1776 started with a success for General George Washington and the Continental Army when the British In Boston were forced to evacuate after Washington’s troops were able to gain a strategic high point allowing them to train their canons on downtown Boston where the British soldiers were located. However, in August, British General William Howe landed his troops on Long Island and started pushing the Continental Army out of New York. After a series of defeats and retreats, Washington’s army moved from Long Island to Brooklyn across to Manhattan, up the island of Manhattan and in Mid-November finally retreated across the Hudson River into New Jersey. Howe had a group of troops lead by Lord Charles Cornwallis chase Washington across New Jersey until the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and Washington had his troops remove all boats from the New Jersey side to block the British from crossing.
The British stayed in New Brunswick with a smaller group in Princeton and left a force of Hessians in Trenton (at this time a small town of 100 houses) under the command of Colonel Rall and Colonel Von Donop.
Washington rested his troops in Pennsylvania near McConkey's Ferry (present day Washington Crossing) and was able to get some fresh troops and supplies to partially replenish what he had lost during his retreat from New York. Washington was concerned that his troops and the Colonists in general were demoralized from so many losses and that many of his soldiers had contracts that were about to expire at the end of the year which might mean that he could lose a significant portion of his army in a matter of days. Washington was determined to make a bold strike to try to change the tide of the war.
After discussion with his leadership team, Washington finally settled on a three prong attack of Trenton that could be followed with subsequent movements on Princeton and even New Brunswick. To gain an advantage the attack on the Hessian Troops in Trenton was decided to take place at dawn on December 26th with the belief that the German soldiers would have been celebrating Christmas on the 25th and would not be prepared for battle.
This tour is almost 11 miles long and the point to point driving part of it should take about 30 minutes.
Stop 1. Washington Crossing State Park Memorial Building and Visitor Center, PA
(1112 River Rd, Washington Crossing, PA, washingtoncrossingpark.org)
The Memorial Building and Visitor Center is located on the lower part of a 500 acre state park in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. This lower section of the park contains 13 buildings which include the Visitor Center, the Ferry Inn and the Boat Barn. The Visitor Center includes a small exhibition with some Revolutionary War artifacts, an original letter of George Washington’s written at the McConkey Ferry Inn and a full size digital replica of the famous painting of Washington’s crossing painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.
Stop 2. Durham Boat Barn
At the time of the crossing the Durham boats were normally used for carrying iron ore and other bulk goods down the Delaware. Washington used these boats to cross his 2,400 troops, their horses and 18 pieces of artillery.
Today a 20th century barn contains five replicas of the Durham boat and they are used each Christmas on the Delaware in a reenactment of Washington’s crossing.
Stop 3. McConkey Ferry Inn
This Inn was where Washington met with aides and planned the crossing of the Delaware River and the attack on Trenton. The plan was to start crossing the river at nightfall so that the troops would be able to march to Trenton to attack the Hessians at dawn. However the weather got progressively worse on the 25th and by the time the crossing started the river was full of treacherous ice while rain, sleet, snow and a frigid wind reduced visibility and buffeted the boats.
The original ferry inn was built around 1752 but only the kitchen basement remains. The current building was built in several stages starting around 1790. At the time of the crossing Samuel McConkey was the ferry’s owner and operator.
Stop 4. Washington Crossing State Park, NJ
(355 Washington Crossing Pennington Rd, Titusville, NJ, njparksandforests.org/parks/washingtoncrossingstatepark.html)
After a long night of crossing the Delaware, which included a number of troops falling into the frigid waters, Washington was finally ready to start marching at 4am, almost at the time when his original plan called for the attack to commence in Trenton.
The weather was so bad and the Delaware so treacherous that two other groups of troops that Washington had ordered to cross the river south of Trenton the same evening, in order to cut off the Hessians from retreat, were not able to cross leaving Washington and his troops on their own.
The New Jersey side of the Washington Crossing State Park consists of 3,500 acres of fields and woodlands and includes the Johnson Ferry House (the NJ side of the ferry business) where Washington may have stayed during the night’s crossing.
Stop 5. Bear Mountain Road
Washington’s troops turned to march towards Trenton.
Stop 6. Jacob’s Creek Crossing
This river crossing near the Bear Tavern Road Bridge across Jacob’s Creek in Hopewell Township is the only known major stream crossing made by Washington’s army on the way to the first Battle of Trenton. The steep difficult path required the army to use a number of ropes and pulleys to lower their artillery to the bottom of the ravine that morning.
Even today the area still retains much of the look and feel that Washington experienced on December 26 1776.
Stop 7. Upper Ferry Road and Bear Tavern
Washington split his troops in two -- one group under General Sullivan marched down River Road (Sullivan Road) while Washington and General Greene marched down Pennington Road (rt 31).
Stop 8. Hessian soldier outpost
At 8am George Washington led the assault on a Hessian soldier outpost on the outskirts of town somewhere close to this point.
Stop 9. Trenton Battle Monument
As Washington’s troops approached the edge of Trenton they caught the Hessians off-guard and began their attack. Washington had his artillery, led by Alexander Hamilton, move into position on the high ground at the head of King and Queen Streets (now named Warren and Broad Street). After the initial firing the Hessians retreated in order to form groups at the end of King and Queen Streets to counter attack but the Continental Army’s artillery fire devastated the Hessians and soon Washington’s troops overwhelmed the Hessians and won the Battle of Trenton.
The Hessian forces lost 22 killed in action, 83 wounded, and 896 captured (including the wounded) while the Americans suffered only two deaths from bare feet causing frostbite and five wounded from battle, including a near-fatal shoulder wound to future president James Monroe.
By noon, Washington had ordered his troops back across the Delaware into Pennsylvania as he learned that the two other groups of American soldiers had not been able to cross the river that night and wanted the river to provide extra protection in case of any British attacks.
The Trenton Battle Monument sits at the intersection of Warren and Broad Street (what was King and Queen Street) and is a tribute to Washington’s victory.
Stop 10. Old Barracks Museum
(101 Barrack St, Trenton, opened Mon-Sat, closed Sundays, barracks.org)
This is the only remaining colonial era barracks left in New Jersey. It was built in 1758 to house soldiers in the French – American War and at the time was the 2nd largest building in New Jersey after Nassau Hall in Princeton. The Hessians had been staying at the barracks before the Battle of Trenton.
45 minute tours are now offered at the museum every hour on the hour. There is a 10 minute video on the Battle of Trenton. Admission charged - $10 adults, $8 students. Free parking is often available in the Capitol Complex Parking Garage, and there is ample street parking and garage parking available in the neighborhood.