• Tench Tilghman's Ride

    Washington, Lafayette & Tilghman at Yorktown, by Charles Willson Peale, 1784 (Public Domain)

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    By Mary-Eileen Russell

    And so, as the dawn of that day grew bright
    Was the dawn that followed the dreary night
    Of trouble and woe and gloom and fear
    That broke at last to a morning clear,
    Brought by Tilghman over away
    From Yorktown and Gloucester, far below
    To the South, one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

    Howard Pyle on "Tilghman's Ride"

    Tench Tilghman was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, not far from what is now Easton. He was with George Washington throughout the American War for Independence. In the above painting the lily banner of royal France flies beside the American flag even as George Washington and Colonel Tench Tilghman, Washington's trusted aide-de-camp, stand with the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was sent by King Louis XVI to help the Americans in their struggle for independence. The painting is after the Battle of Yorktown where the British were defeated by the French and American forces in October, 1781. Tilghman holds in his hands the dispatches with news of the victory which he would personally take to Congress in Philadelphia. According to Revolutionary War Archives:

    Additionally, it was Tench Tilghman who brought the news of the surrender of General Cornwallis and the British on October 19th, 1781 following their defeat at Yorktown, to Congress. Tilghman, in his journey to notify Congress in Philadelphia, first stopped in Annapolis, Maryland and informed Maryland Governor Thomas Sim Lee of the surrender. However, Governor Lee had already been informed of the news, and as a result, sent the State House messenger, Jonathan Parker, to Philadelphia with the news. But, since those in Philadelphia were used to hearing information in the past that turned out to be rumors, and afraid to celebrate too soon, they waited anxiously for the official word; those dispatches that Tilghman carried. From Annapolis, Tilghman boarded a ferry at Rock Hall, Maryland, and after stopping to rest and see his family, continued on his journey to Philadelphia, arriving on October 24th, 1781. He first delivered the news to the President of Congress, Thomas McKean, then later that afternoon, attired in his full uniform and dress sword, Tench delivered the news to the members of Congress, as well as answered the numerous questions about the Battle of Yorktown. In appreciation for his faithful service, Congress awarded Tilghman a horse and another dress sword. That evening, a celebration by torchlight was held in Philadelphia in honor of Colonel Tilghman and the victory at Yorktown. In preparation for this celebration, the following was written and distributed to those in Philadelphia, saying, "those citizens who chose to illuminate on the Glorious Occasion, will do it this evening at Six, and extinguish their lights at Nine o’clock , and decorum and harmony are earnestly recommended to every Citizen, and a general discountenance to the least appearance of a riot."

     Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr. of Salisbury, Maryland wrote the following in the Salisbury Times in 1962:

    ON THE surrender of Cornwallis, Col. Tench Tilghman of Maryland, aide-de-camp, was selected by Washington to carry the news to Congress at Philadelphia in the form of an official dispatch. Taking boat in York harbor he went to Annapolis which had received the news the day before from the Count do Grasse. He crossed the bay to Kent County, landing at Rock Hall, where he found a horse waiting for him. he then took the old post road to Edesville to Chestertown, thence north to Georgetown where he crossed the Sassafras River. When a horse would tire he would stop at a farmhouse so the account goes, and would shout, 'Cornwallis is taken, a fresh horse for Congress,' and one he would go."

    He passed through Wilmington, and on to Philadelphia. It took him four days to make this memorable trip, and he arrived at midnight Oct. 23, 1781. He knocked on the door of Thomas McKean's house (the President of the Continental Congress) told him of the glad tidings. Soon watchmen throughout the city were proclaiming the hour and shouting "All is well and Cornwallis taken." Within minutes most of the citizens were awake and in the streets celebrating the happy news. The State House bell rang out "Liberty" for the new American nation.

    Tench Tilghman was the son of one of Maryland's oldest families. As the Maryland State Archives tell:

    Tench Tilghman, one of Maryland's great patriots, was born on December 25, 1744 in Talbot County on his father's plantation. He was educated privately until the age of 14, when he went to Philadelphia to live with his grandfather, Tench Francis. In 1761, he graduated from the College and Academy of Philadelphia, which later became the University of Pennsylvania, and then went into business with his uncle Tench Francis, Jr. until just before the Revolutionary War. 

    Tench Tilghman's public service began with his appointment by Congress to a commission established to form treaties with the Six Nations of Indian tribes. In 1776, Tilghman was commissioned captain in the Pennsylvania Battalion of the Flying Camp. In August 1776, he joined George Washington's staff as aide-de-camp and secretary. He served without pay until May 1781, when Washington, calling him a "zealous servant and slave to the public, and faithful assistant to me for nearly five years," procured for him a regular commission in the Continental Army....

    After the War, Tilghman returned to Maryland where he resumed his career in business in Baltimore and married his cousin, Anna Marie Tilghman. They had two daughters, Anna Margaretta and Elizabeth Tench. Tilghman died on April 18, 1786 at the age of 41. At his funeral he earned the following epitaph:

    In Memory of
    Col. Tench Tilghman,
    Who died April 18th, 1786,
    In the 42nd year of his age,
    Very much lamented.
    He took an early and active part
    In the great contest that secured
    The Independence of
    The United States of America.
    He was an Aid-de-Camp to
    His Excellency General Washington
    Commander in chief of the American armies,
    And was honored
    With his friendship and confidence,
    He was one of those
    Whose merits were distinguished
    Honorably rewarded
    By the Congress
    Still more to his Praise
    He was
    A good man.

    In the words of George Washington (from a letter to Richard Tilghman, the brother of Tench Tilghman):

    As there were few men for whom I had a warmer friendship or greater regard for your brother Colonel Tilghman—when living; so, with much truth I can assure you that there are whose death I could have more sincerely regretted—And I pray you and his numerous friends to permit me to mingle my sorrows with theirs on this unexpected and melancholy occasion. June 5, 1786 ...none could have felt his death with more regard than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth.

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