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      ARSENALS INTO ALE HOUSES
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STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POH
The bar at THE EAGLE AND CANNON TAVERN in Old New Castle as seeni American Public House Review
THE BAR IN THE EAGLE AND CANNON TAVERN AT THE ARSENAL IN OLD NEW CASTLE


Gas lamp on the home of Richard Day as seen in American Public House ReviewThough it was the political epicenter of Delaware for much of the eighteenth century, and among its voices of dissent were signers of the Declaration of Independence – the city of New Castle was spared the effects of armed conflict and the hardships of occupation. Had Major General William Howe decided to sail into Delaware Bay instead of the Chesapeake during the summer campaign of 1777 to capture Philadelphia, the fate of New Castle may have been very different. But the British commander decided that the defenses on the upper Delaware River posed a serious threat to his fleet.

In late August of 1777, an armada of 265 ships carrying over 15,000 English and Hessian troops reached the head of the Elk River in Maryland. From there they pushed north towards Philadelphia. On September 3rd, after a series of ambushes and delaying actions staged by Colonial forces, Howe’s lead units engaged the light infantry and cavalry of General William Maxwell at Cooch’s Bridge. This was to be the only battle between American and English forces on Delaware soil during the Revolution. The Continentals made a valiant stand; but the overwhelming odds in personnel and firepower eventually meant yielding the position to the British.


Landing at New Castle, Delaware on the Delaware River as seen in American Public House Review
New Castle's landing on the Delaware River


As it was, the engagement at Cooch’s Bridge was less than fifteen miles from New Castle. This important port city and the surrounding area were probably spared the ravages of war for a couple of reasons. First of all, General Howe’s decision to approach Philadelphia from a landing on the northern Chesapeake lengthened his campaign to capture the rebel capital by nearly a month. There would be little time to consider additional targets, as General Washington was quickly moving his forces in order to counter a British strike from the south.

Secondly, General William Howe was known to be somewhat sympathetic to the American cause. As an elected Member of Parliament in 1774, he voiced his opposition to the Coercive Acts, which were designed to subdue colonial defiance of English rule by making an example of the Massachusetts colony. And while he was always a loyal and proficient officer, it is highly unlikely that Howe would have engaged in a scorched earth policy.


Eagle and Cannon Tavern in New Castle, DE as seen in American Public House Review
Old Library in New Castle, DE as seen in American Public House Review
THE EAGLE AND CANNON TAVERN AND ENVIRONS
THE LIBRARY IN OLD NEW CASTLE


British officers were far less benevolent in their conduct during the war of 1812. After blockading the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay, British naval forces and marines under the command of Admiral Sir George Cockburn wreaked havoc along the Delmarva Peninsula. During the spring of 1813 they sacked and torched several towns and villages including Frenchtown, Fredericktown, Georgetown and Havre de Grace. And on August 24th, 1814, Washington, D.C., would be set ablaze. Only the torrential rains from a hurricane that blew in on the following day would save the city from total destruction.

Trouble with England had been brewing for several years, and aware that the port cities in the mid Atlantic states would be the prized objectives of British aggression, the citizens of New Castle had completed construction of an arsenal by 1811. But other than a naval bombardment at Lewes, the state of Delaware and the city of New Castle were once again unscathed by this second round of Anglo-American hostilities.

Court House in New Castle, De as seen ib American Public House Review
THE COURTHOUSE IN OLD NEW CASTLE

Old Town Hall in New Castle, De. as seen in American Public House Review
Jail behind the courthouse in New Castle, De. as seen in American Public House Review
OLD TOWN HALL
      JAIL BEHIND THE COURTHOUSE


Whether it was a matter of providence or a bit of the Quaker philosophy imparted to the area after William Penn landed here in 1862, there is certainly an uncanny peaceful spirit to this pristine colonial village on the Delaware. THE ARSENAL itself has also served as a hospital, and for most of its existence as a school. The state purchased the building in the 1950s, and today it is leased as a tavern and restaurant.

Ed, the creative director of American Public House Review and I cap off our day in New Castle with pints of Greenville Pale Ale in the EAGLE AND CANNON TAVERN - the very attractive and agreeable pub room at THE ARSENAL. We are joined by the barkeep from Jessop’s, and together along with the bartender here we enter into a lengthy discourse on politics, world religions and spirituality. At some point during these polite and amiable proceedings I lean back, take a sip of beer, and muse to myself about William Penn.

Carriage at  The Arsenal in New Castle, DE as seen in American Public House Review


New Castle, Delaware's green as seen in American Public House Review
THE PEACEFUL GREEN IN OLD NEW CASTLE


This is probably what that honorable Quaker had envisioned – a place where swords would be turned into plowshares and arsenals into ale houses.





THE ARSENAL AT OLD NEW CASTLE


30 MARKET STREET
NEW CASTLE, DELAWARE 19720

(302) 323 1812


www.arsenal1812.com



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