersection of Dobbs Ferry before setting out as a unified body for Virginia, with Col. Alexander’s Scammel’s light infantry in the van;  and because
b. Dobbs Ferry and neighboring localities were the sites of the 1781 summer encampment of the allied American and French armies where the winning strategy for the Revolutionary War was adopted; and because
c. Elite military units were deployed in Dobbs Ferry during the 45 days of the encampment  (Col. Alexander Scammel's light infantry, a special forces unit, and Col. Elisha Sheldon's dragoons, the first cavalry of the United States); and because
d. A large redoubt, overlooking the Hudson River, was constructed at Dobbs Ferry by Sheldon's troops, and remnants of that redoubt are still in evidence today; and because
e. Dobbs Ferry received cannon fire from British ships on the Hudson River on at least three occasions during the summer encampment of 1781, and fire was returned by the troops in the redoubt, causing considerable damage on one occasion to the HMS Savage, a British ship-of war; the damage to the HMS Savage allowed an American prisoner of war on board to escape; and because
f. General Washington put the name, "Dobbs Ferry" or "Dobbs's Ferry" or "near Dobbs Ferry" at the top of more than 100 letters which he sent from the encampment, indicating that these were his preferred names for the location of the encampment.

2.   What historic resources in Dobbs Ferry relate to the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail?
a. Campsites:
Col. Alexander Scammel's light infantry, a special forces unit, was camped on “Echo Hills,” in the eastern part of Dobbs Ferry, the location of Children’s Village today.

Col. Elisha Sheldon's dragoons, the first cavalry of the United States, was camped (i) on Villard Hill in the western part of Dobbs Ferry, (ii) at the Dobbs Ferry Redoubt on the heights overlooking the Hudson, and (iii) just north of the main intersection of Dobbs Ferry (present-day Ashford Avenue-Broadway intersection).

b. The remnants of the redoubt at Dobbs Ferry constitute an important historic resource. The redoubt was built at the direction of General Washington in the early days of the summer encampment of 1781. French military engineer, Louis Lebègue Duportail, supervised the construction of the redoubt.

c. Historic road segments
Sunday, Aug 19, 1781, most American units broke camp in northern Ardsley, while Scammel’s light infantry unit broke camp in eastern Dobbs Ferry. The Ardsley troops traveled west on present-day Ashford Avenue in order to converge with Scammel’s light infantry unit in the vicinity of the Gateway intersection (present-day Ashford Avenue and Broadway). There the men were paraded (assembled) for the march.*

 After the units were paraded for the march, Dr. James Thacher**   indicates that the men expected to be ordered to turn left and march south along Broadway in the direction of King’s Bridge (Manhattan) and were surprised by the orders they actually received, to turn right and march north along Broadway, to the Hudson River crossing at “King’s ferry” (present-day Verplanck).

*A ‘parade’, in the sense of assemblage, occurred before any major movement of the army.

Please see American Revolution: the decision which won the war--David Hackett Fischer (starting from 5:20 on video)

 As Dr. Fischer indicates, light infantry units ordinarily marched in the van. It is therefore likely that Scammel’s light infantry was placed at the head of the American army.   The American troops then marched as a unified body past the Gateway intersection, the first landmark along the line of Washington’s march to Virginia which is identified by a primary source (Military Journal of the American Revolution by **Dr. James Thacher, surgeon in Scammel’s unit.) 

d. Historic landscape

 Dobbs Ferry’s topography, by itself, is an extremely important resource, arguably one of the most important on the W-R Trail. The Continental Army chose that topography for the deployment of its elite units (the light infantry and the dragoons) because, as David Hackett Fischer explains, it was “good ground, as the soldiers said. It would be very difficult for the British army to attack them on that land.”

Please see American Revolution: the decision which won the war--David Hackett Fischer (starting from 1:20 on video)

 The high ground east of the Hudson was extremely advantageous both for defense and for reconnaissance.

