Above: Emanuel Leutze painted the iconic “Washington Crossing the Delaware” in Germany in 1850. The painting has some inaccurate historical details; however, it faithfully portrays how Americans winning and keeping their freedom inspired Europeans living under kings and dictators.
American independence seemed like a lost cause in December 1776. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia on July 4, a massive British fleet of 300 ships, 10,000 sailors, and 30,000 soldiers arrived in New York Harbor. Some 18,000 of those soldiers were Hessians. They were professional soldiers hired by the British government from Hesse and other states in Germany. That August and September, the British and Hessian soldiers destroyed about 90 percent of George Washington’s army in battles at Brooklyn, Manhattan, and White Plains, New York. They chased Washington and his remaining 5,000 men out of New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.
Quakers settled much of New Jersey. Most came to America as determined pacifists who opposed all wars; however, many of them later recognized the need to fight to defend themselves and their families. Richard Somers, the father of the Navy hero with the same name, was one of them. He became the commander of the militia for Gloucester County. At that time Atlantic and Camden counties were part of Gloucester County.
As they occupied much of New Jersey, many British and Hessian soldiers began to steal property and abuse local women. The militias of New Jersey fought back. Members who were Quakers became known as “fighting Quakers.”
When Washington heard of this resistance, he made plans to attack the 1,500 Hessian soldiers under British command in Trenton. That Christmas night, Washington with 2,500 of his soldiers crossed the Delaware River.
Above Image: Victory Or Death: Advance on Trenton 1776. Painting by Don Troiani
Then they marched south to Trenton through the wind, snow and sleet of a bitter winter storm. The Americans won an overwhelming victory the following day. They killed or captured roughly 1,000 Hessian soldiers and suffered only two dead from the cold.
The Americans surprised and overwhelmed the Hessians with deadly cannon fire. The Americans did this because they had kept their powder dry during the wet and windy weather. Henry Knox, who commanded their artillery, had been a book seller in Boston before the war. He knew how to use waterproof wax packaging to keep his books dry when he delivered them customers.
One week later, the Americans won a second decisive victory against the main body of British troops at Trenton and a third at Princeton. News of these three American victories in New Jersey instantly revived support for the American cause. It also contributed to America’s victory in 1783, which would enshrine liberty and prosperity for all citizens of the young republic.
This story is told in the December page of our Liberty and Prosperity 2024 Teaching Calendar.
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