Washington - Rochambeau Revolutionary Route
Waterbury, Middlebury, Southbury French General Jean Baptiste Donation de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, and thousands of French ground and naval forces arrived in Newport in July of 1780 to assist the Americans in the War fot Independence. After wintering in Newport, Rochambeau's troops marched through Connecticut to join General George Washington 's Continental Army just over the New York border. The combined forces moved down the eastern seaboard and confronted Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis and the British army in Yorktown, Virginia. After a prologed seige, Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, virtualling ending the war and ensuring American independence.
This is one of 11 informative panels thet mark the French route south through Connecticut from June 19 to July 2, 1781 and on the return north October 23 to November 9, 1782
A Hard Road
Not all of the 4,700 French soldiers who startedbout from Newport made it to Yorktown. Some succumbed to illness along the way. Two soldiers believed to have died in Waterbury were likely buried here in what is today's East Farms Cemetery.
Caring for ailing soldiers was an enterprise in amny towns along the route. The town of Waterbury paid 15 shillings to Joseph Beach to purchase land for a burying ground. Beach owned an inn across the street, believed to be where the French soldiers were cared for before they died.
The land, four rods square, was part of St. Joseph's Meadow and is today East Farms Cemetery at 3155 East Main Street near Pierpont Road.
A six-foot high granite monument erected in 1914 to commemorate the two French soldiers still stands, surrounded by roughly two dozen 18th and 19th century gravesites.
Breakneck Lives Up To Its Name
The French army continued its march westward through Waterbury and into Camp 9 at what is today Middlebury, then a hamlet called Breakneck, on June 27, 1781.
The French called it "casse cou," or broken neck, with good reason. "The stony roads and endless mountains intersecting this area make it very disagreeable for travelers," wrote Baron Closen, Rochambeau's aide-de-camp. The Josiah Bronson Tavern at 506 Breakneck Hill Road hosted French general officers from June 27 to July 1, 1781 and again October 26-28, 1782. A monument marks the Breakneck encampment near the intersection of Artillery Road and Breakneck Hill Road.
The miles leading to the camp at Breakneck tested the strength of the animals pulling the heavy supply and artillery wagons. Diary entries from French officers explain that the artillery of the first division did not reach the camp until the early morning hours, just as the infantry was getting ready for the next day's march.
Such was the pattern for all four divisions. After less than a fortnight's rest at Breakneck following the entertainment and trading with locals, each division got an early morning start for the 13 mile march through what is today Middlebury and Southbury to the next camp in Newtown.
Josiah Bronson Tavern
Located midway up Breakneck Hill, the tavern hosted French officers under comte de Rochambeau on their way to and from Yorktown. Entertainment at the tavern and the nearby camp gave the French the opportunity to socialize with the residents of Breakneck. Esther, the daughter of Josiah Bronson, was reportedly locked up by her father to keep her from eloping with a French officer.
East Farms Cemetery 1914 Memorial
This six-foot granite monument was erected and paid for by citizens and school children who brought pennies to school to help pay for the stone. It commemorates two French soldiers who died in Waterbury.