66. Washington Crossing State Park – History is in its Future

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


Hello All –

I want to talk about where George Washington landed on Christmas night 1776. Today it’s called Washington Crossing State Park (WCSP) in Titusville (Hopewell Township), NJ, and it typically does not get as much publicity as Washington Crossing Historic Park (WCHP) on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. The latter is located where the McConkey’s Ferry was and where the Continental Army embarked on that storied occasion. WCHP is where I’ve been hanging out for much of the last decade, notwithstanding my Garden State residence, because of the opportunity it affords me to give guided tours through the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. But for purposes of this post, I am in spirit (as well as fact) a New Jerseyan, and as such would like to share some information with you.

What is Washington Crossing State Park?

WCSP lies opposite its Pennsylvania sister park and is part of the same National Historic Landmark. It is where Washington’s army came ashore after crossing the Delaware River to assault the Hessian brigade occupying Trenton. In addition to its historical significance, the 3,500-acre park is well known for its trails and wildlife habitat. It includes a visitor center and museum that houses an extensive collection of Revolutionary War artifacts on loan from the Swan Historical Foundation, as well as the Johnson Ferry House, an early 18th-century farmhouse and tavern near the river that was probably used by Washington and his officers during the Christmas night crossing. The park is managed by the NJ State Park Service in the Department of Environmental Protection, which has a cooperative relationship with the Washington Crossing Park Association, the volunteer friends group that works to preserve, enhance, and advocate for the park and the history it represents.

I love the Pennsylvania park, but facts are facts – and they include these:

— The Swan Foundation collection of Rev War artifacts at WCSP vastly exceeds anything comparable on the other side of the river.

— Unlike the historic buildings in the lower park at WCHP (most of which date from the 1820’s or 1830’s), the Johnson Ferry House on the New Jersey side was built circa 1740 and so it was THERE when GW’s men stormed into NJ (in more ways than one) on December 25-26, 1776.

— For my money, the movie on the New Jersey side runs circles around the one shown across the river (but is about twice as long, which has something to do with it).

— There is a replica ferry boat adjacent to the Nelson House on the New Jersey side, which is one more ferry boat than you’ll find across the way.

Now, before I lose my job on the Pennsylvania side, let me hasten to add that you won’t find (in my opinion) a more hallowed patch of ground on the North American continent than where the McConkey’s Ferry Inn once stood, and as such it’s a must-see for history nerds and even those with only a casual interest in where America’s First D-Day operation was launched. Plus the early Americana ambience given off by the remnants of the village of Taylorsville on the Pennsylvania side is simply unmatched at WCSP—and then there are those replica Durham boats. (Note to Gettysburg aficionados: I’m not saying WCHP is THE most hallowed ground, so chill.)

But back to New Jersey  .  .  .

What’s Happening at WCSP?

The park expects to break ground sometime this year on a new visitor center and museum expected to open sometime in 2026, but definitely in time for the annual reenactments of the Delaware River crossing that will occur that December and mark the semiquincentennial of American independence. The new structure will be much closer to the river’s edge than the current one; in fact, it will overlook the river and be in close proximity to the Johnson Ferry House. Inside, visitors will be greeted by a new, expanded, and exciting exhibit that is designed to immerse them in the “Ten Crucial Days” winter campaign that profoundly altered the course of the war for independence. This is exiting news that should fill local (and maybe not-so-local) history geeks with eager anticipation.

What Else?

Aside from all that, the new visitor center and museum at WCSP will house a significant original work of historical art that will be publicly displayed for the first time in more than a half-century, a priceless mural (an aspect of which appears above) that depicts Washington’s troops crossing the Delaware. Having languished in a dusty basement for 50 years, it was recently unearthed and is being restored by the Washington Crossing Park Association. Once the restoration is complete, this  approximately 15.5-by-10-foot work will be displayed in the  museum. Its creator, George Matthews Harding (1882–1959), was an American muralist and combat artist who worked in both world wars and painted this mural in 1921 for Trenton’s Taylor Opera House, where it hung until the building was razed in 1969.

At the time, the mural was coated with homemade wheat paste and Japanese rice paper, and rolled onto a custom-made cylinder with a view to restoring it for the new WCSP visitor center that was slated for completion by the 1976 bicentennial observance. The cylinder was transported to Ringwood Manor State Park in North Jersey, where it was placed in storage in a basement; however, the visitor center at WCSP was too small for this piece, and it was essentially forgotten for the next five decades.

The Washington Crossing Park Association took on the mission of determining if the mural could be restored for the park’s new museum by 2026 and, with the approval of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, engaged Christyl Cusworth of Cusworth Conservation in Lambertville, NJ, to restore and frame the piece. The association launched a $60,000 fundraising campaign to support this effort with the help of large donations from Americana Corner, NJM Insurance, and private funders, as well as many smaller contributions from members and friends. More information is available here.

