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Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District

During the Revolutionary War

The British Army led by Sir  William Howe, and the Continental Army, under George Washington fought  one another in the Battle of Germantown, a major engagement in the  Philadelphia campaign of the Revolutionary War. Although centered in  Germantown on the east side of the Wissahickon Valley, the battle raged  across northwest Philadelphia including Roxborough. After defeating the  Continental Army at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777, and  the Battle of Paoli on 20 September, Howe outmaneuvered Washington,  seizing Philadelphia, the capital of the colonies, on 26 September. Howe  left a garrison of some 3,000 troops in Philadelphia, while moving the  bulk of his force to Germantown. Learning of the division, Washington  determined to engage the British. His plan called for four separate  columns to converge on the British position at Germantown. The ambition  behind the plan was to surprise and destroy the British force, much in  the same way as Washington had surprised and decisively defeated the  Hessians at Trenton. In Germantown, Howe had his light infantry spread  across his front as pickets. In the main camp, General Wilhelm von  Knyphausen, second in command of the Hessian mercenaries in North  America, led the British left, while Howe himself personally led the  British right.

After dusk on 3 October 1777,  the American force began the 16-mile march southeastward toward  Germantown in complete darkness. The Americans remained undetected by  the pickets, and the main British camp was, subsequently, unaware of the  American advance. However, the darkness made communications between the  American columns extremely difficult, and progress was far slower than  expected. At dawn, most of the American forces had fallen too short of  their intended positions, losing the element of surprise they otherwise  enjoyed. One column, under the command of General John Sullivan, moved  down Germantown Road. A column of New Jersey militia under Brigadier  General William Smallwood moved down Old York Road to attack the British  right. General Nathanael Greene's column moved down Limekiln Road.

The Pennsylvania Militia, led  by Brigadier General John Armstrong Sr., marched down Ridge Road from  the west and engaged von Knyphausen’s Hessian troops, who had dug in on  the east side of the Wissahickon in the Falls of Schuylkill. The  Pennsylvania Militia advanced down the Ridge Road to the confluence of  the Wissahickon Creek and Schuylkill River and set up its artillery at  the top of the ridge on the west bank of the Wissahickon. The  Pennsylvania Militia fired ineffectively on the Hessians before  withdrawing back up the Ridge Road (Figure 19). Armstrong's Pennsylvania  Militia played no further part in the battle, which raged in  Germantown.

Owing to confusion and  miscommunication, the Continental Army failed to rout the British and  Hessian soldiers at Germantown. Many on both sides were killed,  especially during the failed American assault on British soldiers in the  Chew House on Germantown Road. At the end of the day, Washington’s  troops retreated back to Valley Forge, where the army encamped for the  winter of 1777-1778. Of the 11,000 men Washington led into battle, 30  officers and 122 men were killed, and 117 officers and 404 men were  wounded. British casualties in the battle were 71 killed, 448 wounded  and 14 missing. Howe eventually resigned his command and his  replacement, General Henry Clinton, abandoned Philadelphia for New York  in June 1778.

A few months after the Battle  of Germantown, a famous Revolutionary War incident occurred in  Roxborough. On 19 December 1777, 40 members of Light Horse Harry Lee’s  Virginia Dragoons were patrolling in Roxborough. Lee, the father of  Civil War general Robert E. Lee, was not present. At nightfall, they  arrived at the house of Andrew Wood and asked for shelter. After they  were fed, some bedded down in the house, while others slept in the barn.  Members of the British 16th Light Dragoons were also on patrol in  Roxborough and discovered the American troops on the Wood property. Wood  led the troopers staying in the house out the back door to safety. The  troopers in the barn were not so fortunate. The British set fire to the  barn and, as some of the troopers tried to exit, they were shot down.  Others remained in the barn and were burned to death. A total of 18  Virginia troopers were killed that night. In 1860, the remains of the  troopers were transferred to Leverington Cemetery, where a large  monument to the victims of the massacre was erected.

After the Revolutionary War,  every township in the Commonwealth estimated the costs of the damages  caused by the British troops. In Roxborough, 19 property owners  sustained damage totaling $3,228.99. Not surprisingly, Andrew Wood,  whose barn had been burned when the Virginia Dragoons were massacred,  sustained the greatest damages, estimated at $674.26.60

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This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

60 Joseph Starne Miles and William H. Cooper, eds., A Historical Sketch of  Roxborough, Manayunk, and Wissahickon (Philadelphia: George Fein &  Co., 1940), p. 50.

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