Sunday, May 8, 2016

He saw Lafayette and Institute of Science lecture on Monday

General Lafayette's Headquarters about 1910


Robert Hoopes Saw the Patriotic Frenchman at Brandywine

 Remembers the Time Well

from 1898
            After placing in their last resting places, the bodies of upward of 1000 persons all that was mortal of venerable Alban Seal was quietly buried in the buying ground adjoining quaint Birmingham Meeting House on the Brandywine battlefield at noon on Saturday.  For over half a century Mr. Seal had been sexton of this Friends’ place of worship and upon hundreds of occasions had he stood quietly by and witnessed sad scene similar to that which was enacted when his own body was lowered into the grave.
            With the death of Alban Seal there is now, so far as is known, only a single person living who accompanied General Lafayette and his party over the Brandywine battlefield upon the occasion of the distinguished Frenchman’s visit to this country in 1824 and he is Robert F. Hoopes, one of the best known and best preserved octogenarians in Chester county.  Mr. Hoopes was bred upon a farm right in the heart of the battlefield and strange to say, is the only survivor of the subscription school which existed at Birmingham Meeting forty-one years ago.
            AT THE OLD FRIENDS’ SCHOOL – “Yes” he remarked in lamenting over the death of the old sexton, “Allen Seal is dead, and I alone am sole survivor of that group of fifty merry boys and girls who nearly eighty years ago, attended the school at Birmingham Meeting.  How time flies!  The old school, with his determined master who ruled with a god of birch, looms up before me like a dream, and then it seems so strange to contemplate that all my old schoolmates are in their graves. In 1819 or 1820 I made my debut as a pupil in this school, which was then under the control of a committee of Friends’ Meeting.  Anion Cook was the first master, followed by Richard Darlington, father of ex-Congressman Smedley Darlington.  In 1822 Alban Seal, the respected sexton whose funeral occurred today, came among the seeking an education, and I was well acquainted with him during all these years of our long lives.  I understand that a public school has been established in the same building in which I was taught to read and write, and some day I want to go down and relate to the children the reminiscences of a schoolboy of four score years ago.”
            MR. HOOPES’ REMINISCENCES – “Do you remember the visit of General Lafayette to the Brandywine battlefield in 1824?”  Mr. Hoopes was asked.
            “Indeed I do,” replied the aged gentleman.  “It is really more vividly pictured in my mind than important incidents which occurred ten years ago.  My father owned only a single horse, and as he wished to ride in the rear of the procession, I was obliged to foot it.  It was a scorching hot day.  Even now I can at times imagine I hear the blare of the trumpet and clatter of the horses’ hoofs as we encountered the distinguished visitors moving up from toward Chadd’s Ford, and fell in line in the rear.  General Lafayette, as I remember him, was a man small in stature, and was slightly lame.  An imposing military procession accompanied him ever the battlefield, and stops were made at all the points of interest.
            “Dismounting and passing over into a field on the old Gennett farm the General pointed out the spot near an old apple tree where he was stationed when injured by a British bullet.  Then he passed on up to Birmingham Meeting House, which was used as a hospital during the battle, and where many of his injured soldiers were quartered.  The old building seemed to impress him and he stood gazed about in silence for some minutes.  Later in the day he passed on up to the farm house of Samuel Jones, a half mile north of the meeting house, where a stop was made for refreshments.  My mother was there helping Mrs. Jones entertain the guests, and I recall having heard her remark upon her return home that the escorts had eaten up nearly everything before the general and his close friends had taken their places at the tables, all of them being very hungry after a long and tiresome march.  I, after a long and tiresome march.  I followed the procession a couple of miles up the road, and the last I ever saw of General Lafayette he was passing over the brow of Ostorne’s hill, where the British line was stationed when it fired upon him years before.”
            From Mr. Hoopes’ description of General Lafayette’s movements upon the occasion of his visit to the battlefield it seems that the monument erected by the Chester County Historical Society to mark the spot where he was wounded has been wrongly located, but a movement is on foot looking to the erection by the Government of a new and more endearing shaft.
 Note: When I first became interested in local history some 40 years ago, Paul Rodebaugh the great Chester County historian became a best friend. One day he introduced me to one of Robert Hoopes grandchildren. So I got to meet someone who knew someone who had  met Lafayette!

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