Final Words

Feel free to spread the word about what’s coming down the pike at WCSP in the near future.

And remember, Pennsylvania was Washington’s launching pad but New Jersey was where he landed—and where the battles were won. With the possible exception of South Carolina, it’s where more military engagements occurred in the struggle for America’s independence than anywhere else. Not for nothing is it known as the “Crossroads of the Revolution.”


P.S.

I wanted to close with an update on my current literary project. Winning the Ten Crucial Days: The Keys to Victory in George Washington’s Legendary Winter Campaign is now under contract with Brookline Books, an imprint of Casemate Publishers, and projected for release next winter or in the spring of 2025.

I’ve asked several people to review the manuscript, and the first (but hopefully not last) endorsement quote is in:

David Price’s latest book is an engaging account that provides the reader with a truly in-depth understanding of how Washington and his army were able to turn the tide in the winter of 1776-77. For any Revolutionary War buff, this book is a must read.

— THOMAS MADDOCK II, Historical Interpreter, Washington Crossing Historic Park

Thank you, Tom. Glad you enjoyed it.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Entertainment vs. Information

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


For anyone, myself included, who enjoyed the admirable performance of Jeff Daniels as George Washington in the 2002 A&E Television Network movie, “The Crossing” (one of many notable roles in an illustrious career), the commentary provided by Roger S. Williams, cofounder of TenCrucialDays.org and vice chair of the History Committee of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, provides useful context that is worth taking time to read and reflect upon. It’s entitled “Washington’s Televised Rubicon: The Hollywood Artistic License of A&E’s The Crossing,” and you can read it here.

Happy New Year to all!


BTW the annual reenactment of the Christmas night 1776 crossing at Washington Crossing Historic Park two days ago drew a crowd that I’m guessing included at least six thousand people – a nice way to ring out the year and hopefully a harbinger of even greater public enthusiasm for this venerable ritual as we approach the 250th anniversary of American independence in 2026.

65. Not Another “Ten Crucial Days” Book!

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


Afraid so. (It’s only a minor compulsion; I can deal with it if I want. Really.)

But let me get back to that in a moment. First, I want to acknowledge that, in one sense, tomorrow marks the beginning of the 250th anniversary of America’s struggle for independence. I say that because the so-called Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773 proved to be a milestone on the road to armed insurgency. It caused His Majesty George III to pivot from a more detached stance with respect to the unrest that had ensued from British colonial policy and support punitive measures against his American subjects for resisting royal authority. The King and Parliament responded to the dumping of British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor by adopting a series of hardline measures under the rubric of the “Coercive Acts” as they were known in England, and the “Intolerable Acts” as they were called by Americans. These were intended to punish the residents of Boston specifically and Massachusetts generally by closing the port of Boston and abrogating that colony’s right of self-rule. The new policies were to be enforced by an occupying force of British troops under the command of General Thomas Gage as military governor of the colony. These developments paved the way for a war that became increasingly inevitable and erupted less than a year-and-a-half later at Lexington and Concord.

BTW, if you want to read a magnificent analysis of how Britain stumbled into this abyss, check out Nick Bunker’s An Empire on the Edge.

And on that cheery note, let the semiquincentennial begin!

Back to the Book

I wanted to report some progress on the path to a fifth book. It comes courtesy of Brookline Books, an imprint of Casemate Publishers in Havertown, PA, which has agreed to take on this project that I hope will eventuate in a  release next winter. Brookline is a new publishing platform focusing on subject matter that relates to the history of the greater Philadelphia area and the Delaware Valley. While Casemate has traditionally specialized in military history, Brookline’s publishing purview is broader than that; however, its list of upcoming releases does include two “revolting” volumes that should be out sometime next year. These are: Perceptions of Battle: George Washington’s Victory at Monmouth by Jeff Dacus (due in May); and The Loyalist Experience and Aftermath in Revolutionary Philadelphia by Kimberly Nath (coming in August).

The title of my new work is: Winning the Ten Crucial Days: The Keys to Victory in George Washington’s Legendary Winter Campaign. Unlike earlier works on this subject, each of which is, in its own way, a largely chronological account of the Continental Army’s 1776-1777 winter endeavor, this narrative will rely largely on an analytical approach to interpreting what happened. I have tried to focus its discussion around what I believe to be the five crucial factors behind the “Ten Crucial Days”—leadership, geography, weather, artillery, and contingency (or just plain luck). Each of these analytical elements will be accorded its own chapter, and the challenge for yours truly will be to somehow synthesize the somewhat-overlapping subnarratives into a reasonably coherent whole.