 Any visitors’ station built on that high ground, overlooking the Hudson River or overlooking the Saw Mill River Valley, would immediately demonstrate to tourists, by virtue of its superb location, the crucial importance of topography in determining optimum sites for deployment of Continental Army forces.

 3.   Didn't the French army under Rochambeau also march to Virginia?

ANSWER:   Yes, and the French contribution, which was indispensable to victory, should be emphasized.
4.   Did the French army also march from Dobbs Ferry?

ANSWER: No. The starting point of the march for the French army was a few miles east of Dobbs Ferry.

5.   What about neighboring localities, such as Ardsley, Hartsdale, Edgemont and White Plains? How important were they at the time of the 1781 encampment?

ANSWER: They were very important. We fully support historically accurate National Park Service recognition for those communities also. Most units of the French army were encamped in the Hartsdale-Edgemont area. One French unit, however, the elite Legion de Lauzun, was encamped in
White Plains. The building that served as Rochambeau’s headquarters still stands on Ridge Road in Hartsdale (the Odell House).

The building that served as Washington’s main headquarters was the Joseph Appleby House. The site of the Appleby House is in present-day Hartsdale (back-lot of radio station WFAS).


Senate Testimony,
Historical Documentation,
Correspondence and
Statements of Support

U. S. Senate testimony
given by Linda Borkow, spokesperson for the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society, before the Subcommittee on National Parks, April 26, 2007
Spoken testimony

Senate testimony information packet, including maps, Washington's correspondence from "Head Quarters Dobbs's Ferry" and the 14-page document of the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society (The Dobbs Ferry Historical Society 14-page document was submitted to the National Park Service on Dec 2, 2006, during the "public comment period.") pdf format: 9,979KB

We are very appreciative that two of the most renowned historians in the United States, David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University, and Thomas Fleming, past President of the Society of American Historians (2007-2008), have taken the time to look through our historical material and have kindly expressed a willingness to be of assistance.

Statement of support written by Thomas Fleming
Mr. Fleming is a distinguished author, one of the most highly regarded historians in the United States and President of the Society of American Historians. On Jan 6, 2008, Mr. Fleming e-mailed this letter to 15 staff professionals in the offices of Senators and Congressmen involved with the W-R National Historic Trail legislation:


The Dobbs Ferry Historical Society  submitted a 14 page comment to the NPS on December 2, 2006, with ample evidence that the town was the actual starting point for the march.  My investigation confirms the validity of their maps and citations. This evidence was also submitted to the Senate committee overseeing the matter, the Subcommittee on National Parks.  This bill, S 686, has been reported out of committee. The House bill, HR 1286,  is still under consideration by the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.


To give you just one piece of this voluminous evidence, General Washington placed the name “Dobbs Ferry” or “near Dobbs Ferry” on no less than 100 letters he sent from his encampment, before the march began.


Thomas Fleming

Dr. Fischer, a distinguished scholar who has written acclaimed books about the Revolutionary War, and who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2003 work, Washington’s Crossing, advised me to emphasize the convergence of Continental troop movements in Dobbs Ferry on August 19, 1781, and to present that convergence in pictorial form. The map of the parade for the march on that date, in the immediate vicinity of the Gateway intersection, was prepared in response to Dr. Fischer’s suggestions.

In the statement that follows, Dr. Fischer summarizes his opinion regarding the role of Dobbs Ferry on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail:
Thanks for the materials.  My reading of the primary evidence is much the same as yours.  The account of Dr. Thacher, the maps of French officers, and the correspondence of George Washington all clearly indicate that French and American troops camped in Dobbs Ferry and other towns nearby.  Dobbs Ferry itself was the scene of one of the most dramatic events of the march.  American troops paraded there and started the long march to Virginia, making feints in other directions as they passed New York.  Dobbs Ferry deserves to be remembered as one of the crossroads of the American Revolution.  In the Dobbs Ferry area, George Washington made one of the decisive choices of the Revolution, when he turned his army toward Virginia and victory in the American War of Independence. 


* Historian Benson Bobrick