State of Delaware to acquire historic property at Cooch’s Bridge


By Doug Denison, director of community relations, Delaware Department of State

Hallowed grounds believed to be the final resting place of some two dozen American soldiers who perished in the only major battle of the Revolutionary War fought in Delaware will soon become the property of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, according to an agreement announced on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.

The Cooch House and property

Gathered at the historic Cooch home just south of Newark, Del., officials from the Delaware Department of State joined members of the Cooch family to announce plans for the division to acquire the home and surrounding property at the heart of the Cooch’s Bridge battlefield.

Present-day Cooch’s Bridge over the Christina Creek

In addition to providing a new public resource for future generations of Delawareans to learn the story of the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the acquisition of the site will also allow for continued archaeological study of the property in an effort to locate the unmarked graves of the Americans who gave their lives there.

The agreement is the latest illustration of the Cooch family’s ongoing commitment to preserving the rich history of their lands, acquired by Thomas Cooch in 1746 and held in the family for nine generations since.
“Our father, Edward W. Cooch Jr., would be very pleased with this announcement,” said Richard R. Cooch and Anne Cooch Doran. “He always said that he hoped that if the family house and battlefield, which he worked hard to preserve, ever left the Cooch family, that the property would be acquired by the State.”

“We as Delawareans are so fortunate to have such a variety of fascinating and beautiful historical sites up and down our state, and we should be proud of all the effort and cooperation that has allowed us to preserve another quintessential piece of our state’s history here at Cooch’s Bridge,” said Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. “I want to thank all the partners that came together to make this possible, with particular gratitude to Dick Cooch and Anne Cooch Doran for choosing to share this site with their fellow citizens.”

Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock shakes hands with Richard R. Cooch at the Dec. 7, 2018 event celebrating the transfer of the Cooch property to the State of Delaware. (From left) Bullock, Anne Cooch Doran, Richard R. Cooch and Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs Director Tim Slavin

The acquisition includes the historic Cooch home, its adjacent outbuildings and 10 acres of surrounding property. The site will be purchased using $875,000 from the Delaware Open Space Council(This link opens in another tab/external link), plus $200,000 from the Crystal Trust and $25,000 from the Marmot Foundation (both independent, private philanthropic organizations based in Delaware). Twenty percent of the sale proceeds will be donated by the Cooch family to the Cooch’s Bridge Historic District Fund administered by the Delaware Community Foundation(This link opens in another tab/external link). The fund, established by Edward W. Cooch, Jr., helps support maintenance and preservation efforts.

Rear view of the Cooch House

“The announcement of the permanent preservation of Delaware’s only Revolutionary War battlefield is another key example of the responsible stewardship for our shared history that we continue to practice here in our state,” said Tim Slavin, director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. “Next, we will begin to develop, with community input, a long-term vision for how these lands will be interpreted and made accessible to the public.”

The Cooch’s Bridge site also holds the potential to be among Delaware’s most sacred places. Written accounts from the 18th century cite the burial of approximately two dozen American soldiers on the Cooch farm after the battle.

The division launched an investigation into these accounts and, this summer, a team of archaeologists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania conducted on-site testing using ground-penetrating radar. Their initial findings have identified several areas which will now be investigated more thoroughly by archaeological excavation.

“The Cooch property is a remarkable tract with a remarkable story. The cultural history of the land encompasses not only resources that can be observed in the landscape, but also those items found below ground—the important and fragile archaeological record which provides information about the history of a place not found in texts or written documents,” said historical archaeologist Wade P. Catts. “Thanks to the Cooch family and their generations of stewardship, the Cooch’s Bridge battlefield is in excellent condition, retaining its context and integrity, and the story of the battle can be told to visitors.”

About the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge …

In late summer 1777, Gen. George Washington dispatched a unit of light infantry to a key choke-point on the main road from Baltimore to Philadelphia: Cooch’s Bridge over the Christina Creek just south of Newark, Del. Intent on scouting the British forces and delaying their advance through Delaware and into Pennsylvania, Washington knew that the men he sent to Cooch’s Bridge would be outnumbered, but he also knew they could put up a substantial fight. On Sept. 3, after several hours of heavy fighting, the Continentals and militia, low on ammunition, were forced to retreat. Some two dozen American soldiers gave their lives in the battle. Their sacrifice affirmed that Washington and the American Army would strongly contest the British advance to Philadelphia.

Battle of Cooch’s Bridge monument in front of the entrance to the Cooch property
Plaque from the Cooch’s Bridge monument

About the Cooch home and surrounding property …

–The Cooch House, circa 1760, is a three-story structure with rear wing, brick masonry with scored stucco. Greek Revival alterations and additions were made to the house in the early 19th century. The interior of the house was remodeled circa 1860 and again in the early 1920s. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and has been documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

–The property also contains the archaeological site of the first Cooch mill, which was burned by British forces upon their departure following the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, as well as other earthworks, dams and components associated with the milling operation.

Cannon balls from the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge that were later found on the Cooch property

–Archaeological resources related to Native American heritage are present on the site.

–In addition to other artifacts from the battle, the property may also contain graves or burials of the soldiers killed during the fighting. The dead were buried in unmarked graves and have not been found. The property may also contain archaeological resources associated with the remains of Sir William Keith’s house, forge and foundry. Keith was governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware from 1717 to 1726

–The site also features extensive woods, waterways and natural areas associated with Christina Creek, as well as cultivated agricultural fields.

For press coverage of the State of Delaware’s acquisition of the Cooch’s Bridge property, go to the following:

State buying Cooch’s Bridge Revolutionary battle site(This link opens in another tab/external link)
Dover Post, Del.—Dec. 10, 2018

Delaware to preserve Revolutionary War battle site(This link opens in another tab/external link)
Delaware Public Media, Dover, Del.—Dec. 9, 2018

Site of Delaware’s only Revolutionary War battle to be preserved(This link opens in another tab/external link)
WHYY TV 12, Wilmington, Del.—Dec. 9, 2018

Site Of Delaware’s Only Revolutionary War Battle Acquired By The State(This link opens in another tab/external link)
First State Update, Del.—Dec 9, 2018

Cooch family: We’re proud to see our Revolutionary War site preserved(This link opens in another tab/external link)
News Journal, Wilmington, Del.—Dec. 7, 2018

Saving a piece of the past(This link opens in another tab/external link)
Delaware Business Now, Newark, Del.—Dec. 7, 2018

Photo Gallery: State of Delaware acquires Cooch’s Bridge site(This link opens in another tab/external link)
News Journal, Wilmington, Del.—Dec. 7, 2018

State purchases Cooch property, site of Revolutionary War battle(This link opens in another tab/external link)
Delaware Business Now, Newark, Del.—Dec. 7, 2018

State to purchase, preserve historic Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield(This link opens in another tab/external link)
Newark Post, Del.—Dec. 7, 2018

Video: Hallowed ground: home, more property to be preserved at Cooch’s Bridge(This link opens in another tab/external link)
WDEL Radio, Wilmington, Del.—Dec. 7, 2018

Delaware’s Revolutionary War battlefield, Cooch’s Bridge, to get new scrutiny(This link opens in another tab/external link)
News Journal, Wilmington, Del.—Dec. 3, 2018
Archaeological investigations to take place at the site near Newark, Del.

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