This will NOT be a comprehensive account of the TCD campaign (maybe quasi-comprehensive?). David Hackett Fischer in Washington’s Crossing and my friend Larry Kidder in Ten Crucial Days have done that in splendid fashion, so there’s no need to go there. That said, I hope this will make some measurable contribution to assessing the meaning of what occurred during perhaps the ten most extraordinary days in American history. If not, at least it’s helped me keep boredom at bay for several months.

More to follow on this. Meanwhile, best wishes for a very happy holiday season and a healthy and safe 2024.

64. How Conclusive are your Conclusions?

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


Hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving. I know I’ve neglected this blog of late, due in part to other literary exertions, but felt compelled to scribble something that bears on what I’ve been doing and will hopefully satisfy an urge to be at least minimally conscientious about posting stuff. (I will not make a new year’s resolution to do better on this score because experience suggests—actually screams—that it would guarantee nonperformance.)

Anyway, what triggered this latest post is something from Al Frazza’s book, State of Revolution: My Seven-and-a-Half-Year Journey Through Revolutionary War New Jersey, Al, who created RevolutioaryWarNewJersey.com, provides a useful reminder to maintain humility in the context of historical interpretation—and other pursuits too, for that matter. In other words, it’s a good idea to know what you don’t know (so to speak). I’ve tried to keep that in mind when writing and doing my tour-guide thing at Washington Crossing and Princeton, but it never hurts to give the memory banks a nudge on that every so often.

So here’s the relevant excerpt:

…one should always stay humble about what one is researching. Always consider that, no matter how much you know, it is only a small part of the larger story, and that other people know things that you don’t. Even when it comes to the things that you know very well, it is good to be open to the possibility that you may be incorrect in your conclusions. It can keep you from finding a deeper truth if you are too confident in your assumptions.

And speaking of assumptions, one that I never made relates to an early holiday gift for yours truly that just arrived from the Journal of the American Revolution (JAR). I never know what’s going to (as they say at the Washington Crossing parks) really float the editors’ boat, but today I learned that one of my articles from earlier this year—Eutaw Springs and the Ambiguity of Victory—has been selected for inclusion in the next annual hardcover book produced by JAR, scheduled for release in April. These hardcover volumes feature the best (as determined by the editors) historical research and writing published by the journal during the prior calendar year—typically between thirty and forty articles (forty in the 2024 volume). They are available from Westholme Publishing, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. (Since 2021, I’ve written nine articles for JAR and three have made the cut for the annual volume. Boy, if only I could have hit .333 playing softball at Glen Ridge High.)

I hope to be able to share encouraging news on the next book very soon—but I don’t want to sound too, well, confident in that assumption.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a great holiday season and extend my best wishes for a healthy and happy new year!


If any of you will be attending the annual Princeton battle reenactment on January 7, I’ll be manning the “general store”for the Princeton Battled Society that day, i.e., selling stuff, along with my wife Alison. (I mean to say she’ll be helping me, not that I’ll be selling her.) So stop by and say hello. I’ll also be helping out at the Delaware River crossing reenactments at Washington Crossing Historic Park on December 10 and Christmas Day, so the same goes for them. (No, I will not be in a boat; I get seasick in a bathtub.)

Upcoming Talk

Hi all —

For anyone who’s interested, I’ll be giving a Zoom talk about my most recent book, The Battle of Harlem Heights, 1776, through the Fort Ticonderoga Author Series on Sunday, January 14 (2 – 3 p.m.). The link to register is here. Please note: admission is free for Fort Ticonderoga members, and there is a $10 fee for the general public. Most of my speaking events are limited to members of the hosting organization, so you might say this is the exception to the rule.

Best regards,

dp

From One Blog to Another, by George

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


I recently wrote an article for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park newsletter, entitled A Few Thoughts About George Washington, which was just posted on their blog. It’s essentially a reiteration of an earlier blog post of mine (number 59 on May 5 of this year), with a few very minor tweaks, but I’m posting a link to it here in case anyone didn’t get a chance to see it before or wants to revisit the piece for whatever reason—or is just looking for an excuse to peruse the park’s website.

Last night, I had the pleasure (and I do mean pleasure) of talking to the National Society of the Washington Family Descendants at their 69th annual reunion, held at the Philadelphia Marriott Old City. There were about eighty attendees, people from across the country who trace their lineage to Martha Washington or various Founding Fathers/Mothers. (Notwithstanding the moniker “Father of Our Country,” George was not functional in that respect, probably owing to his mild bout with smallpox as a youth.)  The group’s total membership exceeds five hundred, and they plan to hold their 70th such event next year in Savannah, GA. More power to them!

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the above image—Washington at the Battle of Trenton—is an 1870 engraving by Illman Brothers based on a painting by Edward L. Henry.

