There are Historical markers everywhere. You’ve seen them. Brown signs along the highways that tell you, “Historical marker 1 mile ahead on right.” If you have pulled over at any number of them, you’ll see a bit of a trend: graveyards. “Here lie the residents of XXX place, from XXX time in history, etc., etc.” A little bit less than grandiose. Every once in a while you come across one that mentions some skirmish of a battle, or a mention of a historical hotel, town, or date that means something to the location of the marker. I have a story about markers that don’t fall under the cemetery category, but the American Revolution category.
History of my family:
I am a descendant of the Scudders of Trenton, New Jersey in an area that was instrumental to the backbone building of the USA at Scudders Falls. You may recall a battle of the Revolutionary War in Trenton that was a turning point when General George Washington’s troops defeated the Hessians on December 26, 1776. The simple story told to the children in elementary school is this: Washington Crossed the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. He marched his troops along the Delaware into Trenton surprising the Hessians at night and defeated them. What they don’t tell you in the classroom you can find with further research or stories passed down from generation to generation. I am blessed to have access to both.
Washington Crossing, Trenton, and Princeton each show their pride in this crucial time in the history of our nation. I grew up in and around it all. My ancestors who led the troops, Annual Washington Crossing the Delaware reenactments every Christmas Eve, and I worked for Washington Crossing and Delaware and Raritan Canal State Parks. You could say it’s in my blood.
Back to the historical markers: My plan for my most recent trip to New Jersey was to research a way to set up day trips based on following a set of markers and the history that gave them a reason to be. My idea was to follow Washington’s trek from the crossing of the Delaware to his winter quarters in Morristown. The series would be one of many 3-day trips. I found out this was not going to work. The amount of time spent finding the markers was quite a bit longer than I anticipated. There was also the issue of Trenton not being the best place for tourists to be bumbling about looking at maps. I gave up on the idea of day-trips until I can come up with a plan that will work. One thing that surprised me is that not all the markers were brass plates on a metal post or set in a huge stone. There were many plain boards with printed data on them. Some were in great, readable condition; others were showing signs of wear.
Here are some things you may not know:
Washington was a very astute military leader. While moving troops from New York to Pennsylvania during summer of 1776, he crossed the Delaware River and took every available boat, transport ferry, canoe and dinghy with him. For an area covering twenty plus miles along the river, he grabbed all these boats and hid them on the Pennsylvania side of an island. First, he wanted to stop the Brits from being able to follow him across the river. Second, he already had a plan to come back later that year.
Washington and his troops took over ten hours to get all the artillery, horses, and supplies across the river on Christmas night 1776. While the troops waited for marching orders, they huddled against a winter storm without much food or clothing. They were under orders for silence and were not allowed fires so to remain hidden from the enemy. Once all the troops and gear were across the river, Washington split his Army into three parts. One small section of troops headed up the road towards Princeton to stop any British that may hear of the attack and send aid to Trenton. The British did send troops, and Washington’s men stopped them from advancing. Washington then split up the remaining men into two columns and sent one inland and then south to Trenton. The other column headed south along the river.
I am a descendant of Jedediah Scudder, who lived on the family farm on the river road. He and his brother Amos assisted the troops by leading them into Trenton that night. Amos went on to continue fighting with Washington and Jedediah returned to farming the family land. The troops made their way towards Trenton via the River Road that crossed right through our family property. My great-great grandmother remembers her grandfather telling stories of that night many times. The soldiers marched on their drive to the house leaving bloody footprints in the snow. My ancestors fed them with their entire winter larder, clothed them, administered first aid, and in some cases, buried the ones who died. I like to think that maybe that little bit of help boosted the morale of the colonial soldiers enough to give the remaining men the strength they needed to continue the march, surprise the drinking Hessians, and subsequently beat them in battle.
That night was a turning point in the war. The men then had a bit of hope that maybe they were not fighting a lost cause. They moved hundreds of Hessian prisoners across the Delaware River to Philadelphia. On January 1, 1777, Washington, with reinforced troops, returned to Trenton to face another battle against the British, who had made their way into town. Washington left a small force of men to fight, and local Trentonians led Washington around the battle and onwards to Princeton. The second, decisive victory for the Americans came at the Battle of Princeton on January 3.
See more from Dawn Engler at http://www.dawnengler.com/