WESTFIELD, NJ — About 150 people walked through Downtown Westfield Sunday to commemorate a Revolutionary War march that passed through the town in 1781 with a combined army of 2,500 Americans and 4,700 French along with 1,000 servants and a few hundred wagoners.
With many clad in historical garb of the era and some carrying muskets, the parade proceeded through Downtown Westfield in commemoration of the 240th anniversary of the Continental soldiers’ walk from Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia.
“It was General Benjamin Lincoln’s column along with the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, a regiment made of up African American and Native Americans who fought and walked through Westfield to Yorktown,” said Westfield’s Julie Diddell, the National Vice Chair for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association.
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment after going through Westfield passed through Princeton to meet with the French army before the combined forces continued on to Yorktown, to besiege the position of British General Lord Cornwallis.
The re-enacting march in Westfield was in keeping with Mayor Shelley Brindle’s proclamation that every Aug. 29 in Westfield be “Washington-Rochambeau March To Yorktown Day,” commemorating when General George Washington marched through Westfield.
“We’re thrilled to be here,” said Brindle, speaking to a gathering at Mindowaskin Park. “We’ve been trying to celebrate Westfield’s history and bring it alive. Really, last year when we acknowledged our 300th anniversary was a big start, and this plays a big role in it.”
Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat representing the 7th Congressional District and a supporter of the national historical trail, said the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route running through Westfield is the newest of the national historical trails.
“For all the kids here — including those of you who were dragged by your parents — to spend your Sunday thinking about the Revolutionary War, just think about how dramatic it was,” Malinowski said.
What the re-enactors were commemorating, he said, was a war in which the United States lost more Americans per capita than any war except for the Civil War.
“What those folks were marching for was something that never happened in the world before: it was the creation of a country that’s based on an idea — not based on race or language, or religion or nationality but based on an idea of democracy,” Malinowski said.
Among those to march were lifelong Westfield resident George Withers, who Diddell invited to participate in next year’s march and re-enact a member of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.
“It’s my honor to be a recipient of taking on the honor,” said Withers, 55, before shaking the hand of Diddell and men re-enacting the French generals’ roles.
The march in Westfield came as flags were being flown at half-staff at all state buildings and facilities in honor of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in Thursday’s terrorist attack outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Before the march in Westfield Sunday, Diddell asked that participants bow their heads for a moment of silence in recognition of their sacrifice.
“Thanks to all of our military members,” she said.