The Five Crucial Factors Behind The Ten Crucial Days

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


My apologies for neglecting the blog of late, but (in my defense) I’ve been pounding the keyboard for sundry other purposes, including an article for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park newsletter that should appear October 1, another piece for the Summer 2023 Swan Historical Foundation newsletter (due out soon), and the item mentioned below. In addition, I’m over 40K words into a manuscript for what I hope will be book no. 5, which would be an extension of said item. (Holy sprained fingers!) There must be an easier way to ward off boredom.

This new article in the Journal of the American Revolution dissects the “Ten Crucial Days” campaign of 1776-1777 by focusing on five key analytical elements: leadership, geography, weather, artillery, and contingency. They obviously overlap, and perhaps this narrative neglects others worthy of consideration; however, it would be hard to argue that each of these did not have a significant influence on the outcome of a legendary winter offensive.

63. Putting Freedom in Perspective

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


George Washington’s letter of August 24, 1774 to his friend Bryan Fairfax on the subject of American resistance to British colonial policy sheds some light on his innermost thoughts about slavery. In it, he wrote:

I shall not undertake to say where the Line between Great Britain and the Colonies should be drawn, but I am clearly of opinion that one ought to be drawn; & our Rights clearly ascertaind. I could wish, I own, that the dispute had been left to Posterity to determine, but the Crisis is arrivd when we must assert our Rights, or Submit to every Imposition that can be heap’d upon us; till custom and use, will make us as tame, & abject Slaves, as the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway.

Washington was about to depart his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, for Philadelphia to participate in the first Continental Congress, where the delegates asserted their right to be free of what they perceived as oppressive imperial rule, notwithstanding the ubiquity of human bondage about them.

Washington and his fellow slave owners were, of course, caught up in the paradox that applied to many of the more prominent members of America’s founding generation who engineered the rebellion of the 1770s. Their cause was that of liberty for some juxtaposed with a commitment to, or at least acquiescence in, slavery for others. In fact, at least a third of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were practitioners in our most infamous institution.

Still, the fathers of American independence and their followers were more than mindful of the extreme contradiction between their revolution in support of liberty and the slavery embedded in colonial society. Perhaps no more telling example of that clash of values can be found than in July 1776 when an unruly mob used slave labor to dismantle an equestrian statue of George III in New York City, acting in the cause of the colonists’ cherished liberty against a detested symbol of the English monarchy.

Certainly there was no dearth of British observers who opined about the hypocrisy of rebels advocating for liberty while owning slaves. Indeed, England’s renowned essayist, Samuel Johnson, in opposing Patriot protests against Britain’s colonial policy,  caustically inquired why it was that “we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” On the other hand, it’s not unreasonable to assume that slavery’s cruelty and omnipresence (legal in every colony but most prevalent in the South) spurred the grievances among Americans that produced their insurgence. Freedom seemed that much more precious when the colonists continually witnessed the humiliation and exploitation to which the enslaved were subjected. Hence Washington’s above-referenced observation. It arguably took a war—and the service of black soldiers’ in the Continental Army—to gradually move the needle in his thinking on this subject such that he became the only Founding Father to free his slaves, albeit upon his death.

Presumably Washington’s experience and reflection finally gave way to an understanding later articulated by Lincoln in regard to those defending the morality, or at least what they asserted as the practical necessity, of human bondage: “Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.”

62. A Fourthful Quote

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


Hi All –

The approach of the 247th anniversary of American independence calls to mind the following excerpt from President Lincoln’s Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4, 1861, in the incipient stages of the Civil War. I think it must rank among the most vital ever articulated in connection with the jubilee, and it’s obviously no coincidence that he chose that date to convey his missive  .  .  .

This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend….

Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it, our people have already settled—the successful establishing, and the successful administering of it. One still remains—its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly carry an election, can also suppress a rebellion—that ballots are the rightful, and peaceful, successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war—teaching all, the folly of being the beginners of a war.

Amen.

61. What the Hill?

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to dpauthor.com and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.


Hi All –

No doubt, you’ve heard of Bunker Hill, and perhaps Pork Chop Hill (from the Korean War)—and even Henry Hill (of the Lucchese crime family, played by Ray Liotta in the movie “GoodFellas”), but how many of you have heard of Hobkirk Hill? For anyone who may be interested, here’s a chance to acquaint yourself with this unsung event courtesy of a just-published article in the Journal of the American Revolution about a major minor battle in the War of Independence. Yes, I wrote the piece—but don’t hold that against it.

This being the longest thing I’ve written for JAR, I would love feedback from anyone intrepid enough to tackle it. For that matter, feedback on any of my JAR articles (listed here) would be most appreciated.

Best regards,

dp

P.S. The image above is from The Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill: Charge of Colonel Washington’s cavalry against the British right flank to cover the American retreat, a hand-colored halftone of an illustration by F.C. Yohn from 1898.