Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Commemorate the eight French soldiers from the American War for Independence

Sunday ceremony remembers them at Old St. Peter’s Church
Re-enactors of the 3rd Westchester Militia in front of the historic Old Saint Peter’s Church at a commemoration service in previous years. Photo Credit: Peekskill resident Tom Hunt and proprietor of Waterside Forge

On Sunday, July 7 at 3:00 pm, the Van Cortlandtville Historical Society will host the 23 annual Commemoration of the eight French soldiers from the American War for Independence buried at Old St. Peter’s Church on Locust Avenue. The short service will include a background talk, a musket salute by uniformed re-enactors, a bilingual prayer and a mourn arms ceremony. This is a free event and the entire community is invited. 

With the “shot heard around the world” the exchange of gunfire at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, the American Revolution started on April 19, 1775. On July 4, 1776, 248 years ago, the United States officially broke away from Britain with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The war raged on for over eight years. Through many ups and downs, it was France who came to the aid of the new country with money, munitions, their Navy and French forces commanded by General Rochambeau. 

In 1781 and again in 1782 while enroute to and from Yorktown, Virginia, French forces commanded by General Rochambeau were in the Cortlandt-Peekskill area. “While not well known in either country, this quiet, unassuming man played a key role in the successful outcome of the revolution. While one of France’s top military commanders, he dutifully obeyed the orders of his king to subordinate himself to the less experienced American commander, George Washington” said Jeff Canning, Past President, Van Cortlandtville Historical Society, and Recording Secretary for the National Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association.

During those years, the historic Old Saint Peter’s Church was used as a military hospital. The church dating back to 1767 was frequented by George Washington who reportedly read morning prayer in Saint Peter’s when he made visits to the Peekskill area and often stayed at the nearby Upper Manor House of the Van Cortlandt family which can still be seen today located on the property of the Cortlandt Healthcare facility on Oregon Road. 

It was during these years that General Rochambeau and French troops were in the Cortlandt-Peekskill area that eight French soldiers died here due to unknown causes. A large memorial stone in front of the church and the nearby line of commemorative white crosses were dedicated 25 years ago in 1999 to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice these French men gave to the Americans. 

The Van Cortlandtville Historical Society commemorates their sacrifice annually every Independence Day with a service to thank them for their dedication and service fighting for our cause.

Off-street parking is available in the cemetery, or at the Little Red Schoolhouse, 297 Locust Avenue, adjacent to the cemetery.

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