You know how when you have kids you aren’t supposed to have a favorite? Or if you’re a teacher you aren’t supposed to have a favorite students? Or a favorite grandchild if you’re a grandparent? Well…I wonder if that’s also true if you work in a museum. If you work in a museum can you have a favorite object? Because I do!
True, this may change from day to day. Also true (b/c I don’t get to work with the collections every day) that when I do get to learn about the artifacts or documents we have in our collection I am always blown away! However, I like certain topics better than others. And so while on any given day I might change what my favorite collection item is, there are some that always remain at the top of my list!!
Like the Dansey Flag (above)!
To me, artifacts are all the more fascinating if you know the story behind them. In many ways artifacts can tell multiple stories: they can tell the story of different times and places, they can tell about culture and life, they can tell the stories of generations if an object is documented throughout its history. To me history is all about stories! Not just names, dates, facts, etc. Stories. The Dansey Flag has one great story!!!
Picture this (are you ready for a long one?):
Captain William Dansey – a professional soldier from England part of the British 33rd Regiment – comes to the colonies in 1776 to fight “the rebels” in the American Revolution. He fought in battles throughout the colonies, including battles in Delaware and Pennsylvania as part of the Philadelphia campaign in 1777.
While I don’t want to get into all of the details of the campaign, in brief, on August 25, 1777, three hundred British ships under the command of Admiral Richard Howe landed at Elkton, Maryland intent on capturing Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – the capital of the American colonies. Dansey was among these men.
As British troops marched north from Elkton, Maryland, the American troops tried to prevent the Red Coats from advancing. Scouting parties from the two armies clashed at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge on September 3, 1777 in New Castle County, Delaware. The American Army was unable to deter the British and the two armies met again along the Brandywine River. The Americans took a defensive position along the river, but they were defeated by the British. This loss of the Battle of the Brandywine allowed the British to gain control of Philadelphia on September 26, 1777. The Americans were again defeated on October 4, 1777 at the Battle of Germantown when the Continental Army attempted to regain control of Philadelphia. After this loss, Philadelphia remained in British hands and was occupied through June of 1778. Wilmington, Delaware was also occupied by the British for a brief period. While the British occupied Philadelphia the Continental Army wintered at Valley Forge.
Okay – but back to the story of Dansey and the flag. In the four days between the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge and the Battle of the Brandywine, Captain William Dansey captured the flag of the “rebel” Delaware militia. The flag was captured along with a horse, arms, drums, baggage, and a member of the Delaware militia (who was promptly returned). It is not one hundred percent certain who this flag was captured from. However, most of the evidence points to Colonel Samuel Patterson of Christiana. Captain Dansey – proud of his war trophy – wrote to his mother describing the capture of the flag and the British efforts in capturing the city of Philadelphia.
“I must tell you a Piece of good Luck I had a few Days before the Battle of the Brandywine On a Flanking Party I took the Horse, Arms, Colours and Drums belonging to a Rebel Colonel of the Delaware Militia and his Brother Prisoner & caused all his Baggage to be taken, which the General very politely sent back again but the Horse, Arms & Colours came to my share, the later I hope to bring as a Trophy to Brinsop…” (Oct. 9, 2009)
Wow! Can you imagine what it must have felt like for the people on both sides? Dansey was probably elated because what a war prize he collected! (Especially because Dansey – in no uncertain terms – felt the Americans were “cowardly Scoundrels.” The Delaware militia on the other hand not only has their flag stolen, but a horse, weapons, drums, baggage…and even a member of the unit!!! And then they go on to loose the Battle of the Brandywine, The Battle of Germantown, and Philadelphia. Yikes!
Well the story doesn’t end there. Dansey remained in America through the end of the war in 1783. At war’s end, he did not have a positive outlook on the newly formed country. He wrote: “The State of this once happy Country under their new Rulers is worse than the most violent Rage of War and now the Sword is sheath’d Persecutions are begun more iniquitous and horrid than the Inquisitions and they will not only drive the Loyalists away but all peaceable and moderate Men.” (August 22, 1783)
The Arms & Colours eventually made their way to back to Brinshop, England – the home of the Dansey family since 1440. The flag was added to the collection of family war trophies that were displayed in the great hall of his home. This is why today it’s called the Dansey Flag.
But how do we know all of this???
Because the story doesn’t end there. It continues on.
The flag was a part of the Dansey family collection until November 1927 when they put the flag up for auction along with a collection of letters (39 in total) that William Dansey wrote to his mother during the American Revolution. As soon as the Delaware Historical Society heard that the flag was for sale, they began to raise funds from the local Delaware community to purchase the flag and bring it back home. After three months of fundraising, the Delaware Historical Society raised enough money, purchased the flag and letters at auction, and brought them back to Delaware. Today both the Dansey flag and the Dansey letters are located at the Delaware Historical Society in Wilmington.
I think both flag and letters are fascinating. And because of this amazing story they are also some of my favorite objects in our collections!!!!
If you’re wondering why exactly the Dansey Flag is on my mind….
We’re currently putting together primary source packets for elementary school students as part of a Teaching Historical Literacy project. The Dansey Flag and selected letters are part of the packet. I’ve been working on transcribing letters and coming up with question and lesson ideas for the past several mornings with our intern, Ali.
Maybe I can convince our collections folk to write a blog about their favorite objects in our collection. Would that be of interest to you? It could be the Delaware Historical Society’s favorite things. Hmmmm….
Until 11:45 Next, Andrea