Newark: A mine, a tavern and an historic areaMay 23, 2022 11:30AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Newark just west-southwest of Wilmington is the second largest city in northern Delaware and third largest overall in the state. Its proximity to Wilmington and Philadelphia made it an active crossroads town. The area has played a role in the development of local industry and also in the creation of our republic. One spot provided a strategic raw material in construction; two others saw troops march past during the Revolutionary War. The area has been a part of colonial settlement since the early 1700s. In subsequent decades, travelers going to and from Philadelphia and the Chesapeake Bay frequented the region, making it a desirable location for settlement and commercial development.
When early settlers wanted to make something sturdy, they searched the hills for iron ore. Just south of Newark stands Iron Hill, at 328 feet in elevation the highest individual geographic feature in the state. Indians had lived in the area for many centuries; they quarried jasper from Iron Hill to make arrowheads. In 1701, the hill was included in the 30,000-acre Welsh Tract, granted by William Penn to a group of settlers fleeing religious persecution in Wales. Welsh Baptists were rejecting intolerance in their home country. They were drawn to the area, where they purchased large plots of land. Many of these Welsh settlers were familiar with ironworking and related techniques- several were skilled miners and ironworkers- and soon started open pit mining operations on Iron Hill. Mineral extraction continued there until the late 19th century.
The village of Glasgow developed at what was and still is an important crossroads in an area called Pencader Hundred. The name Pencader means “highest seat” in Welsh; this is where the first log meeting house in the region was built in 1703. A Presbyterian church was established shortly thereafter. The Welsh Tract Primitive Baptist Church remains active and is accepted as the earliest Old School Baptist Church in America. It is one of Pencader’s most noted historic sites.
Aiken's Tavern Historic District comprises the center of the village of Glasgow, just south of Newark. The district includes the site of the tavern, an important landmark at the time of the Revolutionary War. After a prolonged sea voyage in August 1777, during which many men and horses died, British General Howe sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and landed his troops at the Head of Elk (today’s Elkton, Maryland). Howe’s army approached the area near Iron Hill from the south and west on his quest to capture the city of Philadelphia. General Washington had sent General Maxwell to defend the area with instructions for his volunteers to harass the enemy and block the British capture of the colonial capital. Washington ascended Iron Hill to observe enemy troop movements prior to what he knew would be a conflagration. On September 3, 1777 the bloody skirmish at nearby Cooch’s Bridge occurred, with British forces emerging the victors. The tavern was used as Howe’s headquarters; Pencader Church was a temporary field hospital.
The battle area is a Pencader Hundred landmark, the site of the only Revolutionary War event in Delaware. The state acquired the home of Thomas Cooch, around whose home the battle raged, in December 2018; the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is located just west of the intersection of U.S. Route 40 and Delaware Route 896. Some historians believe soldiers from both sides are buried in scattered unmarked graves around the area. One fascinating element of the battle is that British Major John Andre is believed to have drawn the map detailing the British lines of attack on the region. Andre became infamous for treason and was later captured as he plotted with traitor Benedict Arnold to take over West Point. He was later hung as a spy.
This crossroads area surrounding Newark grew steadily over the years. It was notably much busier after the completion of the New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike in 1818, later replaced by U.S. Route 40. Many of the surviving buildings in the historic district date from roughly the same time period. Aiken’s Tavern was demolished in 1832, but the area around it has several historical markers.
The Aiken’s Tavern Historic District also includes the cemetery and former site of the Glasgow Methodist Church. The graveyard is the subject of local folklore. One tale has black slaves being buried inside the cemetery wall, in the far eastern corner. Another has unknown Revolutionary War soldiers buried, in a line, in unmarked graves inside the wall all along the eastern edge of the cemetery. A diary from a Hessian soldier states that the locals were kept busy continuing to bury unknown dead soldiers outside the wall of the church after the battle.
You may not think Newark has much to see of historic importance, but these sites say otherwise. The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge has gained more attention by historians as a significant lead up to the Battle of the Brandywine during the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, a pivotal year of the American Revolution. Historic markers and two cannons near the home of Thomas Cooch help to tell the story- and they are waiting there for you to see.
Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square. He has written ten books focusing mostly on the history of the Chester County and Philadelphia area. His latest book is “Forgotten Founding Fathers: Pennsylvania and Delaware in the American Revolution.” His books are available on www.Amazon.com and through his website at www.GenePisasale.com. Gene can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]