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Historic Christmas Day

“In effect, quite literally, we owe what we have and who we are and all that we hold sacred, to about 3,000 men who would not quit.” historian David McCullough has written of the events of December 25, 1776 during the war for American independence of 13 Colonies, that occurred on the snowy banks of the icy Delaware River from McKonkey’s Ferry in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

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Washington’s Crossing Historic Park annual re-enactment

Under the command of the wealthy, disciplined, 43 year old member of congress, George Washington of Virginia , historian McCullough continues “by all reasonable signs, the war is over and the Americans have lost”.

And “the real story it seems to Me, is with those Men in rags, who marched with Him”. A turning point in the fight for American independence, in the “most important passage” and the “most important year of the American Experience”, and the turning point of victory at the  Battle of Trenton and Princeton about to come, “We owe them everything.”  The Visitor Center and Exhibits at Washington’s Crossing Historic Park commemorate the amazing story, on the site of that historic crossing.

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Washington’s Crossing Historic Park photography Exhibits

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Soldiers Exhibit | Washington’s Crossing Historic Park

“We owe them everything” – Historian David McCullough speaking of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware at McKonkey’s Ferry, and the victorious Battle of Trenton.

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Washington’s Crossing Historic Park gallery Exhibit

The Continental Congress had quit the city of Philadelphia in the face of imminent invasion. Yearly Enlistments for 1776 had expired on December 20, and 2,000 continental troops went home, with more to leave in a week’s time on New Year’s Eve, leaving a dwindling army of Continental Soldiers from 6,000 strong, to some 2,000, rarely in uniform, in coats, vests and breeches, tattered “rags”, some without shoes. The rain turned to hail and snow as it froze in a snow squall -documented by a young fifer from Boston – and the river was filled with floes of broken sheets of ice.

The temperatures were freezing, the dwindling army was in short supply of food, ammunition and blankets, correspondence documents that disloyalty, intrique, and blame were high and morale was low, men were exhausted, dirty, hungry, sick, at the end of that hopeful and perilous year.  With those at home desperate without their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and regular pay, the Continentals lost again and again in disaster after disaster, driven south, in retreat, defeated and harassed, losing materials and captured soldiers, from New York and New Jersey, while the victorious Crown’s Troops and the Crown’s Navy held Newport, Rhode Island, most of New Jersey, New York and were poised to strike at Philadelphia at-will.   “The times that try men’s souls” Thomas Paine had written in “The Crisis”,  published in the Pennsylvania Journal of December 19, 1776, and Washington would order Paine’s inspiring essay to be read aloud to the troops at McKonkey’s Ferry. 

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Washington’s Crossing Historic Park Exhibit

Joseph Reed, and Congressman and physician Benjamin Rush,  had an earlier private meeting with General Washington, up the road in Buckingham, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Rush would recall years later that Washington kept writing something with his pen on little slips of paper. One of the papers fell to the floor by Rush’s foot, and he saw that Washington had been writing, over and over, “Victory or Death”- the passwords for that night.

Familiar names were there and would take part with the soldiers in the house to house, and street to street battle that lay ahead, over the freezing Delaware River, nine miles away in a snow squall in Trenton, New Jersey-the great John Glover and the skilled Marblehead mariners, Charles Wilson Peale, Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, Alexander Hamilton, future vice-president Aaron Burr, two future presidents James Madison and James Monroe, and future Chief Justice John Marshall.  After the raid at Trenton, one week later, the victorious Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, would mark an incredible ten days that changed the direction of the American Revolution.

Each Year in December, the historic Crossing, is commemorated and re-enacted, at Washington’s Crossing Historic Park, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

For more:
Washington’s Crossing Historic Park, Bucks County, PA Facebook
Washington’s Crossing Historic Park, Bucks County, PA
Washington Crossing State Park, NJ is across the Delaware River in New Jersey
 The Papers of George Washington
Journal of the American Revolution online magazine and essays
Recent noted books include David Hackett Fischer’s “Washington’s Crossing”,  and David McCoullough’s “1776”.
Peabody award-winning The Crossing television movie, based on the teleplay and novel written by Howard Fast.

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This entry was posted on December 24, 2015 by in Country, Historic Bucks County.
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